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OUMT Faculty and Staff

Ashton Byrum, Director of the OU School of Musical Theatre

Following a long acting career in New York and around the world, Professor Byrum earned his MFA in Directing with an emphasis in Musical Theatre from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) in 2010. He then went on to coordinate the Musical Theatre Performance program and serve as Associate Chair and Academic Director for the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago. He’s had the privilege of working with students that have gone on to Broadway, National Tours, Regional and stock theatres all over the country. His research on pathways to success for Musical Theatre actors has been published in Dramatics magazine and the blog: musicaltheatretraining.com.

Professor Byrum’s acting credits include three seasons on Broadway in Susan Stroman’s annual A Christmas Carol starring Tim Curry, F. Murray Abraham and Jim Dale, and he was featured in the National Touring companies of The Producers (US and Tokyo), Fiddler on the Roof with Theodore Bikel, the Tommy Tune revival of Grease! with Adrian Zmed, Sutton Foster and Marissa Jaret Winokur, Will Rogers Follies with Larry Gatlin, I Love New York, and My Fair Lady (Europe). Ashton has also played roles in many regional and stock productions around the country including: Titanic (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma), The Music Man and 9 to 5 (Little Theatre on the Square), The Spitfire Grill (Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Arkansas Rep.), Forever Plaid (Flat Rock Playhouse, NC),  Joseph…Dreamcoat and Cats (Ogunquit Playhouse, ME), Will Rogers Follies (Cape Playhouse, MA and Jupiter Theatre, FL), West Side Story (Westchester Broadway Theatre, NY), Kingdom (World Premiere with the Denver Center Theatre Company), and he earned his Equity card in The Secret Garden at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

His directing work includes Hello, Dolly!, Disney's Beauty and the Beast and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at The Little Theatre on the Square, [title of show] and The Marvelous Wonderettes at Open Door Theatre in Chicago, Bye Bye Birdie and Annie Get Your Gun for the Wilmette Starlight Theatre; Anything Goes, Orpheus Descending, Urinetown and Godspell at CCM, and Rent, Victor/Victoria, Oklahoma!, Once On This Island, and Sweet Charity at Columbia College Chicago. Most recently, he directed Legally Blonde and Songs for a New World at the University of Oklahoma. Professor Byrum earned his undergraduate degree in Musical Theatre from Catawba College in Salisbury, NC. Originally from Winston-Salem, NC, he and his wife Gina, and their son, Dylan, moved to Norman from Oak Park, IL.

Contact Ashton Byrum: abyrum@ou.edu

Karen Boyd Bethel

Karen knew that she wanted to be a dancer before she knew that you could actually make a living at it. Karen attended Oklahoma City University on a Dance Performance scholarship completing a Bachelor of Performing Arts degree. She then obtained her Master of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis in Modern Dance from the University of Oklahoma. Karen is a founding member of the Hartel Dance Group – an Oklahoma City based contemporary dance company, where she performs regularly. Additionally, she is a faculty member of the Summer Wind Youth Ballet program at OU. When she is not teaching, performing or auditioning, Karen enjoys running, yoga, tai chi, swimming, biking, knitting, reading, traveling, cooking, and spending time with her husband, Scott, and two daughters.

Contact Karen Boyd Bethel: karen.b.bethel-1@ou.edu


Jessica Carabajal is a native Oklahoman with a lifelong passion for theatre. She graduated a Broncho from the University of Central Oklahoma where she studied Theatre and Communication Education, but in her heart, she is Sooner-born, Sooner-bred, and when she dies, well, you know the rest. Prior to beginning her venture with OUMT in the fall of 2020, Jessica spent four years with Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma where she started part-time as the House Manager for their Plaza Theater before joining their staff full-time as Development Associate. When she isn’t supporting the esteemed faculty and extraordinary young artists of OUMT, she can be seen treading the boards of OKC’s various stages, volunteering with community organizations, and spending quality time with her friends, family, and most importantly, her dog.

 

Contact Jessica Carabajal: jessc@ou.edu

Paul Christman

Paul received the 2022 Irene and Julian J. Rothbaum Professor of Excellence in the Arts Award from the University of Oklahoma. He teaches masterclasses annually for Balletakademien (Göteborg, Sweden) and Høyskolen Kristiania (Oslo, Norway). Additional residencies have included the Danish Academy of Musical Theatre (Fredericia), the Joop van den Ende Academy (Hamburg), Musikkteaterhøyskolen (Oslo) and the Stage School (Hamburg). He has lectured at the Music in Gotham American Musical Theater Conference (NYC), the Song, Stage and Screen Conference (Winchester and London), the Musical Theatre Educators Alliance Conference (Orlando and NYC) and Putting It Together: Teaching Musical Theatre in U.K. Higher Education (Bath). A graduate of Arizona State University (Tempe) and Wright State University (Dayton), he has also completed training with the Michael Chekhov Association. His articles on composer Hugh Martin and the musical Pal Joey have been published in the journal Studies in Musical Theatre. He is co-editor of The Songs of Hugh Martin: From Broadway to Hollywood and The West End (Hal Leonard). Paul has worked on shows across the United States from Maine to California, toured Germany and Austria with Hair, and music directed the Toronto premiere of A Class Act. He conducted 24 productions for Music Theatre of Wichita from 1994-2004 and has served on the musical theatre faculty at OU since 1999.

Contact Paul Christman: pc@ou.edu

Rena Cook

Rena Cook, voice, text and dialect coach, is Professor Emerita at the University of Oklahoma’s where she taught voice, speech and dialects. Rena is the author of "Voice and the Young Actor", used in theatre programs throughout the US and the UK. "Empower your Voice: For Women in Business, Politics and Life", co-editor of "Breath in Action", and a former Editor-in-Chief of the "Voice & Speech Review". Rena holds a M.A. in Voice Studies from London’s Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and an M.F.A. in Directing from the University of Oklahoma. As a professional voice, text, and dialect coach she has worked with such companies as the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park, Lyric Theatre, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, and Oklahoma Arts Institute.  She has taught at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and at the Central School in London. She is the founder of Vocal Authority, a training and development business serving corporate clients who want to use their voice in more commanding and authentic ways. Her guilty pleasure is voicing video game characters. Check out her TEDx talk youtube.com/watch?v=cjlsQtCAY3E

Contact Rena Cook: renacook@ou.edu

Lyn Cramer

Lyn is a member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and has created shows for Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and Casa Mañana. A teacher and choreographer for three decades, Lyn is a Weitzenhoffer Endowed Professor specializing in tap, jazz and theatre dance styles. She was named the 2005 Irene and Julian J. Rothbaum Presidential Professor of Excellence in the Arts by the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts. Lyn received her Master’s degree from the University of Texas in Directing. She has released ten instructional videos in tap for Cathy Roe Productions and her brand new book, "Creating Musical Theatre" includes great conversations with Broadway’s hottest Directors and Choreographers. In 2004, Lyn was honored with the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters Artistic Achievement Award.

Contact Lyn Cramer: lyncramer@ou.edu


Sam is absolutely thrilled to be part of the OUMT family! Sam comes from Chicago where he worked professionally in the logistics and tech start up industries. In his freetime, he served as a freelance event coordinator, host and graphic designer for dozens of nightlife and Pride events across Chicago. In 2020, Sam was mentioned in TimeOut Chicago as one of “Chicago’s most notable LGBTQ+ figures.”  Sam holds a Bachelor's degree in Strategic Communication from Oklahoma State University. During his time at OSU, he worked with the admissions department as an admissions assistant and tour guide helping plan fundraising galas and recruiting fairs. He was also an intern with Saxum Communications and The Equality Network (now Freedom Oklahoma) and served as Oklahoma 4-H State President. As a native Oklahoman, he is happy to be back in Oklahoma to be closer to family (and Whataburger).

Contact Sam Durbin: sam.durbin@ou.edu

Claire Engelman

Claire Engelman received a BFA in Ballet Pedagogy and a BS in Nonprofit Business from the University of Oklahoma in 2014 earning Distinction. Claire is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and is 225HR Yoga Certified; she shares her passion for holistic fitness with students in OU’s Musical Theatre program and as a Pilates Reformer instructor at Flo State Studio. Claire's professional career includes teaching ballet for the University of Central Oklahoma’s Department of Dance and teaching HIIT Pilates classes for Beyond Studios. Currently, Claire is in her 5th season as a company member with local modern and aerial dance company, Perpetual Motion Dance; she enjoys performing in collaborations, previously with Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, and currently with Factory Obscura in OKC. Outside of the movement world, Claire serves as the Vice Chair for the Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Innovative Board fundraising and raising awareness for CHF. Claire believes in the importance of Mental Health and strives to choose kindness and practice empathy. She is grateful for the opportunity to empower OU students in her Core Practice classes to shine!

Contact Claire Engelman: claire.r.engelman-2@ou.edu


Tim Espinosa Headshot

Tim is thrilled to join the esteemed faculty of the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre at the University of Oklahoma. Tim is a professional director, educator, actor, and electric violinist with a passion for bringing musical theatre training to underrepresented communities throughout the country.

Tim most recently served as the founder and coordinator of the Fullerton College Musical Theatre Training program in Southern California where he has taught courses in musical theater performance techniques, professional orientation, acting, directing, and musical theater history. With a dedication for presenting musical theatre training through a holistic, multicultural lens, his research and pedagogical approach is one that is centered around empowering communities of students and faculty to advocate for practices rooted in social justice within the craft of theatre arts.

Recent service includes Lead Diversity Officer for the Musical Theatre Educators’ Alliance and founder of MTEA’s inaugural Committee on Representation, Equity and Inclusion, where he facilitated numerous industry discussions on best practices to promote antiracist policies within theatre education. As Lead Diversity Officer Tim facilitated discussions including Race, Equity and Inclusion in Musical Theatre, White Fragility in Theatre Education and Decolonizing Musical Theatre Curriculum.

He has been privileged to serve as a representative of the Musical Theatre Common Prescreen at numerous national conferences including MTEA and the Pittsburgh Race and Justice Summit.

The podcast that that he co-hosts with his wife entitled Breaking the Fourth Wall, engages audience members in stimulating conversations on the current state of musical theatre and how we are advocating for positive change and greater equity in both the classroom and in the professional arena.

Tim is a proud member of Stage Director and Choreographers Society and Actor’s Equity Association and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater from California State University at Fullerton and a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Brandeis University.

Major performance credits include venues such as Goodspeed Opera House, Papermill Playhouse, American Repertory Theatre, North Shore Music Theater, Utah Shakespeare Festival, and the Berkshire Theater Festival to name a few.

As an Electric Violinist, Tim has been at the forefront of popularizing the electric violin to international audiences. Featured violin performance credits include The Boston Pops Orchestra and The Pacific Symphony Orchestra.  www.TimEspinosa.com

Brian Hamilton

Brian is thrilled to join the OU Musical Theatre team. Brian holds a Masters degree from Oklahoma City University where he studied with Florence Birdwell. He often serves as musical director for Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma with shows such as Spring Awakening, The Rocky Horror Show, Xanadu, and Urinetown. Brian also works as an actor at various regional theatres and considers some of his favorite roles to be Mr. Lindquist in A Little Night Music, Tommy Boatwright in The Normal Heart, Sister Mary Amnesia in Nunsense A-Men, and every male role (except Snoopy) in YAGM, Charlie Brown. Brian had a private voice studio in NYC where he also music directed various workshops and concerts featuring the talents of Raul Esparza, Lisa Howard, and Gideon Glick.

Contact Brian Hamilton: brian.t.hamilton-1@ou.edu


Dr. Ellen Harwell earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology and began her career working for the State of Oklahoma. She has worked for the Office of Juvenile Affairs, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, and the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth. She then returned to graduate work earning her PhD in Human Development and Family Science from Oklahoma State University. Dr. Harwell previously worked at Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at East Central University, and currently works in the field of suicide prevention as well as providing mental health training and consulting services through Ellen Harwell Consulting, LLC.

She is pursuing her Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC) credential through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. Dr. Harwell has a passion for using her knowledge of psychology and human development to help athletes and dancers/performers enhance their training and overall performance. She has regular office hours for all OU Musical Theatre students. 

Mandy Jiran

Associate Professor of Voice in the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre, Mandy Jiran is an active teacher, music director, and performer.

Mandy’s professional credits include Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Kansas City Starlight Theatre, Casa Mañana, Great Plains Theatre Festival, and the Main St. Theatre. She is a frequent soloist with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, including co-starring with Tony nominee, Max Von Essen in the Philharmonic’s The Christmas Show. Her long relationship with the Philharmonic has afforded her the opportunity to sing under the direction of Maestro Joel Levine, current Maestro Alexander Mickelthwate, and frequent guest conductor, Jack Everly, the Principal Pops conductor of the Baltimore and Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

She has worked on new musical theatre works with Adam Gwon, musical theatre writer with works produced Off Broadway, on six continents, and more than half a dozen languages, and Julia Jordan; the late Claibe Richardson, composer of the Broadway score The Grass Harp, showcasing legendary Barbara Cook, and Stephen Cole, and Broadway actor and new musical theatre lyricist, Scott Burkell.

Her music director credits include Legally Blonde and A Christmas Carol at the University of Oklahoma and numerous productions at the Sooner Theatre and Lyric Theatre’s Thelma Gaylord Academy. She has presented musical theatre workshops and master classes at the Orange County School of the Arts, Washington Thespians, Moonifieds, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has served on the faculty at OU since 2005.

Contact Mandy Jiran: mjiran@ou.edu

Vince Leseney

Vince is a veteran of over fifty professional productions at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma and Kansas City Starlight, including The Producers with Brad Oscar and Roger Bart, The Drowsy Chaperone with Emily Skinner, and Annie with Beth Leavel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Irene and Julian J. Rothbaum Presidential Professor of Excellence in the Arts. Vince has appeared as a guest artist with the Kansas City Symphony, the Cedar Rapids Symphony, and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, for whom he also directs the POPS Chorale. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Vince earned a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from Oklahoma City University.

Contact Vince Leseney: vleseney@ou.edu

Harold Mortimer

Harold is an actor, adjudicator, director, music director, teacher, Fulbright Scholar and Fulbright Senior Specialist. He directed the South African premieres of Violet (2018), Spring Awakening (Johannesburg/Pretoria, 2011), and Songs for a New World (2016) featured at the South Africa National Arts Festival. Harold’s director/music director and/or principal performance role credits include Anything Goes (Billy); Avenue ; Batboy; Carousel(Billy); Company(Larry); Dogfight, The Fantasticks!; The Full Monty; A Grand Night for Singing(Man 2); I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change (2008, 2010); La Cage Aux Folles; The Music Man(Harold); My Fair Lady(Higgins); Oklahoma!(Curly); OKC Philharmonic's Christmas Show (Chorale); Pump Boys and Dinettes (Jackson); Smokey Joe’s Café; The Sound of Music (Capt. Von Trapp); Sunday in the Park with George; Sweeney Todd (Anthony); Thoroughly Modern Millie; The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Panch); The Wild Party (Lippa version); and The World Goes Round. Harold has served on the faculty at the University of Washington, University of Connecticut, Connecticut College, AMDA, and Ball State University (Head of the musical theatre program for seven years). He has given presentations at the Fulbright International Convention, KCACTF Regions IV and VI, and thespian conferences. He has also served as guest artist/director/faculty at Tshwane University, Oakfields College, and the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Harold serves as Associate Dean with the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts and is a Weitzenhoffer Endowed Professor in Musical Theatre Performance with the Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre. He has been part of the OUMT faculty since 2011 and was Interim Director for the School from 2016-2018. He earned his Doctoral and Master's degrees in Vocal Performance from the University of Washington and was recently recognized as a Distinguished Alumni by the School of Music faculty from his alma mater, Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania.  Dr. Mortimer recently directed I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change in April 2021 for the OUMT Downtown Series and will be directing J.S. Bach’s Coffee Cantata and Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona for the OU School of Music in November 2021.

Contact Harold R. Mortimer: hrmortimer@ou.edu

Michelle Rambo

Michelle Rambo has been teaching dance for 11 years, which includes styles of hip hop, jazz/funk, contemporary, jazz and tap. She has Bachelor’s degrees in Fine Arts in Dance Performance from the University of Central Oklahoma, and Kinesiology from East Central University (ECU).  Michelle became the artistic director for East Central’s Dance minor program and has been fortunate to choreograph for the well-known professional Race Dance Company in Oklahoma City. She has also choreographed national hip hop pom routines for McLennan Community College and the University of Oklahoma and was a guest artist at the Soul De Soul Dance Convention. Other teaching venues include the American College Dance Association at Southeast Missouri State University and Anderson Indiana University. Michelle’s talents have been showcased during the pre-game performance for the Oklahoma City Thunder and at Disney World in Orlando.

Contact Michelle Rambo: michelle.n.rambo-1@ou.edu


MICHAEL STAFFORD is a pianist, musical director, and multi-instrumentalist from Norman, OK. Recent engagements include Music Director: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown (Pollard Theatre Company); I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now ChangeSongs for a New World; OUMT Freshman Showcase 2019 (University of Oklahoma); The Great American Trailer Park Musical; The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical; Christmas With The Crawfords; Scrooge in Rouge (The Boom, Oklahoma City). Associate Music Director: A New Brain (University of Oklahoma); West Side Story; Disney's When You Wish; Dreamgirls (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). Michael holds a lecturer position as Staff Accompanist at the University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre. Michael has also worked at OU’s School of Music as accompanist for University Chorale, and Repetiteur for opera productions of Songs of Hope; Così fan tutte and The Golden Cockerel. Recently he performed as a featured piano soloist with the Vitam Musica Orchestra, and has performed as an orchestral pianist in the Norman Philharmonic and the Vitam Musica Orchestra. He also serves as music director, pianist, and "co-managing diva" for the Oklahoma City chapter of Opera On Tap. Michael has regularly performed as a keyboardist and vocalist in local bands such as the Damn Quails, ADDverse Effects, Bungalouski, Henna Roso, Biscuits and Groovy, and Carly Gwin and the Sin, and holds a weekly residency with “The Wednesday Band” at the Deli in Norman. He studied clarinet performance at the Boston Conservatory for a year, and completed a Bachelor of Musical Arts degree in piano performance from the University of Oklahoma in 2018.

 

Contact Michael Stafford: michael91stafford@ou.edu

Max Weitzenhoffer

Max is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma’s School of Drama, and the largest contributor to the OU fine and performing arts. In 1998, Mr. Weitzenhoffer provided the funding to begin the Weitzenhoffer Department of Musical Theatre at OU, a program that has quickly risen to become one of the most prestigious training grounds for musical theatre artists in the country. Mr. Weitzenhoffer is a highly acclaimed independent producer of over 50 productions in New York and London. His accomplishments include two Tony Awards, the 2001 Olivier Award (England’s equivalency of the Tony) for producing Defending the Caveman, (and a 2013 Olivier Award for Best Revival). He now serves as a visiting professor and consultant for the Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts.

Contact Max Weitzenhoffer: max.weitzenhoffer@ou.edu