Aretha Sills, Associate Director Sills/Spolin Theater Works
Aretha Amelia Sills is a Los Angeles-based teacher and director of improvisational theater. The granddaughter of Viola Spolin, she studied Spolin's theater games for many years with her father, director Paul Sills (creator/director of The Second City and Story Theater), and has conducted workshops for Paul Sills’ Wisconsin Theater Game Center, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Sarah Lawrence College, and Northwestern University. She has worked with Tony- and Emmy-Award winning actors and has trained faculty from Northwestern, DePaul, Columbia College, The Second City, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, LAUSD, CETA, RADA, and many other institutions and schools. She is the Associate Director of Sills/Spolin Theater Works and she directs The Predicament Players. She created and directs an improvised show currently touring Los Angeles public elementary schools and she works with teens on the autism spectrum at the Ed Asner Family Center. Aretha gives talks on how improvisational theater in the United States emerged out of Progressive-era social reforms in Chicago via the work of Neva Boyd, Viola Spolin, and Paul Sills. She’s given keynote addresses at the California Educational Theatre Conference and the Applied Improvisation Network World Conference. She offers improvisational theater workshops regularly in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, the Bay Area, and elsewhere around the country. Current workshop offerings can be found at www.violaspolin.org.
Margot Escott, MSW, LCSW
Margot graduated from the New York University School of Social Work in 1983 and has lived and practiced in Naples since 1984. She attended the Rutgers Summer School of Addiction Studies in 1987 and 1990 and has extensive post-graduate training in addiction studies and co-dependency.
For over thirty years she has presented workshops and seminars on “Therapeutic Value of Humor and Play” on a national level. She works with PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression using techniques such as Mindfulness Meditation and Visualization. She treats various medical issues, such as traumatic brain injuries, dialysis, and pain issues. Although many of our life issues are certainly not funny, by developing “humor strategies” we can confront and cope our difficult situations, dialysis, and pain issues.
Using Improvisational Theatre exercises combined with cognitive behavioral education, she assists people suffering anxiety disorders, Parkinson’s, MS, MSA, PSP & their care partners, and those in recovery from addictions.
Haley Fox, MA, LPCC, PhD, ATR-BC/ATCS, MT-BC, REAT
Haley is an artist, psychotherapist, writer and musician, currently on the core faculty teaching masters and doctoral students in Counseling: Art Therapy at Adler University in Chicago. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and board certifications in music therapy and art therapy, and she is a registered expressive arts therapist and credentialed clinical supervisor.
A focus on improvisation in the arts has informed over 30 years of experience in a variety of settings, including community-based programs, mental health clinics and correctional settings. Dr. Fox co-authored the textbook Minstrels of Soul: Intermodal Expressive Arts Therapy with Paolo Knill (1995/2005, published in Mandarin in 2017); wrote Follow Your Bliss, a career-life planning manual (2000, with a second edition in publication); contributed a book chapter to Expressive Therapies for Sexual Issues (Chapter 4, Expressive Arts Therapy with Sexual Abusers, 2014); and more recently published her doctoral research, Songwriting and Human Shadow: Heuristic Inquiry Grounded in Art, in the peer-reviewed journal VOICES in 2018. Her special academic interests include: improvisational art, archetypal psychology, consciousness studies, human sexuality, vibrational energy states and ancient/primal art and artifacts and art-based research.
Susan Altfeld, Ph.D.
Susan Altfeld received her master’s degree in social work from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and a PhD in public health from the University of Illinois Chicago. She spent eight years as a clinical social worker in health care settings and worked in program development and evaluation research prior to joining the faculty at University of Illinois Chicago where she is currently the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Public Health. Dr. Altfeld’s primary area of interest are social support interventions for families across the life span, including transitional care for older adults, doula support to birthing families and prevention of sleep related infant death.
Clay Drinko, Ph.D.
Mark Pfeffer, Director of the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center
Mark Pfeffer is a licensed psychotherapist in Illinois and California. He is Director of the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center in Chicago. PARC is a specialized outpatient program that provides comprehensive treatment for anxiety and related disorders. Mark received his Master’s degree in Psychology from Boston University with additional post-graduate work at UCLA. He also served as the Commissioner of Social Services for the City of Santa Monica and is an active clinical member of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) and International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).
Mark has appeared on A&E's Hoarders show, the Discovery Channel, and the National Geographic Channel. He has been featured and quoted regarding mental health issues in various media outlets including: ABC7 Chicago; CBS2 Chicago; NBC; CLTV Chicago; Chicago Tribune; Pioneer Press, WGCI-FM and Home & Garden magazine. He has also authored numerous publications, and was a recipient of the 2002 “Golden Bell” award from the Mental Health Association of Illinois for an article he co-authored on Panic Disorder.
Stephen Owen, Ph.D.
Stephen Owen is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Radford University, located in the New River Valley of southwest Virginia. Steve holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Southeast Missouri State University and a M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Missouri – St. Louis. His research has focused on the relationship between LGBTQ+ communities and the police, teaching and learning in criminal justice, and active assailant incidents. Steve regularly teaches courses on crime analysis, security planning, and emergency management; has co-authored a textbook, Foundations of Criminal Justice, which seeks to situate the theoretical roots of criminal justice; and presented the Great Courses lecture series titled When Everything Fails: Survive Any Disaster. Recognized with the Radford University Distinguished Creative Scholar Award and the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences Distinguished Teaching Award, Steve seeks to utilize innovative learning opportunities, which led him to develop a new course titled “Communication and Police-Community Relationships,” utilizing applied improvisation to build skills in observation, communication, empathy, and social justice. Steve has received training from Aretha Sills, including “Teacher Training in Viola Spolin Technique;” from Gary Schwartz; at Theatre of the Oppressed – New York City; and at the Second City Training Center in Chicago. Steve plays with several Spolin-based groups and is currently exploring how improvisation can be incorporated into law enforcement training.
Walter Watson Swift, MPH
Walter is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). There he received his Master of Public Health degree with a specialization in Community Health Sciences. He has conducted empirical research utilizing improv therapy as an intervention for anxiety, depression, and perfectionism. Walter is also a graduate of Second City’s improv conservatory and Annoyance Theatre’s advanced improv programs and has performed throughout the city. He has facilitated numerous workshops using improv therapy techniques as a component to improving overall mental health and wellbeing.
Sara Tigay, LCPC, CADC
Sara Tigay is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) with expertise in cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy. She specializes in working with adults and couples coping with anxiety, depression, addictive disorders, eating disorders, and relationship issues such as infidelity, communication, and conflict resolution. She is currently the director of outpatient services at Foundations Recovery, specializing in the treatment of the co-occurring disorder population.
Katie Bellamy, LCPC, BC-DMT
Katie is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist, corporate coach, and Reiki practitioner. Katie's approach is to holistically heal the mind, body, and spirit. Her therapy experience includes working with substance use and mood disorders and her coaching experience includes working with large corporate teams on decision-making and workplace dynamics. Katie also continues to keep her dance performance and mindfulness practices alive.
Gregory Geffrard is a Haitian American who was born and was raised in Miami. After earning his M.F.A from the University of Iowa and relocating to Chicago, Greg feels blessed that in his six years of living in Chicago he has had the opportunity to work consistently in the multifaceted Chicago theatre scene. Gregory is an educator all over Chicago: teaching Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Great Lakes Naval Base through Catharsis Productions; a teaching Artist with Steppenwolf’s Young Adult Program and teaching social change classes over the summer with Old Town School of Folk Music. You can usually find this intersectional feminist spoken word artist rocking a conversation starter shirt or hoodie.
Colleen Prendergast is an experienced improviser, coach, and a mental health advocate. She has gotten the opportunity to perform improv and sketch comedy at many theatres in Chicago and even directed and produced her own shows. Colleen currently works as a program assistant for OAI, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides workplace safety and skills courses to individuals and businesses. Graduating from Loyola University Chicago with honors and two degrees in Psychology and Theatre wasn’t enough, Colleen also trained at various comedy theaters throughout Chicago including graduating from Second City’s improv conservatory program.
Debra Marks, PsyD, RYT-200
Debra Marks is a licensed clinical psychologist and yoga teacher in Roanoke, Virginia. For almost 30 years she has provided evaluations and individual, family, and group therapy, with a focus on addictions, family systems and adolescent transitions. Her practice blends traditional Western psychotherapy and neuroscience with the ancient, organic traditions of the East, including vibrational sound therapy and other healing practices. She has a particular interest in using improvisational techniques in therapy to inspire a sense of playfulness and acceptance in our daily experiences, promote non-judgmental mindfulness, spontaneity, and foster a sense of positive connection within ourselves and others.
Gordon Smith, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Coach
Carrie Overbey, LCPC
Carrie Overbey is a Licensed Clincial Professional Counselor in Chicago Illinois. She is currently the Chief Clinical Officer at Compass Health Center. Carrie has nearly 20 years of behavioral healthcare care experience, including inpatient, partial hospital and outpatient treatment. She has provided evaluations and individual, group and family therapy. Carrie has led the implementation of evidence-based practices across the care continuum – both inpatient and outpatient services. She has provided training for hospital clinical staff in Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) has published an article with SAMHSA and presented locally on Zero Suicide successes and clinical outcomes. Carrie has also advocated in Springfield with legislators on mental health and suicide prevention. Carrie began her Improv journey during the Covid 19 pandemic and has since been using Improv techniques with her inpatient and outpatient clients and teams. She has particular interest in using Improv techniques in supervision for counselors to foster a sense of connection, support and playfulness.
Hailey Palmer, LSW
Hailey (she/her/hers) is a Licensed Social Worker, therapist, and improviser. She graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a Master of Social Work and a concentration in mental health. She holds an undergraduate degree in International Studies, Comparative Culture and Identity from the University of Michigan. In her role as a therapist, she works with individuals and groups and utilizes Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Internal Family Systems therapy, along with integrating mindfulness and improv techniques.
Hailey has been improvising, coaching, facilitating workshops, and teaching in the improv world for the past five years. She has performed weekly at iO theater with multiple ensembles, including Meridian, Wet Bus, and the all LGBTQ-identifying team, Dreamboat. She has performed, coached, and taught improv classes at CIC theater. Hailey has also traveled around the country teaching improv workshops to both ensembles and professional teams. Her absolute favorite thing is finding all the beautiful ways that improv supports mental wellness.
Gina Johnson, MSW, LCSW, CTS
Gina Johnson is the Founder of goodthingz lab, an organization & community designed to socialize mental health through creative activities, Improv for True Self development and public discussions.
Gina Is also the creator of Blueprint: Take On a Life Of Your Own Master Class, a 6 week class based on evidence-based psychological & scientific practices designed to enhance one’s mental and emotional skills.
Gina’s areas of study include: Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness: True Self/False Self, Mindset/Self-Talk, Habit Loops, Recovery Tools & Discovery of Life Purpose & Meaning.
Gina is also Co-Creator of Blueprint Improv: Know Yourself, Accept Yourself, Be Yourself. 6 week class that combines the use of blueprint’s psychological skills with Improv games. A psychologically and emotionally safe place to practice being your True Self.
Gina is the Founder of Blueprint: Mental Health Practice (Urbana, IL) and the author of :
Let’s Make It a Habit: Train Your Brain To Navigate Negativity
Blueprint: Take On A Life Of Your Own