Our Artists in Residence make JCC Maccabi ArtsFest the premier arts experience for Jewish teens. Carefully selected for their superb credentials and their excitement about working with young people, these working artists are at the top of their fields. They share their talent and experience in an intensive workshop structure, spending the week guiding and inspiring teens to express their own creativity.
2014 Artists in Residence
Acting/Improv | Lisa Melinn
Lisa Melinn began her life in the theatre at age five, when she played Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. After getting bitten by the acting bug, Lisa spent most of her childhood singing show tunes and performing in plays. She also spent three summers studying and performing at The Hampton Playhouse in Hampton, New Hampshire. Lisa began acting professionally while still in high school, recording voice overs for regional and national radio commercials.
Lisa studied Musical Theatre and Drama at Syracuse University, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Upon graduating, Lisa returned home to Michigan and began working at The Second City/Detroit. Lisa worked as an actor/improviser in both The Second City Touring Company and the Resident Company, where she co-wrote and performed dozens of original shows. Lisa also spent over a year in a wedding dress, playing Tina in Tony n‘ Tina’s Wedding. Favorite roles in local theatre include Jessie in ‘Night Mother, Zillah in A Bright Room Called Day, Helen in Night of the Living Dead: The Musical, and The Narrator in Wolves.
Lisa has taught acting and improvisation to students of all ages, from 6 to 60, for Farmington Hills Schools, The Second City/Detroit, Michigan Actors Studio, Water Works Theatre Company, Michigan Youth Theatre, and Oakland Community College’s Theatre Program.
Culinary Arts | Michelle Bommarito
Special Guest Chef Michelle Bommarito is a graduate (1997, Blue Ribbon Status) of The Institute of Culinary Education (formerly, Peter Kumps New York Cooking School, NY, NY.) She is accredited in the Culinary Arts. Bommarito had the privilege of being employed by the historic and world-renowned Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, NY, where she supported the Executive Chef with the daily preparation of recipes for fine pastries and desserts.
Bommarito was a finalist in the 1997 Harry Wils “How Sweet It Is” pastry competition with her own chocolate sculpture. She has been a Freelance Artist for Martha Stewart Omni Media and at Living Magazine. The distinctiveness and uniqueness of Bommarito’s designs and cakes have been subject to numerous newspaper and magazine articles including, Detroit Free Press, Martha Stewart Living, Oakland Style Magazine, and Bride’s Magazine.
In 2004, Bommarito was selected as one of five wedding cake designers to compete in the first Food Network wedding cake challenge television program. Bommarito has won one gold medal and three silver medals as she continues to compete in Food Network challenges. That same year, Bommarito was asked to be Athlete Michael Jordan’s personal chef during his week-long visit for the 35th Ryder Cup in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. To this day, this is one of Bommarito’s favorite experiences. Bommarito is now working with the National Food Service Management Institute’s “Connect: Chefs to Schools” and “Healthy Cuisine for Kids, initiated by First Lady, Michelle Obama in order to bring awareness of obesity in children.
Dance | Mark McCleese
Mark is the owner and artistic director of MDM Dance Project in Shelby Township, MI. He is a graduate of Oakland University with a major in Musical Theatre and Minor in Dance. Mark grew up dancing at The Dance Shoppe in Waterford specializing in Tap and Jazz. For the past nine years he has lived on the West Coast working professionally with Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Sleeping Beauty or Coma, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and many other film and television spots.
Mark has worked in the dance industry choreographing competitive routines and judging for national dance competitions across the country as well as choreographing nearly 70 musicals coast to coast. He has worked with some of the top choreographers and dance companies around the world, most recently being the children’s director for Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker at the Fox Theatre. He is thrilled to be sharing his knowledge and training with all dancers participating in JCC Maccabi ArtsFest.
Musical Theater | Eric Gutman
Eric Gutman is a Detroit area, Michigan-born actor and musician. Eric currently lives in Huntington Woods, Michigan with his family. His credits include Tipping Point Theatre in Northville, Meadowbrook Theatre in Rochester and the Gem/Century Theatres in Detroit – where he has performed in countless shows including the Michigan premier of the Pulitzer Prize winning musical, Next to Normal. Other favorite credits have included Ordinary Days, Xanadu, Forever Plaid, I Love You, You’re Perfect…, Assassins and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Before his move back home, Eric appeared in the Tony and Grammy Award-winning sensation Jersey Boys. In his almost three year run with this extraordinary show, Eric performed over 1,100 shows in six different roles (including three of the Four Seasons) as well as being one of the few actors to play live instruments on stage. Eric has also been a company member for over thirteen years with the Off-Broadway and touring companies of Forbidden Broadway and Forbidden Hollywood where he has played in over 100 different theatres across the country, as well as being a featured performer with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
Eric holds a BFA in Music Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University. He is a proud member of Actor’s Equity Association since 1999 and The American Federation of Musicians.
Rock Band | Josh Nelson
One of the most popular performers and composers in modern Jewish music, Josh Nelson brings his extraordinary message of hope, unity and spirituality to concert stages and worship services across the globe. Josh is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and songwriter whose work is celebrated and integrated into the repertoire of congregations, camps and communities around the world. Whether appearing solo or with an elite ensemble of world-class musicians, Josh’s presence and performance style is high-energy and captivating.
A classically trained musician who is equally versed in rock, jazz and world music, Josh combines his broad range of influences into a breathtaking musical style that is accessible to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Josh previously served as director of Jazz Programs and an adjunct professor at Boston University. While he performs professionally on as many as thirteen different instruments (though not at the same time), he is most widely considered an extraordinary guitarist, pianist, and vocalist.
Performance highlights include: International Symphony of Peace Prayers, Mt. Fuji, Japan; March of the Living, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland; South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin, TX; Limmud Conferences, Warwick, UK and Istanbul, Turkey; international conventions for each of the major youth movements in the USA (NFTY, USY, BBYO, etc.); URJ Biennial Conventions; the USCJ Centennial Convention; JCCA National Conventions; CAJE Conferences; & Jewish music festivals, synagogues, concert halls, and JCCs across the country. Josh is a returning Artist in Residence at JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, and has been a member of the extended JCC Maccabi family since the launch of the first JCC Maccabi ArtsFest program.
Star Reporters | Donald Harrison
Donald Harrison is an independent filmmaker, educator and media arts professional based in Ann Arbor, MI. He produces commercial films, music videos and documentaries through his production company, 7 Cylinders Studio. Harrison served as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival from 2008–2012, expanding the organization’s audience, social media outreach, community partnerships, traveling tour and educational programming.
He has worked directly with youth and media education programs through the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University and The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor. Harrison worked and studied at Film Arts Foundation (now part of the San Francisco Film Society) for five years and received a Bachelor of Arts in social psychology from the University of Michigan. He’s a competitive table tennis player and bowler, most recently carrying an average of 215.
Visual Arts | Natalie Estep
Natalie Estep is a Fine Artist from Canton, Michigan. She earned an Associate’s Degree from Schoolcraft College in the Graphic Design program, but soon discovered her true passion was Fine Art. Natalie graduated from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, earning a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in 2010 with a focus on sculpture and painting.
Natalie has worked in many artistic fields including film, community restoration, museum design and installation, theatre and scenic design. Her artwork has been featured in many galleries and publications, both locally and internationally. Her current visual art work depicts the colorful complexity of life through self portraits, creating a connection with the viewer through emotional vulnerability and vivid color.
Natalie works at the JCC in West Bloomfield as the Scenic Artist developing designs with the Berman Crew for The Berman Center for the Performing Arts, as well as curating exhibits for the Janice Charach Gallery. She has worked with students of all ages, including with peer-assisted learning at Schoolcraft College—teaching the business side of the art world; she has worked with the Special Olympics for over 15 years; has taught visual arts classes at the JCC for students ages 2–10; and, enjoys helping young artists find their “niche”.
Vocal Music | Beth Schafer
Beth Schafer has spent her career redefining Jewish music by combining masterful songwriting with sensitivity to liturgy and a unique insight into text. She specializes in music for Torah-minded adults looking for an extension to their Jewish lives through music. Beth won the 2006 American Idol Underground Faith-Based Competition and has used that win to create new music for interfaith communities. She has been featured in many national conferences and festivals and has played at center court for the Orlando Magic as well as for President Obama during his historic 2008 campaign.
Beth has degrees in music theory and composition from the University of Miami School of Music and is a trained and much sought after guitarist in styles ranging from classical to blues, folk to jazz. In 2010, Beth founded Positive Jewish Living. As chief conceptualizer, she takes her writing to a broader level, offering new perspective, new music and a new Jewish experience in both worship and concert.
Beth has been the spiritual leader of Temple Shir Shalom in Central Florida for 10 years, has been married for 19, and has two daughters. She has released seven CDs of original music and is the author of PJL’s Seven Sparks, Tools for Jewish Wellness. Beth has been an Artist in Residence at six JCC Maccabi ArtsFests.