Staff

  • Taras

    Nahirniak

    Producer and Orchestrator

    Taras Nahirniak joined the staff of the Kids in 1990 as our rehearsal accompanist. His multiple talents became apparent quickly. He was soon assisting with choral rehearsals and writing arrangements for the show. Over the last ten years he has written well over half of the custom arrangements. He currently plays an integral role in the planning an musical director of the show as the producer and orchestrator.

    Taras is a freelance arranger and composer with numerous published works. He writes and composes for vocal groups, drum corps and marching bands in the U.S., Europe and Japan. He was commissioned to compose a five movement piece, "Night Dances", which was performed by the Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Ballet for the opening of the Overture Center. In 1997 he composed the full musical, "Everyman", which premiered in Madison and was later performed in California. In 2002 he won the Wisconsin Choral Directors Association composers award. Taras also serves as the music director a Bethany United Methodist Church and is actively involved in the music program at Monona Grove High School.

  • Kerry

    Hart Bieneman

    Choral Director

    Kerry Bieneman holds a B.M. in vocal performance from Lawrence University and a M.M. in vocal performance from Northwestern University. She is an active pianist, music director, and singer throughout southeastern Wisconsin. She has served as a voice professor at Lawrence University, UW-Milwaukee, and Carthage College.

    Ms. Bieneman has served as a private vocal coach, accompanist, and music director for many companies including the Florentine Opera, Skylight Music Theatre, Opera for the Young, Bel Canto Chorus, Milwaukee Rep., Waukesha Choral Union and the Four Guyz in Dinner Jackets. She also serves as music director for the Musical Mainstage shows at Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove, WI.

    Kerry enjoys singing a variety of repertoire including classical, musical theatre, pop/rock, and jazz. She is an active cabaret performer throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

    After being a performer in the Kids (1997-2001), she served 11 years as the Assistant Choral Director. She became the Choral Director in 2017.

  • Jamie

    Beckman

    Band Director

    Jamie was lucky to grow up in Oconomowoc, WI where to this day they have a legendary band program. Playing at MENC national conventions and the Midwest Clinic were commonplace. Looking back now, he realizes how fortunate he was to perform music at an extremely high level at an early age. After high school, he toured for 2 summers with “Kids from Wisconsin” as their woodwind specialist. Jamie is a 1996 graduate of Lawrence University where he studied with Steven Jordheim, Nick Keelan, and Ken Schaphorst. Jamie graduated in 2008 with a Master’s in Education from Cardinal Stritch University.

    Jamie is in his 24th year teaching high school music. He began his career in Waukesha and has spent the last 18 years building Muskego High School into a large and respected band program. He conducts 4 concert bands, 3 jazz ensembles, pep band, pit orchestra and the Warrior Marching Band. As a saxophonist, bassist, and singer, Jamie has been a regular on the Milwaukee area music scene for the past 20+years. He has led his own funk groups, played in multiple “horn” bands, reggae bands, and original music groups. You can hear him perform weekly in the “Superband” jazz big band.

  • Eric

    Richards

    Stage Band Coach

    Dr. Eric Richards is a native of Pittsburgh and currently resides in the great state of Wyoming. He is a versatile and widely performed composer/arranger, conductor, trombonist and educator, active in a broad range of musical media and genres. As a composer who defines himself as a "contemporary American electric", he has written music for groups ranging from rural high school marching bands to chamber music ensembles to nationally recognized wind ensembles, big bands and symphony orchestras. Eric's work as a composer/arranger and trombonist has been heard worldwide in performances and recordings by professional and academic ensembles in major concert venues across the U.S., Europe, Asia and India.

    Eric's work as a teacher and mentor is energized by his professional activities. In 2015 Dr. Richards accepted an appointment as the Director of Bands and Jazz Studies at Sheridan College in Wyoming where he serves as Music Director of the Sheridan Wind Ensemble, Jazz Combo and leads initiatives in recruiting, outreach and curriculum development.

  • Peggy

    Morgan Strimple

    Choreographer/Community Enrichment Coordinator

    A Kids From Wisconsin Alumna, Peggy has proudly served the organization since 2014 as its choreographer. She also helped design and continues to coordinate the "Realize Your Dream" projects, a vision from Managing Director, Tina Weiss which offers workshops to large and small communities, virtual Master Classes and tutorial videos. Most recently Peggy led in developing two educational music programs, "Music In Me" and "Music With My Friends" for schools without music curricula in the inner city of Milwaukee. It debuted in January 2021.

    As a freelance director and choreographer, Peggy is currently involved in multiple large scale musicals, visual adjudications, clinician work and teaching artist for education venues. In 2019 alone she averaged over 1000 performers trained under her direction. She was chosen as a teaching artist for Disney Musicals in Schools, and is a multiple Jerry Award recipient for "Outstanding Choreography" as well as a Jerry Award Reviewer throughout the state of Wisconsin.

    She received intense dance education from the legendary Jean Wolfmeyer in Manitowoc, WI, while also studying as a scholarship student at the former National Academy of the Arts, Gus Giordano Dance and Lou Conte Dance Studio of Chicago. Peggy enjoyed over 15 years as a professional dancer/entertainer, mostly in featured roles and as dance/rehearsal captains, collaborating and assisting directors/choreographers in all aspects of the performing arts.

  • Michael

    Stanek

    Choreographer

    Michael Stanek, a native of Spring Green, spent the last 25 years living in NYC working as a performer, director, choreographer and teaching artist. He served as the resident choreographer for The RIDE! (Drama Desk Nominee) and Artistic Director/Choreographer for Broadway Kids With Heart, (Rosie O'Donnell Show). In 2006 he assisted Tony-Award winner Kathleen Marshall on 70, Girls, 70, starring Olympia Dukakis (City Center Encores! MIchael has performed all over the United States and Europe touring with "42nd Street" and creating the original role of the Prince in "Beauty and the Beast" (Disney-MGM Studios). He has directed/choreographed over 100 different theatrical productions and is 25-year member of Actors' Equity Association and 10 year associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society.

  • David

    Lundholm

    Costume Designer

    With a BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, David has over thirty years experience in the Theatre Industry. He has performed professionally at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Il., at Theme Parks around the country including; Opryland in Nashville, TN, Six Flags Over Georgia, and Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Il where he has worked for 25 years.

    David has been the exclusive costume designer for Six Flags Great America for 15 years, with over 60+ production under his belt. His costumes have been seen live by hundreds of thousands of people and his designs have been used a Six Flags parks all across the country. He also designs costumes for Libertyville High School in IL as well as several nationally ranked Midwest show choirs.

  • Matthew

    Pea

    Technical Director

    Matt has been the Kids From Wisconsin's Technical Director and Sound Designer since 2011 and is excited be back for another season! After having worked sounds, lighting and video for events in high school, he received his degree at Madison Media Institute and became a freelance audio engineer in 2007. He later formed Pinnacle Audio and has been operating the company ever since.

    Matt has received several sound design awards through the Overture Center's Jerry Awards program and has found a niche working with young performers and their creative teams. In addition to musical theater, Matt has worked with collegiate and high school a cappella groups. He is the lead audio engineer for several large-scale corporate events, technical director for Piano Fondue, provides audio support for the Silver Stage Invitational, and mixes for occasional local bands. "I love the challenge that comes with some of the larger production I get to work on. Coming up with ways to accomplish some of the out-of-the-box requests from some productions really keeps me engaged."

    Originally from Mayville, WI, Matt currently resides in Theresa, WI with wife Megan and their son Jayden. He enjoys spending time with family, running, snowboarding and simply sitting to enjoy the view in his backyard. And, when he has some rare free time, he enjoys working with the team at Mayville EMS as an EMT.

  • Samuel J.

    Hess

    Assistant Technical Director and Lighting Design

    Samuel J. Hess is an award winning theatrical and concert lighting designer based our of Whitewater Wisconsin. A trained theatrical electrician, he is the Assistant Technical Director at Young Auditorium as well as the Co-Technical Director at Fort Atkinson's Auditorium. He spends his free time as the president of the Cultural Performing Arts Council, in charge of bringing in the arts from around the world to Young Auditorium. Samuel continues his work in design by pursuing his IATSE membership. He is excited about the future technology and to push the field of technology and lighting for the Kids From Wisconsin.

  • Matthew "Tiyou"

    Gonyea

    Assistant Technical Director

    Raised in Eau Claire Wisconsin, Matthew now resides in Boston Massachusetts where he is finishing his senior year at Berklee College of Music with a major in Contemporary Writing and Production with a minor in Dance. A Kids From Wisconsin Alum, he performed as a Tenor Singer/Dancer with the 2016-2018 performance troupes, ending his last season in the KIDS 50th anniversary tour. He is excited to come aboard as part of the technical team, and with his expertise and training, he will assist on bringing our audiences the great sound of the iconic Kids From Wisconsin.

  • Ashley

    Patin

    Tour Director and Community Enrichment Lead

    Ashley Patin, a 2014 Kids alum, has been on staff with the kids since 2016, and the Tour Director since 2017. She is incredibly honored to be back for yet another summer with her favorite people on the planet, who just happen to be some of the most talented professionals and performers in the field.

    Ashley received her B.A. in Theater Arts with a minor in Dance from the University of Northern Colorado, and spent the majority of her high school career performing and studying with First Stage. After living in Colorado for nearly four years, she returned home to Wisconsin to start her career in the arts and to pursue acting, but quickly found herself on the other side of the table rather than on the stage. While she still has immense passion for performing, she's found a new love for the production, education and administrative aspects of theatre. Now, in addition to the work she does with Kids, she is also an Adjunct Teaching Artist for both the Theater Academy and Theater in Education departments at First Stage and Kids From Wisconsin's Music In Me program at MPS. She also works as an actor and choreographer for schools in the Greater-Milwaukee area and Sunset Playhouse. But to quench her performing thirst, she's also the lead singer for a new Milwaukee band, Smart Mouth. With her new found passions, Ashley hopes to one day pursue an M.F.A. in Arts Management in order to either start her own theatre company, or to hold a leadership position with another long standing company.

  • Alex

    Knoepker

    Band/Tour Director and Community Enrichment Lead

    Alex Knoepker is the band teacher for Grafton High School in Wisconsin. He is an active pianist, accompanist, percussionist and church organist throughout Wisconsin and is involved with many musical endeavors around the state.

    Originally from Warrens, Alex has served in many capacities as a musician and music educator throughout his college career. He has conducted ensembles on the UW-Eau Claire campus and has been involved with several high school show choir combo bands around the state. He has coordinated and adjudicated several solo and ensemble festivals in western Wisconsin and enjoys accompanying and teaching piano in addition to School Music Association, the National Association for Music Education, the Wisconsin Chapter of the Percussive Arts Society, and the National Band Association.

    A 2018 Kid himself, Alex is excited to be part of another year of Kids and the growing Realize Your Dream workshops that the organization hosts throughout the touring season.

  • Alyssa

    Eiden

    Assistant Tour Director - Intern

    Alyssa Eiden is thrilled to be joining the Kids from Wisconsin Staff! Serving as a 2017 Kid From Wisconsin herself, Alyssa is excited to be a part of another terrific season of Kids.
    Alyssa is a 2019 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point where she earned degrees in Choral and General Music Education and Vocal Performance. In addition to her education, she has completed training to become a certified Suzuki Voice teacher and has traveled nationally and internationally performing opera and art song. Currently she is working as an elementary music teacher in the Stevens Point Area School District.

  • Hope

    Riesterer

    Dance Assistant

    Hope Riesterer is a 2015-2018 Kids alumna that is thrilled to be able to come back and join the staff! She is currently in her senior year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying Musical Theatre with a dance minor. Growing up, she studied dance with the Milwaukee Ballet and acting with the Young Company at First Stage Children's Theater. Alongside being a full-time student, she also has an internship with the worship and arts team at her church and sings at local coffee shops and restaurants on the side. She is excited for this new journey and to be back with her Kids family!

  • Michael D.

    Sander

    Executive Director

    Michael Sander is a 1994-1995 Kid alumnus and was overjoyed at the opportunity of becoming a board member in 2014. During his five year tenure he is most proud of leading the alumni 50th Anniversary Celebration.

    Prior to being selected as the new Executive Director, he worked for 10 years at Wells Fargo as their legal liaison. During his time at Wells Fargo he started and anti-bullying campaign, "Safe Space Milwaukee". He was invited to schools in the area to discuss the importance of safe spaces in school settings to ensure all students had the opportunity to feel supported and respected. He was also responsible for bringing back the "Pride Flags" to the city of Milwaukee in honor of Pride Month. Inclusiveness and visibility are two important descriptives for Michael. Michael was awarded the, 2020, Best Of Milwaukee Award for LGBTQ+ Advocate.

    An active member in the non-profit community of Milwaukee, he could not be prouder to spend his time with a group he holds close to his heart. He always finds himself reflecting on all the memories and special connections he has made. He looks forward to helping the future generation of Kids ensuring their life experience is as meaningful and rewarding as his, as a Kid.

    The Kids has been a passion for years and to be able to serve in a new capacity is a dream come true. Once a Kid, Always a Kid.

  • Tina

    Weiss

    Managing Director

    Prior to becoming the Managing Director, Tina served as the Executive Director since late 2013, as the organization suffered financial devastation and debt. With leadership and financial backing of the Board, they pulled through their 46th season, and paid off all debt in her first season. In 2014 she helped to implement an outreach program as part of the touring season called "Realize Your Dream". The program has grown tremendously in the past 7 years and has just recently become a year round, community enrichment arm of the Kids From Wisconsin. The focus is currently on a music program, "Music In Me" and "Music With My Friends" starting in elementary schools in the inner city of Milwaukee in January 2021.

    Now in the 53nd season, Tina will over see operations as the Managing Director.

    Prior to her current role with Kids, Tina served three years with the Muskego Chamber of Commerce as their Executive Director and before that, ten years at public libraries as a reference librarian and small business/marketing liaison.

    Tina has a continued passion and vision and will continue to contribute to seeing it through.

  • Keven

    Riggle

    Administrative Assistant, Librarian

    Keven Riggle has been volunteering with the Kids organization since 1991. A graduate of Badger High School (Lake Geneva) he received his Library Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. After 36 years he retired from Marquette University in 2018 where he worked in the Library's Information Technology department.

    Whether it's auditions, Kids camp, performances, taking photos, moving equipment and wardrobe, preparing music for distribution and just recently, digitally archiving 50 years of music, Keven can be found doing just about anything and everything. Also known as "the cookie man" he bakes 1600+ cookies every summer for Kids camp and the tour season.

  • Eric

    Guenthner

    Marketing/Design Lead

    Eric is a freelance graphic designer and former Kid. A graduate of UW-Whitewater, Eric is passionate about giving organizations their voice. A 2013-2014 alum, Eric is excited to share his talents with the organization in a new way. www.ericalandesigns.com

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