children's theatre of elgin / fox valley theatre company

Board of Directors

Children’s Theatre of Elgin (CTE) was founded in 1988 by brothers Peter and David Akemann in response to a community need for performing arts opportunities that allowed for casting every child who was willing to work hard. Originally partnering with the City of Elgin Recreation Department, CTE soon became an established Elgin-based Illinois 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization in-residence at the Elgin Community College Arts Center. The company provides young artists and the community dynamic, family-friendly theatrical experiences.

In 1993, Fox Valley Theatre Company (FVTC) was added for young people ages 14-20 years as an affiliate of CTE to continue services to older participants and provide an advanced acting and vocal focus.


The two theatre companies are governed by a single board of directors, comprised of:

Executive Board – This includes the Board president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer.
Members at Large – Responsible for the governance of the organization and producing shows
Artistic Directors – Volunteers with a background in music and/or theatre, who serve to advise the Board
Artistic Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion – Assists the Board in planning and strategizing for equity in the organization

Auxiliary members – A non-voting Auxiliary Board which handles publicity, set and costume shops, group sales, and equipment management. The Auxiliary Board members do not attend Board meetings.

Director of Operations – CTE staff member who handles the day-to-day management of the organization, and serves to execute the decisions of the Board. The Director of Operations attends Board meetings, but does not vote.

Duties of the Board

Board members serve as producers for CTE/FVTC’s productions. Each individual is required to complete a Producer Class before accepting a Board position. In this way, they become familiar with the organizational structure and the process of bringing a large-scale production to the stage before embarking as full-fledged producers. Board members meet regularly to discuss and vote upon the operations of the organization. The Board is responsible for the financial, artistic, and overall well-being of the organization.

Producer Job Description

The Producer is ultimately responsible for the entire production, including the financial performance. Producer should ensure that the production breaks even or generates a modest gain as dictated by the Board. Each Board member, except the President and Treasurer, are responsible for acting as Producer for one show every two years. The duties of a Producer include creating a show budget, approving all show expenses, hiring independent contractors for the show (such as Show Director, Choreographer, etc), attending production meetings, serving as the final decision-maker when conflicts arise, and working for the overall success of the show. Each Producer has the chance to shadow another Producer before they produce their first show.

Meet our Board

David Comings


David currently leads the IT (information technology) asset management practice for a leading multi-brand technology solutions provider.  David and his team help business and public entities discover their technology assets, coach them on how to reduce their spending and provides visibility to assist organizations enable digital transformation.  David has been in the information technology sector for over twenty years.  Previously, David began his career producing radio.  Working at a nationally syndicated sports radio network, David studio produced shows for the Super Bowl, Final Four, and the Olympics, while field producing for the Kentucky Derby. David joined the CTE board in 2017 and has created and produced shows.

Jess Yeska

Vice President

Jess is currently serving her second term as Secretary of the board, after starting her theater journey with CTE/FVTC at the age of 15. Her tenure with CTE eventually led to a career in theater, and she is now the Technical Coordinator at the Elgin Community College Arts Center, overseeing hundreds of theatrical and musical shows on their stages each year. In addition to her job, Jess is also a freelance photographer, focusing on children and families. She resides in Hampshire with her husband and son.

Larissa Catalano


Larissa has been a longstanding member of Children’s Theatre of Elgin and Fox Valley Theatre Company, acting in dozens of shows starting in early elementary school. After graduation from the program, she came back to serve as a Production Coordinator and is thrilled to now be on the Board and producing shows.

Cindy Kline


Cindy Kline started her involvement with Children’s Theatre of Elgin when her child Kevin joined the company, over twelve years ago. Both of her children have been involved throughout their lives, Kevin as an actor Choreographer, and Rachel as an actor, and later as a Production Coordinator. Cindy owns and operates her own wealth advisor and tax firm in Dundee, and has served as Treasurer since 2019.

Elizabeth Niemeier

Director of Operations

Elizabeth is an Elgin native and is thrilled to be able to contribute to the artistic life of her hometown in this role with CTE/FVTC. After graduating from Larkin High School, Elizabeth attended Simpson College where she earned a Bachelor’s Degree of Music in Music Education in 2011. Elizabeth taught PK-12 music for Cardinal School District in Eldon, IA, before moving back to Elgin and beginning her arts management career. Elizabeth served as Institutional Advancement Manager, and then as Executive Director, for Elgin Master Chorale, working for that organization for seven years. She then began her tenure as Director of Operations for CTE/FVTC in June 2019. Elizabeth also teaches voice and piano lessons privately around the Elgin area..

Catie Early

Board Member

Catie is currently serving her second term as the President of the Board of Children’s Theatre of Elgin after having worked as a director and stage manager for the company over the past fifteen years. She graduated from Millikin University with a BFA in Theatre after attending Elgin Community College where she received her Associate of Arts. Catie currently coordinates the youth program at Steel Beam Theatre company in St. Charles as well as being a self-employed cabi clothing stylist. Some of her favorite on-stage roles were with Janus Theatre Company, Wheaton Drama, Independent Players, as well as several new scripted readings with the Page to Stage series. More recently, her favorite role is “playing” mom to her two amazing and energetic self-proclaimed theatre-kids who both attended their first rehearsals before their first birthdays. You might remember seeing Catie as the elf in CTE’s 1989 production of the Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which cemented her passion for theatre and her lifetime dedication to CTE.

Jennifer Dienelt

Board Member

Jennifer Dienelt graduated with a B.S. from Illinois State University in child development. She then received her masters in Early Childhood Education and two endorsements (special education and ELL) from National Louis University. For over 15 years she has been teaching in Early Childhood Education (Special Education or At-Risk), and is a Developmental Therapist for the Early Intervention Program. She is married to her amazing husband and they have one daughter who started their CTE journey when she auditioned for A Ghost Tale for Mr. Dickens Jr. As a family they love to spend time outdoors, taking awesome pictures, listening to music, dancing, being a part of the CTE community, and reading books for their YourTube Channel. Their favorite saying is “knowledge is power”. She is beyond excited to be part of the CTE/FVTC board.

Melissa Downey

Board Member

Melissa Downey is excited to share her time and talents with Children’s Theater of Elgin.  Previously, she has ran the props table and helped out backstage while cheering on her son Aaron, 12.  Melissa brings a love for children and learning with her to this position.  As an alumni from Western Illinois University with a degree in elementary education, she continued her educational career at National Louis University receiving a masters degree in Education Leadership.  She has taught for 21 years in School District 54. While teaching, she has had the opportunity to lead the production team for her school’s community musicals.  Melissa loves to spend time with her husband and two boys as well as watching football and musicals.

Smooch Medina

Board Member

Smooch is a Jeff Award Nominated theatrical designer from the Chicago area. As the Technical Specialist at Hemmens Cultural Center with the City of Elgin, Smooch has led efforts to upgrade the facility’s technical elements, ensuring each production is professionally and artistically executed. He also is heavily involved in Elgin’s special event programs such as iFest, Movies in the Park, and Nightmare on Chicago Street, which has drawn crowds of over 18,000 people. As the Head of Lighting and Projection Design and Technology with Midwest Event Solutions, Smooch has been involved with and produced thousands of shows, from educational theatre and dance recitals, to music festivals and global tours. As a prominent designer in Chicago theatre, he has had the privilege of working with companies such as The Joffrey Ballet, The Irish Theatre Company, Halcyon Theatre, Hinsdale Dance Company, First Folio, Legere, Paramount Theatre, Shattered Globe, Red Clay Dance, Fox Valley Theatre Company, and many more. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Children’s Theatre of Elgin/Fox Valley Theatre Company. Smooch holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Theatrical Design from Columbia College Chicago, as well as ETCP Certifications in Arena Rigging, Theatrical Rigging, and Entertainment Power Distribution. To see examples of his work, please visit

Chris Cherry

Artistic Director

Chris earned a Bachelor’s Degree of Music in Music Education from Millikin University and Masters in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music. He has been choral director at Hampshire High School (HHS) since the fall of 2004. At HHS he teaches Bass Chorus, Treble Chorus, Varsity Treble Choir, Chamber Choir, Vocal Jazz, and directs the annual musical. He has seen the school and the program grow from a rural 600 student high school to a school with over 1800 students and over 150 students enrolled in choir. During his tenure at HHS, his students have toured extensively. Choral students from HHS have performed in Orlando, New York, Nashville, Memphis, England, Ireland, Germany, Austria, and Italy. Mr. Cherry is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, Illinois Music Educators Association, and is one of the District 9 ILMEA choral representatives. He also directs the concert choir at Elgin Community College and is the music director at Epworth United Methodist Church in Elgin.

Matthew Bishop

Artistic Director

Matthew Bishop received his degree in Music Education from the VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois, where he spent time focusing on instrumental and vocal pedagogy and performance, composition/arranging, and conducting. He currently works at Dundee Middle School in West Dundee, IL, where he teaches choir, band, orchestra, a music class to students with special needs, and serves as music director and choreographer for the spring musical performed at Elgin Community College.  His ensembles have received top ratings at regional contests and festivals.  In addition to teaching, Matthew has guest conducted for local community ensembles, the Illinois Music Education Association’s Regional Elementary Chorus District VII, and presides as the conductor of the Cambridge Lakes Charter School’s ‘Summer Sing!’ vocal camp.  He also serves as music director for Children’s Theater of Elgin/Fox Valley Theater Company’s productions that have included Mary Poppins, Little Shop of Horrors, Rapunzel, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.As an advocate of live music and community service, he calls together colleagues and professional musician friends to form the Bishop Super Band, a rhythm and blues band that plays school and community fundraiser events like Dundee Middle School’s ‘Schoolapalooza’, West Dundee’s ‘Heritage Fest’, and Elgin’s ‘Rib Fest.’

Dr. Rocio del Castillo

Artistic Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Rocio began her career as a school psychologist in Peru and has dedicated her professional career to being an advocate for educational equity and social justice. Her rich and diverse experience includes serving for over 20 years in both public and private school systems, where she has received recognition and accolades for her work in the special education, bilingual, and dual language settings. Rocio currently serves as Assistant Superintendent for Special Services in Huntley Community School District 158. She comes to this position having served in curriculum leadership, elementary and middle school building administration, coaching, and special education teaching roles in several districts in the greater Chicago area. Rocio also serves as an adjunct professor at two universities. She teaches undergraduate and graduate-level courses on leadership, social justice, and bilingual education. Rocio, a native of Peru, completed training as a clinical psychologist at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia and Universidad Nacional Andres Bello before beginning her career in the American education system. She holds a master’s degree in special education from Quincy University, a master’s degree in educational administration from Concordia University-Chicago and a doctorate in educational leadership from Aurora University.

Allison Cherry

Artistic Director

My name is Allison Cherry and I have been a part of Children’s Theater of Elgin since my very first audition in 2nd grade.  I grew up in the organization, graduated into FVTC, then began as an intern before I moved into the role I am today as a director, writer, teacher and board member.  I have led or assisted in every aspect of the process from costumes and makeup, to music direction and choreography, but I have landed in my favorite role of directing.  When I am not working with CTE, I am a 2nd grade teacher for Prairie View Grade School in Elgin.  Here, it’s a whole different type of performance to get my seven year old students excited about math, science, social studies, and language arts.  There’s a little bit of theater in every lesson.  I also work with NISRA (Northern Illinois Special Recreation Association) where we put on musicals for kids and adults who have special needs.  In each facet of my life, I do find theater and music – and above all the connection of a group of kind hearted yet eccentric humans working together to create art.  And this is why I love and continue to be a part of Children’s Theater of Elgin for so many years.


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