FIU Theatre Alumni Conference2020-05-15T16:18:51+00:00

FIU Theatre Alumni Conference
May 14-16, 2020

Join us for the first FIU Theatre Alumni Conference! The Conference will bring together FIU Theatre alumni and students for some career-focused panels.

Now more than ever, artists need to come together to share knowledge and experiences that can better prepare each other for whatever comes next. 

The Conference is open to FIU Theatre alumni and current students.

All panels are FREE, but for those who are able to, please consider making a contribution to CARTA’s COVID-19 Relief Fund which supports hospitals and first responders through the creation of face shields and other personal protective equipment (PPE)  or the FIU Theatre Alumni Scholarship Endowment Fund which was created by the alumni of the theatre department as a legacy to support the future generations of FIU Theatre artists. Donations may be made at CARTA’s Give Now page. Please select the fund you would like to donate to in the Designation drop-down menu.

To register, please click below. Once you are registered, you’ll receive an email with the panel links and passwords before the conference.

Conference Schedule

(all times Eastern Standard Time)

Thursday, May 14

Before the first panels begin, we’ll gather to officially kick off the Conference and give you a preview of what’s in store for the next few days.

Navigating a career full of steep highs and low lows can be challenging whether you are in your early, mid- or late-career. Join us for an honest conversation with a panel of artists full of varied experiences and at different stages in their career about their own personal journeys and how we can learn from each other to navigate and enjoy this wild ride. 

Led by Adriana Gaviria
Panelists: Danny Pino, Maribel Martinez, Juanita Olivo, and Jason Caceres


Adriana Gaviria is an actress, voice-over artist, writer, director, advocate and creative producer. She is Founding Member/Artistic Producer of The Sol Project, Producer of SolFest, and was Producer for LTC’s Miami Regional Convening last summer. She serves on the national advisory boards of 50 Playwrights Project, FIU Theatre Alumni, and Parent Artist Advocacy League, and on the national steering committees for the Latinx Theatre Commons and DRAMA. She has performed at regional theaters across the nation—most notably Yale Repertory Theatre, Syracuse Stage, Dallas Theater Center, Denver Center, Arizona Theatre Company, Pasadena Playhouse, Marin Theatre Company, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater; and in New York, Pregones/PRTT, The Public, Repertorio Español, IATI, Classic Stage, Working Theater, Immigrant’s Theatre Project, New York Stage & Film at Vassar, among others. She recently appeared in The Cubans at Miami New Drama working alongside several FIU alumni. She is currently developing North Star Projects, creating content and events that educate, empower, inspire, and build community. MFA, Yale School of Drama.

Danny Pino is a Los Angeles based television, film, and theatre actor. He is currently playing Miguel Galindo on the hit FX series Mayans M.C. Previous work on television includes: The Shield, Cold Case, Law & Order: SVU, Scandal, and One Day at a Time. Feature films include: The Lost City, Flicka, and The Burning Plain. On stage, Danny has appeared in the Public Theater’s production of Measure for Measure and most recently in Key Largo at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.

Maribel Martinez is an actor/storyteller based in New York City with Dominican and Puerto Rican roots. Most recently she was working on the off-Broadway world premiere of Guadalis Del Carmen’s Bees and Honey produced by LABrynth and SOL Project (now postponed). She has worked at the Folger Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, American Conservatory Theater, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, and The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park.

Juanita Dilia Olivo is a professional actor and singer who was most recently on the third national tour of Sesame Street Live! Let’s Party! as the lead female vocalist and host, Casey. After her graduation from FIU in 2016, Juanita worked the local Miami theater scene in collaborations and projects with What If Works, performing at local Miami-Dade and Broward public schools. She has also worked with the Miami Acting Company for their production of In the Heights before getting hired by Feld Entertainment for their new collaboration with Sesame Workshop. She has had the honor of training with the puppeteers at Sesame Workshop and was one of the lead Oscar the Grouch and Abby Cadabby puppeteers for her unit. Juanita is looking towards the future after the pandemic canceled the tour and she continues to hone her craft with workshops and personal trainings.

Jason Caceres currently lives in Los Angeles, CA. Recent projects include Criminal Minds (CBS), Insatiable (Netflix), 100 Humans (Netflix), Kidding (Showtime), Turnt (Facebook Watch), and Marlo Lasker (Amazon).

Navigating a career full of steep highs and low lows can be challenging whether you are in your early, mid- or late-career. Our panel of design and management artists will share their own personal journeys and the steps they took early on to create a sustainable and fulfilling career.

Led by Katherine Paez Froehlich
Panelists: Damian Charkiewicz, Caroline Spitzer, and Amanda Sparhawk

Katherine Paez Froehlich currently spends her days in sunny Southern California bringing the movies to life at Universal Studios Hollywood. Most recently, Katherine has worked with Universal Creative on Jurassic World – The Ride and with Universal Studios Hollywood Entertainment Production on various marquee events including Halloween Horror Nights and Lunar New Year.  

Damian Charkiewicz is currently a Video Design Specialist at Technical Multimedia Design, Inc., located in Burbank, CA. Damian specializes in designing, commissioning, and programming video systems for theme parks, brand/visitor centers and museums. Some of Damian’s recent work and projects include Disney’s Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, design and in-field work for Shanghai Disneyland®, the Zootopia themed attraction for Shanghai Disneyland®, the Frozen attraction for Hong Kong Disneyland®, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Museum of the Bible, The Epcot Experience Center, Kennedy Space Center, Circle Room at the Grand Ole Opry and many more. Damian received his BFA in Theatre from Florida International University in 2011 and his MFA in Theatre from Penn State University in 2014.

Caroline Spitzer is a freelance costume designer based in New York City. She holds a BFA from FIU and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Most recently Caroline designed the costumes for Michael Leon’s The Cubans at Miami New Drama and was an assistant costume designer on Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. She is a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829.

Amanda Sparhawk is a Miami-based scenic designer. She has been working for Actors’ Playhouse for the last six years as their Scenic Charge Artist and the children’s show set designer, and for the last four years she has also been operating as the Assistant Technical Director/Shop Foreman. Amanda also continues to do freelance design work for various theatre companies in South Florida, primarily for Mainstreet Playhouse in Miami Lakes and has recently joined their Board of Directors. She has worked on countless shows but her favorites include Havana Music Hall, Mamma Mia, Ring of Fire, Million Dollar Quartet, and Memphis at Actors’ Playhouse and Men on Boats, Real Woman Have Curves, A Bicycle Country, Bad Jews, The Underpants and Iphigenia en Aulis at Mainstreet Playhouse. 

Your theatre training equipped you with a lot of creative and technical skills that go beyond the stage or screen. This panel will explore how the skills you already possess could help you grow your income in innovative ways while maintaining the flexibility to keep your arts career going and live your best creative life.

Led by Melissa Ann Hubicsak and Carolina Pozo
Panelists: Michelle Fraioli


Melissa Ann Hubicsak is a Miami-based actress most recently seen playing the principal role of Edna in the record-breaking theatrical hit, Amparo. Aside from her performance credits, she has been able to forge her BFA Acting skills to achieve success in multiple avenues such as the professional make-up, non-profit, personal development, corporate, and beauty industries. Currently, she is the National Coordinator for Development & Prospect Research for the Parkinson’s Foundation. IG: @melissa_ann_hubicsak

Carolina Pozo is a Miami-based actor for theatre and film based in Miami with tri-coastal representation. She is also a small business owner of The Sugar Cottage, a company dedicated to bringing Miami creatives together sharing their work, and providing opportunities for income with their creative craft services. She has performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center, Microteatro, City Theatre, Green Point Brooklyn Theatre Festival New York, among others. National commercials include Dos Equis, Orange Theory Fitness, Blackberry, HBO WestWorld, and American Express. She has starred in two award-winning shorts, Jack, available on Amazon, and Super Market, which premiered at the Miami Film Festival. She is in the feature film Santa in Training coming out this winter.

Michelle Fraioli is the Theatre Manager of Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre. While attending FIU as a performance major, she worked in the box office and in the summers worked as a part-time usher for The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park. After graduating, Michelle moved to NYC and started working at New World Stages, one of New York’s premier Off-Broadway venues. She worked her way up to becoming the full-time Theatre and Bar Manager of all five Off-Broadway venues. Shortly thereafter, she was recruited by The Shubert Organization to join their Theatre Management Apprentice Program before being hired at the Barrymore Theatre.

After any event, the lobby is usually buzzing with conversations and opportunities for connection…our online Conference is giving you the same opportunity. Join us in the virtual lobby to see old friends and meet other FIU Theatre alumni.

Friday, May 15

An in-depth conversation about the process of creating new work, from the idea to the finished product. This panel of playwrights, directors, and producers will discuss how new work gets created and eventually produced independently or by theatre companies.

Led by Erik Rodriguez
Panelists: France-Luce Benson, Victoria Collado, Jennifer Rumberger 

Erik J. Rodriguez is very excited to be moderating this panel on New Work for the FIU Theatre Alumni Conference. Erik was the Director of New Work at Miami New Drama from 2018 – 2020.  He was also the Literary Manager at New Theatre from 2014-2016. Some of his production credits include Body Awareness (Actor, Island City Stage), One Night In Miami (Associate Director, Miami New Drama) and Not Ready for Primetime (Playwright, New Theatre). Erik has produced One Act Festivals in South Florida and Line Produced the National New Play Network 2015 Showcase at the South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center. In 2019, Erik was selected by the Theatre Communications Group as one of its Rising Leaders of Color nationally.

As a playwright and arts educator, France-Luce Benson was named “Someone to Watch ” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine, and was just named a finalist of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival for her play, Tigress of San Domingue. She is a recipient of a Miranda Foundation grant for her play Detained, an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Play Commission for her play The Devil’s Salt, and a Princess Grace Award runner up for Boat People. Additional honors include: Zoetrope Grand Prize for her screenplay Caroline’s Wedding; Dramatists Guild Fellow 2016-17, Sam French OOB Festival Winner, and NNPN Award for Best Play, and three time Kilroy List Honorable Mention. Residencies include Djerassi, the Camargo Foundation in France, and Instituto Sacatar in Bahia, Brazil. Her plays have had productions, workshops, and readings at Crossroads Theatre New Jersey, City Theatre of Miami, The Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, City Theatre of Miami, Loyola Marymount University, Global Black Voices in London, and in New York: New Black Fest at The Lark, The Billy Holiday Theatre, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre New York, where she is a company member. She’s been published by Sam French and Routledge Press. After graduating from FIU, she went on to earn an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Teaching appointments have included UCLA Extension, St. Johns University, Columbia University, Dramatists Guild Traveling Masters, and P.S. Arts/Inside Out in L.A. She is currently based in Los Angeles, California where she serves as the Community Engagement Coordinator at The Fountain Theatre.

Victoria Collado is a Cuban-American director currently living and working in New York City and Miami. She has an interest in merging the movement world with naturalist plays in order to create exciting theatrical experiences. She recently directed the immersive theatre piece, AMPARO, written by Vanessa Garcia in partnership with Havana Club by Bacardi and Michael Leon’s The Cubans at Miami New Drama. Victoria has directed for Repertorio Español, MCC Youth Company, Sheen Center, IATI theatre, Juggerknot Theatre Co., Microteatro Miami, Columbia University, FIU, and others. Her production El Burlador de Sevilla received various nominations from the ACE awards, and won for Outstanding Ensemble. She was a Van Lier Directing Fellow with Repertorio Español, part of the Directing Corps in the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and a recipient of the SDCF Observership. Victoria was the assistant director to Tony Taccone in John Leguizamo’s Latin History For Morons on Broadway. She received her BFA from Florida International University. She is a fellow of the WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab and is an Associate Member of SDC. She is also the co-founder of Abre Camino Collective.

Jennifer Rumberger is a Chicago-based playwright. Recent productions include Night in Alachua County with Wildclaw Theater, Open Blue Sky at Stella Adler/ Tisch School of the Arts, and The Bride with the Living Room Playmakers and Chicago Fringe Festival. She has been commissioned by the Gift Theatre Company and the world premiere of her play, The Locusts, was slated for Fall 2020 (postponed due to Covid-19). Jennifer’s work has been developed or presented in New York, Houston, Chicago, and Florida by The Lark Playwrights Center, id Theatre Company, The Gift Theatre Company, Black Box Acting Studio, The Living Room Playmakers, Commission Theatre Company, Wordsmyth Theatre Company, White Rose Miami, Northwestern University, The Seven Devils Playwrights Conference and Chicago Dramatists. She also writes nonfiction prose and has performed at live storytelling events in Chicago.  She was a 2015 nominee for the PoNY Fellowship and a 2015 semifinalist for the P73 Playwriting Fellowship, and a 2016 finalist for the Ingram New Works Playwrights Lab. She is a founding member and associate playwright with the Living Room Playmakers in Chicago. MFA: Northwestern University. 

Creative people have no shortage of ideas for exciting projects, but getting those projects produced can be a challenge. This panel will explore what it takes to get your idea out into the world, whether you produce it yourself or get others to buy into your vision. This group of artists with varied experiences will cover the ins and outs of making your idea a reality.

Led by Zack Myers
Panelists: Yecid Benavides Jr., Danny Leonard, Tatiana Pandiani


Zack Myers is a multidisciplinary artist living in Los Angeles with a focus in acting and directing. Since starting his professional career in 2012, Zack has worked with many theaters in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties as well as Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, and most recently LA Theaterworks on their production of Charles Buschs’ Die! Mommie Die! He’s excited to work in his newest role as Creative Director for Radio On the Lake Presents, cultivating and creating bold new radio theater highlighting new and diverse voices across the nation. 

Yecid Benavides Jr. is a Miami-based filmmaker who directed, wrote, and starred in Engaño a Primera Vista, the most-watched film in all of Bolivian history and the biggest box-office hit of the last 14 years in Bolivia. During the quarantine, they released their film online and had over one million views in two weeks. He and his family own a film production company, Artistas Latinos Corp.

Danny Leonard is a Chicago-based producer and performer. He is a co-creator of a sketch-comedy video production company called Playground Social. Since moving to Chicago, he has produced, written, and performed in several live variety shows that showcase up and coming comedians and musicians. Danny can also be seen performing improv and sketch comedy at the Annoyance Theatre, Second City, iO Theater, Cards Against Humanity Theater, and The Hideout.  Some show credits include: The Great Movie Sketch Ride, Space Cruise to the Moon, The PGS Hotel 100th Grand Re-Opening, Save the Church Telethon, and Missed Call

Tatiana Pandiani is a NYC based director-choreographer who works in English and Spanish. She currently serves as the Associate Director for the National Broadway tour of What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck which recently closed on Broadway. Upcoming: Torera by Monet-Hurst Mendoza at Long Wharf Theater. Tatiana is an adjunct professor at Hofstra University, a Teaching Artist at the Atlantic Theater Company, and an Associate Artist at Miami New Drama. Proud Member of SDC. Representation: Paradigm Talent Agency. MFA: Columbia.

Join us for an after-party with Villain Theater, a Miami improv company run by FIU Theatre alumni Peter Mir and Jannelys Santos. The night will feature interactive improv comedy featuring Villain’s FIU alumni cast members.

Saturday, May 16

Are you passionate about teaching theatre? Are you considering a path in teaching but are unsure of what that actually looks like? Are you a working professional looking for supplemental income?  Then this is the panel for you! Whether you are a current student, young graduate, an established theatre artist, or are already in the classroom – stop by and chat with seasoned theatre teachers.  The panelists will discuss their path to teaching, what it means for them as theatre artists, and how teaching theatre has changed over the past decade including the recent need to adapt to virtual learning due to COVID-19.

Led by Melissa Almaguer
Panelists: Natalie Birriel, Nicole Quintana, and Yamarys Salomon


Melissa Almaguer is a Cuban-American actress and teacher based in Miami. She was recently seen in Havana Club and Broadway Factor’s immersive theatrical experience, Amparo.  She has worked with several South Florida theatre companies including Main Street Players, Mad Cat Theatre, New Theatre, and The Playground Theatre (now MTC). Melissa produced, acted, and directed for her former company, White Rose Miami. She has taught theatre for over a decade and developed workshops, summer camps and holiday camps for The Playground Theatre and FIU.  Melissa currently teaches drama at Felix Varela Senior High.

Natalie Birriel is a Puerto Rican actress, comedian, writer, producer, and educator currently living in NYC. Some of her recent theatre credits include Speak! at Under St. Marks; Christopher Ashley’s Dram of Drummhicit at La Jolla Playhouse; Three Sisters: Awake at New York Theatre Workshop; Man Hat Wife at the Baldwin New Play Festival;  Marisol(ws) at Williamstown Theatre Festival.  She is the co-writer, executive producer, and lead in the TV pilot Zita, Please!  You can also catch her performing Stand-Up comedy at the Comic Strip! As an educator, she is the Head of Acting and Production Studies at Girls Prep Middle School of the Lower East Side and mentors young actors through her company, Borinquen Productions. Natalie has her MFA from UC San Diego.

Nicole Quintana has been teaching for M-DCPS since 2001. She teaches drama teacher at Miami Arts Studio at Zelda Glazer 6-12 and has also taught at South Miami Senior High School, Robert Morgan Educational Center, and Coral Reef Senior High. She is currently the President for the Florida Association for Theatre Education. Professionally, she has designed sets for Juggerknot Theatre Company, New Theatre, and White Rose Miami. Recently she performed as Emily Dickinson in The Belle of Amherst for What If Works. Other credits include Winter and My First My Fist My Bleeding Seeded Spirit with New Theatre and Rent, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and Title of Show at the Roxy Theatre Group. She is a wife and mother of two grown boys who are all involved in the arts as well.

Yamarys Salomon has been teaching high school theatre since her graduation in 2008 with a BFA in scenic design and theatre production. She has created and developed the only technical theatre: design and production magnet program in Miami-Dade County public schools at Miami Arts Studio @ Zelda Glazer. She has most recently completed her Masters degree in Education (M.Ed) in hopes of continuing to inspire the next generation of young designers.

Many of the jobs available to designers and technicians are covered by IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), the labor union representing over 140,000 technicians, artisans, and craftspersons in the entertainment industry. In this time of job uncertainty for entertainment workers, join us as we discuss what unions mean for our industry, and our paths to union membership from our days at FIU. 

Led by Caroline Spitzer
Panelists: Jackie Martinez, Alex Parayuelos, Jason Michal Torres

Caroline Spitzer is a freelance costume designer based in New York City. She holds an MFA from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a BFA from FIU. Most recently Caroline designed the costumes for Michael Leon’s The Cubans at Miami New Drama and was an assistant costume designer on Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. She is a member of United Scenic Artists Local 829.

Jackie Martinez is a Cuban-American costume designer currently living in Los Angeles. She has been the assistant costume designer on such projects as HBO’s Here and Now, Apple’s For All Mankind, the upcoming Disney+ series The Falcon and Winter Soldier and, currently, season 3 of HBO’s Barry. Costume design credits include Top Secret (LA Theatre Works, China Tour), Spring Awakening (UCLA Theatre), The World of Steam (web series acquired by the Jim Henson Company), and the feature film We Go On. Jackie has an MFA in Costume Design from UCLA and is a proud member of The Costume Designer’s Guild, Local 892 and the Motion Picture Costumers’ Union 705.

Alex Parayuelos is an LD/Programmer based out of Las Vegas, NV. His work spans over many different facets of the entertainment industry, from corporate events and theater to festivals and concert tours. His experience in large festivals, tours, and high corporate clientele, makes him a well sought out programmer by some of the industries’ biggest players. Recent accomplishments include; Meek Mill: The Motivation Tour, Blue Origin’s Blue Moon Launch, & his continued involvement with rock band 311. Alex is a member of IATSE Local 500.

Jason Michal Torres is a touring wig, hair, and makeup artist/supervisor. He was part of the wig, hair, and makeup team for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in San Francisco, as well as the 706 local union steward for the Bay Area. Prior to this, he toured with the first national tours of Disney’s AladdinBeautiful, the Carole King MusicalSomething Rotten, Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s Cinderella; as well as the second national tours of Anything Goes and Memphis. Jason has also done some work on Broadway with Aladdin and Something Rotten and has worked with various regional opera companies including Opera Carolina, Piedmont Opera, and Florida Grand Opera. He has an MFA in Wig & Makeup Design from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and is a proud member of IATSE Locals 706 & 798.

Gather with your fellow FIU Theatre alumni and faculty and grab your beverage of choice as we toast to our first Conference! 

Alumni Conference Organizing Committee: Ivan R. Lopez, Tony Galaska, Yecid Benavides Jr., Adriana Gaviria, Melissa Ann Hubicsak, Zack Myers, Carolina Pozo, Caroline Spitzer