Our Directors

Spring Directors

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Aaron Umsted

Director - Spring

Originally from Durant, Oklahoma, Aaron is a Chicago based teacher, actor, dancer, and director/choreographer whose work has taken him across the country and around the world. His Chicago area theatre credits include productions with the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Paramount Theatre, Drury Lane Oakbrook, and Marriott Theatre where he was nominated for a Jeff Award for his role as Will Parker in Oklahoma. Other regional credits include: Arena Stage in Washington DC, North Shore Music Theatre, Music Theatre of Wichita, Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Casa Mañana, Omaha Symphony, Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Arvada Center for the Arts, and Stages St. Louis. He has also toured North America in the Broadway companies of A Chorus Line, Disney’s Mary Poppins, and the Tony Award winning revival of Anything Goes. Aaron has recently taught musical theatre classes at Roosevelt University, Chicago Academy for the Arts, and in India with the organization, Artists Striving to End Poverty. His directing/choreography credits include: Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Northwestern University, and Bravo Performing Arts in Oak Park. Aaron is a ten-year member of Actor’s Equity Association, received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre from the University of Oklahoma, and is currently pursuing a Master of Education in Theatre Pedagogy from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.  

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Holly Francis

Director - Spring

With dreams of becoming a professional ballerina, Holly began studying ballet when she was eight.  About the same time she made her musical theater debut in a local production of Alice in Wonderland where she appeared in a two-sided cardboard costume as the Ace of Hearts.  Although unable to sit down, she loved every minute of the experience and has been singing, dancing and acting ever since.  She attended New Trier East High School and performed in multiple productions including Lagniappe, as a dancer in Kismet and Kiss Me Kate, Tuptim in The King and I, and Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker.  After graduating from New Trier, Holly attended The University of Illinois where she majored in theater with a minor in dance.  She went on to receive a Master of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University and has spent more than 20 years using her performance skills as a professional communicator, and media and communications skills coach.  She is delighted to have the opportunity to combine her professional and theatrical experience working with the children of CTW, and to honor the talented professionals and teachers who made a difference in her life by using her gifts to “pay it forward” and help children acquire the confidence, perseverance and team building skills that come from working in the theater.  

Fall Directors

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Cathy Hirschmann 

Director - Fall

Cathy has been working in theatre since she was a girl, starting when she was with the Tom Thumb Players in Chicago at the age of 14. She attended Drake University where she graduated with a BFA in Theatre. After college, Cathy got her equity card doing dinner theatre at Drury Lane. She also acted in commercials, modeled, worked trade shows and acted in industrial films. Cathy was even a Honey Bear for the Chicago Bears! Later, Cathy became an agent for David and Lee and started their acting and live modeling division. After getting married and having children Cathy was asked to help with the "Main Show" for the Winnetka Children's Fair, which she did for many years. Next, she became involved with CTW – first with choreographing, then directing. Cathy has been with CTW for 20 years and has loved and enjoyed every minute!  "It's so exciting to see the children that I have worked with going on to Broadway and Hollywood."

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Toby Nicholson

Director - Fall

Toby attended Northwestern University, where he received a BS in Theatre, and a MS in Dance Education.  Additional activities include:  Cecchetti Ballet, Commercial acting, Film acting, New Trier High School Dance and drama instructor director/choreographer for 30 years, acting in commercial films and Chicago theatre and directing roles in recent years at grade and high schools, Menz Dance at New Trier. Children's Theatre of Winnetka Director and choreographer since 2000.  See more about Toby here

Music Director

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Betsy Balkin

Music Director

Betsy is currently the 5th and 6th grade music teacher and chorus director at The Skokie School right here in Winnetka. Prior to teaching in Illinois, Betsy attended Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin, OH where she majored in Music Education/Vocal Performance and then taught high school choir for several years outside of Columbus, OH. In 2012 she attended Northwestern University and received her Master of Music Education degree. Betsy has been involved in musicals and plays since she was a young girl – performing, directing, and producing. She loves that she gets to be part of these experiences with the youngsters in CTW!

Past Directors

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Randy White

Randy White and his family recently moved to Chicago when his wife accepted a position in the English Department (Shakespeare) at the University of Chicago. His children are happily attending Lab School and Ancona Montessori.

Randy has extensive experience directing/teaching in New York and at Regional theaters across America, including the off-Broadway production (and 3-year national tour) of Theatreworks USA’s Max and Ruby. In New York, Randy also assisted on Disney’s The Lion King and was resident director at New Dramatists for two years.

Randy has also directed at Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Portland Center Stage, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and other Regional theaters.
More recently, Randy was the founding artistic director of Cardinal Stage Company in Bloomington, IN. At Cardinal, Randy directed the likes of West Side Story, August: Osage County, Next to Normal, The 39 Steps, A Streetcar Named Desire, To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserables, and The Grapes of Wrath. Randy also directed numerous Theatre for Young Audience shows, including A Year With Frog and Toad, Willy Wonka, Mary Poppins, Junie B. Jones, 
The Sound of Music, Oliver!,
 Shrek–the Musical, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Annie, and Charlotte’s Web.

As a theatre educator, Randy has directed and/or taught at Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Indiana University, University of Minnesota/Guthrie, University of Alberta, Fordham, and NYU Tisch. He also taught for several years at NYC’s American Musical and Dramatic Academy.

Randy holds an MFA in directing from the University of Alberta in his native Canada.

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Stephen Schellhardt 

Stephen has been acting, directing, choreographing, producing, casting and teaching professionally around the country for over a decade. He has acted in equity productions in Chicagoland theatres and regional theatres elsewhere, receiving three equity Jeff Award nominations and a Barrymore Award for acting, as well as a non-equity Jeff Award nomination for his directorial work on Urinetown and his choreographic work on Dogfight the Musical (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble). In Chicago, Stephen has worked at the Marriott Theatre, Writers Theatre, Drury Lane Theatre, Mercury Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Chicago’s Lyric Opera, Chamber Opera Chicago, Goodman Theatre, and the Ravinia Festival. He has taught acting and musical theatre at the Actors Training Center in Wilmette as well as at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan in Connecticut. He is an Artistic Associate and company member at BoHo Theatre in Chicago, where he recently directed its production of Urinetown, nominated for eight Joseph Jefferson awards for non-equity productions, including Best Director and Best Production. He is a founding member and managing director of the Chicago Artists Chorale, and had served as the Casting Director and Associate Producer at Writers Theatre in Glencoe. Most recently, Stephen was a full-time lecturer of musical theatre at Northwestern University, and currently serves as Assistant Professor of Musical Theatre for The Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Stephen is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama and a proud member of the Actors Equity Association.

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Annamarie Baskin 

Annamarie brings to our kids 40 years of vocal education expertise and performance experience in concert halls and opera stages around the world. She holds a bachelor's degree in music, a master's in vocal pedagogy, and did post-graduate work on development of adolescent voices. Annamarie has been musical director for amateur and equity plays for many years including the production of Fiddler on the Roof  at the University of Illinois which involved a statewide selection of talented high school kids for the cast and played to a 3000 member audience. Annamarie also taught three generations of singers at New Trier, and received the coveted Distinguished Teacher Service Award when she left to focus on individual student development and her work with Children's Theatre of Winnetka. Learn more about Annamarie by reading her book, Whad'ya Say Your Name Was, Sweetie?  

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Barbara Weldon

Barbara Eskilson fell in love with theatre her Freshman year at Horace Mann High School, in Gary, Indiana. At Connecticut College for Women, she continued in East Lynne, Antigone and The Heiress among others, narrowly winning the lead from fellow student actor Joan Molinsky (AKA Joan Rivers.)  At Indiana University she continued in The Misanthrope, Elizabeth the Queen and Twelfth Night – the latter was the history-making first play telecast from IU stage live.  After graduation she taught English, dramatics and coached the debate team at Muskegon High in Michigan, while spending summers at Northwestern graduate school in Theatre.

Her acting career took a vacation from 1958 until 1965 when she started directing class plays at Lincoln School in Evanston and religious scenarios at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Evanston.  In Winnetka (circa 1969), she and her friend Lu Sunkel directed several of the Main Show plays at the Winnetka Children’s Fair. In 1972, Barbara started 3 classes at the Community House involving acting for Children and conducted them for over 10 years. In 1974 she approached Tom Fritz, then director of the Winnetka Community House, about a children’s theatre. And so began The Winnetka Children’s Theatre, later changed to Children’s Theatre of Winnetka.  The tenor of the plays gradually changed as the students became more aware of theatre - from children’s stories like Maria’s Loom and Earthworms, Door Knobs, Milkweed and Ziggernauts to classics like Tom Sawyer and The Hobbit then early musicals like Wonderful Town and The Boy Friend, until finally doing Top Broadway Shows like Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady.  In 2017, after 43 years of directing and producing plays, Barbara retired- but remains on the Board.

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