Performing Arts Instructors

Elefante performing arts instructors are top-notch professional teaching artists actively working in the industry. Their professional backgrounds include Broadway, top regional stages, television, and film, as well as membership in AEA (Actors’ Equity Association) and SAG (the Screen Actors’ Guild).

Karen Cantor

As a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association, Karen’s professional credits include the role of Venus in the long-awaited revival of Kurt Weill’s One Touch of Venus at the Goodspeed Opera House. She played Louisa in The Fantasticks with the Miami Opera, toured as Susan in The Desert Song with Ron Raines, played the title role in Naughty Marietta in New York City, Josephine in HMS Pinafore, The Mistress in Evita with Carolee Carmello, Anna in Tintypes, Maria in The Sound of Music, and Starting Here, Starting Now in the Cayman Islands. On the concert stage, Karen’s credits include West Side Story at the Caramoor Festival, musical comedy selections at Carnegie Recital Hall, and a debut as Cunegonde in Candide at Michigan’s Midland Center for the Arts. On television she has been seen as Katie on ABC’s All My Children.

Karen has written, directed, and or served as the musical director for several New Jersey productions that have met with popular acclaim, including  cabaret shows/revues for companies such as the Light Opera of New Jersey, South Mountain TheatreWorks, and the Summit Playhouse. For children’s theater productions, Karen has served as the director and/or musical director of Elefante’s productions of Once Upon a MattressAlice in WonderlandHonkAnnie, and The Wizard of Oz. A fervent aficionado of The American Songbook, Karen’s cabaret performances have been seen at many local venues and countless private functions, charitable fundraisers, parties, and corporate events. Favorite stage roles include Alaura/Carla in City of Angels, Phyllis in Iolanthe, Liliane LaFleur in Nine, Signora Naccarelli in The Light in the Piazza, and Tessie in Gypsy.

Karen is particularly proud of the success of her students, many of whom have been cast on Broadway, National Tours, television, film, music video, top New York cabaret venues, professional regional theaters, local community theaters, and their school plays and musicals.

David Cantor

David appeared on Broadway as Bobinet in La Vie Parisienne and covered the role of Che in Evita, later playing Che with the First National Tour on the West Coast. He appeared Off-Broadway for a year and a half as both Amshel and Nathan Rothschild in the critically acclaimed revival of The Rothschilds at Circle in the Square Downtown. Other credits include Vernon Gersch in They’re Playing Our Song; Benny, the comic lead, in a national tour of The Desert Song; Stanley Jerome in both Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound; Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors; Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing; Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer; Matt in The Fantasticks in a special production directed by the show’s creators, Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt; John Adams in 1776; and Charlie in Tintypes.

David won a Perry Award as Best Actor in a Play for his performance as Ricky Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, a role he took on with only four days notice when the original actor left the cast. He was also nominated for Best Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver!. Recently he was seen as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady and Richard Hannay in The 39 Steps. In addition, David has performed principal roles in all thirteen Gilbert and Sullivan operas in the USA, Great Britain, and Italy. He has been seen in films including Working Girl, Prince of the City, So Fine, and The Chosen, industrial films for Fidelity Investments and Sharp Electronics, and television appearances include  Orange is the New Black, Madam Secretary, Mysteries at the Museum, Redrum, I’d Kill for You, Celebrity Ghost Stories, as well as soaps All My Children, Loving, Another World, and Ryan’s Hope.

Alexis Cardwell

Alexis is a proud graduate of Syracuse University. While at Syracuse, Alexis directed several theatrical productions, including a large production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She also served as Producer of a well-respected campus theater organization. Off campus, Alexis created and taught a summer theater program at The Determination Center of Central New York, a non-profit organization focused on creating a safe and nurturing environment for youth from low-income families.

As a full-time New Jersey educator of high school students, Alexis’s experiences in the classroom have honed her innate qualities of patience, kindness, leadership, and perseverance.

Some of Alexis’s favorite past roles include Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods, Woman One in The World Goes Round and Phyllis Dale in 42nd Street. She also had the honor of organizing and performing her own cabaret fundraiser for The Brooke Healey Foundation in 2015.

Alexis is thrilled to be an Elefante performing arts instructor!

Laura Chaneski

Laura Chaneski obtained a double B.A. in Dance and Sociology from Rutgers University. As a proud member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity, her favorite credits include Singin’ in the Rain (Kathy) with the Ocean City Theater Company, White Christmas (Rita) at Surflight Theater, Greetings (Randi) at Off-Broadstreet Theater and White Guy on the Bus (Molly) at Passage Theater.

She has worked with Centenary Stage Company, Dreamcatcher Repertory Theater, Luna Stage, Bickford Theater, Writers Theater of NJ and East Lynne Theater Company. Her television appearances include Law & Order: SVU, House of Cards, YOU, Do No Harm and over 50 commercials.

Laura has been teaching dance and acting for students age 2-adult at studios throughout NJ for the past 15 years. Laura’s recent choreography work includes The Little Mermaid and Oklahoma! at Madison High School and Chicago at Governor Livingston High School. For more, visit

Clare Dill

Clare double majored in Theater Arts and Humanities at Fairleigh Dickinson University. While still in college, she discovered teaching drama to children and fell in love. She has taught acting, puppets and play writing in schools all over NJ and in multiple studios, putting on one-act plays that always try to incorporate a little modern humor to keep the kids interested. She taught at an arts camp in Bologna, Italy in 2010 and used theater as a method for her students to learn English.

Clare still pursues her own acting career in NJ and NYC and has been seen on stages all over, including: Manhattan Repertory, Union County Performing Arts Center, The Workshop Theater NYC, Gotham Comedy Club, and The Living Theater NYC. She is a member of Alliance Repertory Theater Company, most recently seen in “US Drag” and has performed in five of their children’s shows. Clare performs improv comedy with the Red Tie Mafia in NYC and tries to teach her students at Elefante with techniques she uses in that professional setting. She has been seen in many indie films, shorts and webisodes. She tours with an educational show about bullying called “The Cameo Cast”. You can also see her as Ms. Booksy in the webseries “Cool School” (check it out on YouTube)!

Caryn Elefante

Caryn has been performing on stage, television and in recording studios since the age of 5. She graduated from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts with a major in Drama and a minor in Music and received her Masters of Education degree from The College of New Jersey.

She has sung on thousands of commercial jingles such as “Pepsi”, “Cool Whip”, “M&M’s”, and “Toys R Us”. Caryn has sung back-up vocals on albums for artists such as Michael Jackson, Gloria Estefan, Liza Minelli, Maureen McGovern and Canadian Brass.

Caryn has performed at regional theaters such as Goodspeed Opera House, Musical Theater Works and the Paper Mill Playhouse. She was a semi-finalist on “Star Search” as a junior vocalist in 1990.

Mrs. Elefante is proud to teach Chorus, Theatre and Dance at Madison High School. She has directed Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Les Miserables, Bye Bye Birdie, Wizard of Oz, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, 42nd Street, Into the Woods, Seussical: The Musical, The King and I, My Favorite Year, The Sound of Music, Footloose, Gypsy and Oklahoma on the MHS stage and choreographed productions of Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

Caryn lives in Florham Park with her wonderful husband, Joe and her beautiful daughter, Cate.

Joe Elefante

Joe Elefante has traveled 4 continents as a pianist, saxophonist, vocalist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. He has musically directed, conducted or played countless musical theater productions, including several at the Paper Mill Playhouse and Jersey Boys on Broadway and National Tour. Joe founded the Joe Elefante Big Band in 2001, which was the house band at Cecil’s Jazz Club for three years, and was featured on ABC’s Nightline and in The Wall Street Journal. Currently, Joe is a freelance composer/arranger/ performer, teaches Vocal Music at both Columbia Middle School and Governor Livingston High School in Berkeley Heights, and is Artistic Director of our wildly popular Summer Musical Theater Camp.

Michelle Finnerty

Michelle Finnerty has worked as a professional musician since completing her Bachelor of Music degree from Towson University in 2005. In addition to performing with various theater companies, Michelle is also a private vocal coach.

In addition, Michelle has extensive experience performing and directing for community theater groups across New Jersey. In 2009 she was nominated for a Perry Award for her performance as Belle in the Maurice Levin Theater’s production of Beauty and the Beast. Some of her other recent roles have included Mrs. Cohen in Rent and Janet in Rocky Horror Picture Show with South Mountain Theater Works. She was the musical director for the Chatham Community Players production of Seussical, which was nominated for a Perry Award as well. Prior to that, Michelle assumed the roles of Meg in Little Women, Sharon from Master Class and Belle in A Christmas Carol with the Chatham Community Players. Michelle also played Hope in Urinetown with the Strollers of Maplewood.

Outside of her extensive involvement with community theater, Michelle competed as contestant for American Idol and ultimately became a semi-finalist during the show’s second season. Currently, Michelle is a cantor for The Church of Christ the King in New Vernon and Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Bernardsville. Not only does she perform the duties of mass cantor but she also sings for weddings, funerals and various liturgical celebrations.

Erica Knight

Erica Knight’s extensive professional resume includes prestigious New York and Regional theater credits, performing roles such as Lodovico in the Titan Theatre Company’s all-female production of Othello, Ophelia in Hamlet, Nurse Kelly in Harvey, and many appearances with the renowned Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, in roles ranging from Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Sarah/Clara in Trelawny of the Wells.

Erica’s film, television, and commercial work includes featured and lead roles in Good Ol’ Boyand The Stranger, as well as supporting roles on television shows such as Gossip Girl and One Live to Live. Erica has appeared in numerous commercials and print advertisements, and has been the cover model for several acclaimed novels, including Jacqueline Kolosov’s The Red Queen’s Daughter.

Nicole Labrit-Petrewski

Nicole Labrit-Petrewski holds a B.A. in Theater Arts and English from Arcadia University and attended the prestigious LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts in NYC as a drama major. She is currently completing her Masters of Arts in Teaching from Columbia College. While teaching in New York, San Diego, and New Jersey, she directed and choreographed a number of shows including Thoroughly Modern Millie Jr., Fame, Scream Queens, The Nutcracker, On Your Toes, Hairspray, Jr., and Suite Surrender for students ages 3 to 18.

Nicole is currently the Performing Arts Department chair at the Purnell School and choreographs for their award winning dance company. Nicole has spent many summers with Elefante Music School and always looks forward to the Musical Theater Summer Camps. She has also co-directed and choreographed several of Elefante’s Spring Musicals with Karen Cantor.

Maria Malanga

Maria Malanga is a recent graduate of NYU’S Masters Program in Dance Education, and is so thrilled to join this performing arts community! She graduated from the NYU Vocal Performance program in 2012, and is now an Adjunct Professor for the program. She also teaches Jazz dance for the Department of Theatre at Kean University, and Theatre dance at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. She has performed professionally at TriArts Sharon Playhouse (Damn Yankees) in Connecticut, as well as in Off-Broadway productions of Angelina Ballerina and at the Snapple Theater Center’s Piggy Nation: The Musical in New York City. Maria recently choreographed NYU’s production of Pins and Needles, and has remained the associate choreographer for their Main stage productions of Kiss me Kate, Grand Hotel, Carousel, and The Drowsy Chaperone. She believes in story-telling through movement, song, and dance, and guides students to develop an ability to transition elements of confidence, collaboration, and open-mindedness into their everyday life. She consistently encourages creativity, uniqueness, and acceptance.

Emily Mamrak

Emily Mamrak began dancing as a little girl. She quickly fell in love with the art of dance and being on stage. Emily received her B.F.A in Dance from Montclair State University studying with Nancy Lushington, Lonne Morreton, Jay T. Jenkins, Maxine Steinman, Maureen Glennon, Maxine Steinman, and Donna Scro.  She continued her dance education at (then) Dance New Amsterdam in New York from contemporary modern performers such as Oliver Steel, Stephanie Liapis, and Diane McCarthy.  She performed for Six Degrees Dance Company at Merce Cunningham Studios. Emily holds an elementary teaching certificate and currently teaches kindergarten.

 Emily has been teaching dance for over ten years across New Jersey in studios and after school programs. She has taught ballet, hip hop, jazz, and lyrical/contemporary. She has also co-directed and choreographed several of Elefante’s Spring Musicals with Karen Cantor. She believes in the power of dance to teach self-love and confidence. Emily is so very excited to be a part of the Elefante family!

Peter Martin

Peter Martin earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre from Marymount Manhattan College and his Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Brown University. A proud member of AEA (Actors’ Equity Association), Peter has acted with prestigious Off Broadway companies such as The Mint Theater and Dixon Place. Peter has performed extensively with Trinity Rep (Providence, Rhode Island), one of the most respected regional theaters in the country. His many acting credits include Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Sebastian in Twelfth Night, Mog in Under Milkwood, Etienne in A Flea in Her Ear, and Solomon in Speech & Debate.

Peter served as an instructor with the New York Classical Theatre, worked on staff in the Education department of the Bakerloo Theatre Project, and was a drama instructor with NYC’s Galli Theater.

 Peter is also a private acting, monologue, audition, and communication skills coach. 

Dr. Susan Speidel

Dr. Susan Speidel appeared in the off-Broadway revue Olio, A Modern Vaudeville and in The Student Prince and Jesus Christ Superstar at Paper Mill Playhouse, in addition to playing leading roles at many other regional theaters.

She has directed more than 50 high school productions, as well as numerous shows at Surflight Theater, Chatham Playhouse, and Plays-In-The-Park in Edison.

She has sung with the Seattle and Portland Symphonies, the Key West Symphonic Pops, and the Orchestra of St. Peter’s by the Sea, as well as performing her cabaret show in NYC clubs, at Tennessee Williams Theater in Key West, and at the legendary Odette’s in New Hope.

She served for 20 years as the Director of Education for Paper Mill Playhouse, where she founded the Adopt-A-School Project, the Rising Star Awards, and the Summer Musical Theater Conservatory. She has taught acting and theater management at Kean University and Seton Hall. Dr. Speidel holds a B.A. in English and Theater from Montclair State, an M.A. in Theater Administration from New York University, an M.A. in Liberal Studies from Kean University, and earned her Doctorate at Drew University. She also studied at HB Studios and the Globe Theater in London. She is a recipient of the NJ Governor’s Award for Excellence in Theatre Education, received the New Jersey Theatre Alliance’s Applause Award in 2000 and 2007, and was recently inducted in the NJACT Hall of Fame for her contributions to arts education in New Jersey.

Dr. Speidel is about to assume her new position at Kean University, working with the Dean’s Office in the College of Liberal Arts as a Managing Director for the School of Fine and Performing Arts.

Alexandra Ternstroem

Alexandra Ternstroem is a professional  actress with extensive experience in film, television, commercials, theater, and modeling. She recently returned to the United States after 11 years abroad in Singapore and Denmark. She has performed in Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, and Indonesia. While living in Denmark, Alexandra also spent 4 years as an instructor at an International Drama School for young students, instructing both in English and in Danish. In Singapore, Alexandra taught drama at Faust Youth Theater, an Australian International School.

Alexandra has trained extensively at prestigious acting schools in Denmark, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York studying drama, improv, Meisner, and camera acting techniques.

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