Cody Estle, Artistic Director
Cody Estle became the Artistic Director at Next Act Theatre in December 2022. Before coming to Next Act Theatre, he served as the Artistic Director at Raven Theatre in Chicago. His directing credits at Raven Theatre included THE LUCKIEST (2022 Jeff Award nominee for Best Production and Best Director), SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE (named by Windy City Times as the best of Chicago theatre in 2019), THE GENTLEMAN CALLER (2019 Jeff Award winning new play by Philip Dawkins), THE ASSEMBLED PARTIES, A LOSS OF ROSES (named by Chicago Tribune honorable mention as one of the year’s best in 2016), DIVIDING THE ESTATE, VIEUX CARRÉ (named by Chicago Tribune as one of the year’s best in 2014), GOOD BOYS AND TRUE, BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS, BOY GETS GIRL and DATING WALTER DANTE. He has also directed plays at Northlight Theatre, Strawdog Theatre, Shattered Globe Theatre, First Floor Theatre, Redtwist Theatre, The Artistic Home, Haven Theatre, Mary-Arrchie Theatre and Citadel Theatre. In 2022, Cody was named one of NewCity’s Fifty People Who Really Perform For Chicago. He is a member of SDC and an alumnus of Columbia College Chicago.
Libby Amato, Managing Director
Libby Amato joined Next Act Theatre in 2004 as a House Manager and has worked continually for the company in a variety of roles, including Ticket Office Attendant, Actor, Deck Manager, Administrative Coordinator and Business Manager. In May of 2023 she took on the role of Interim Managing Director, before being promoted to Managing Director in August 2023. Libby has worked extensively in the Milwaukee theatre community, including as Development Associate for Skylight Music Theatre from 2016 to 2018 and as Co-Founder and Company Director of Umbrella Group Theatre, a small non-profit theatre company, from 2014 to 2017. Over the years, she has worked with many local theatre companies in areas including acting, stage managing, directing and teaching. These companies include First Stage, Renaissance Theaterworks, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Forward Theater, In Tandem Theatre, All In Productions and Milwaukee Irish Arts, among others. She also made a brief foray outside of the arts world to work with Independence First, a local non-profit organization serving people with disabilities. In addition, Libby owns and operates Abbondanza Soap Co., a natural soap and body product company. She is a graduate of Carroll University.
Katie Anderson, Technical and Facility Manager
Katie is a technical theatre specialist who has worked on just about every type of live event you can think of. After graduating from Kalamazoo College in 2015 with her B.A. in Theatre and Studio Art, Katie went on to work as the Lighting/Sound Design Intern at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, designing shows and teaching volunteers of all ages. After her internship, she went on to work for Exclusive Events, Inc. in St. Louis, MO as a technician, building scenery and lighting for corporate meetings, weddings, live concerts and everything in between. Eventually, she moved up to Milwaukee to work for Blizzard Lighting as a full-time repair tech, while continuing to freelance as a technician and designer for live music and street festivals around town.
Her favorite shows she has worked on include CARRIE: THE MUSICAL, ROMEO AND JULIET, TK NEW PLAYFEST, MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, STILL LIFE WITH IRIS, HAIRSPRAY, IN THE NEXT ROOM (OR THE VIBRATOR PLAY), OF MICE AND MEN, SIDESHOW, PEER GYNT and A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL.
When not in the theatre, Katie enjoys knitting, rock climbing, swing dancing and cuddling her two cats.
Jessica Connelly, Production Manager
Jessica first began working with Next Act Theatre in 2003. Since 2006, she has been Next Act’s Resident Stage Manager, stage managing 70 productions. A few of Jessica’s favorite projects include: DEAR ESTHER, MASTER HAROLD… and the BOYS, LAST OF THE BOYS, MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP, GREETINGS, FAITH HEALER, PURGATORIO, GOING TO ST. IVES, VIGIL, GRACE, THREE VIEWS OF THE SAME OBJECT, TWILIGHT: LOS ANGELES 1992, BLOOMSDAY, SILENT SKY, EQUIVOCATION, I and YOU, BLOOD AT THE ROOT, THE REVOLUTIONISTS and 9 CIRCLES (Next Act Theatre); A RISING WIND (J.M. Kohler Arts Center); CHESAPEAKE, TROJAN WOMEN, THE SHAPE OF THINGS, the U.S. premiere of SKIN TIGHT, ACTUALLY (Renaissance Theaterworks); DISGRACED, FENCES and BLUE ROSE (Milwaukee Repertory Theater); SANTALAND DIARIES (Marcus Center for the Performing Arts) and HAIRSPRAY (Little Theatre on the Square). Jessica is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association and an honors graduate of UW-Milwaukee.
A.J. Magoon, Marketing Director
A Milwaukee-based arts administrator and actor, A.J. holds a BA in Theatre Arts and a minor in Public Relations from Marquette University. He has performed various administrative duties for Summit Players Theatre, First Stage, Theatre Gigante and Theatre Nervosa, and came to Next Act from Bottom Line Marketing and Public Relations.
In addition to his behind-the-scenes work, A.J. has been seen onstage with First Stage, Renaissance Theaterworks, Theatre Gigante, Sunstone Studios, Voices Found Repertory, Acacia Theatre Company, Summit Players Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (Young Playwrights Festival), Theatre Nervosa, Quasimondo Physical Theatre, Windfall Theatre and Cooperative Performance. Outside of theatre, he enjoys baking and spending time in the great outdoors.
Caroline Norton, Administrative and Artistic Manager
Alabama native Caroline Norton moved to Milwaukee in 2016 to obtain a BA in Theatre Arts and Digital Media from Marquette University. Since then, she has worked as an Artistic and Education intern with Skylight Music Theatre, a Teaching Artist with First Stage, a House Manager with Next Act Theatre and she currently serves as Director of Education with Summit Players Theatre. In addition to her efforts in arts administration, Caroline is an actor and director who has worked with companies such as Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (Black Theatre Festival, Young Playwrights Festival), Summit Players Theatre, Sunstone Studios, Forte Theatre and Voices Found Repertory.
Caroline comes to Next Act from MainStage Theatrical Supply, where she served as Sales Administrator. Outside of theatre, Caroline enjoys reading, camping and running her small business, Millennial Granny.”
Pia Russo, Education Manager
Pia is a multidisciplinary educator who graduated from Marquette University in 2022 with degrees in Theatre Arts and Secondary Education. While most of her credits are still from Marquette, such as directing GIDION’S KNOT and DOUBT and stage managing ANTIGONE, she has also interned at Door Shakespeare, where she mostly overcame her fear of bugs, and has helped run the Next Actors program with her predecessor Grace DeWolff. She has taught a little at a lot of high schools, including Wauwatosa West and Pius XI High School. When not at Next Act, she can be found playing board games, chilling with her roommate and cat and yelling about how much she loves her students to anyone who will listen.
Tawnie Thompson, Development Manager
Tawnie is an actor, fight director, podcaster and writer. After graduating from UW-Whitewater with a BFA in Theatre and relocating to Milwaukee in 2013, she began studying stage combat and holds a number of certifications with the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD) and Dueling Arts International (DAI). She has since worked with a wide variety of theatre companies as both a performer and fight director. Tawnie comes to Next Act with three years of experience in the nonprofit space and was most recently the grant writer for Meta House.
In her spare time, Tawnie can be found playing tabletop games, backpacking, biking, rock climbing and cheering on the NWSL (Go Red Stars!).
Christine Yundem, Ticket Office Manager
Christine discovered the world of audience services when she joined the staff of Milwaukee’s Performing Arts Center (n/k/a Marcus Center) in its inaugural season. She has worked with dozens of arts organizations and their audiences as ticketing evolved from paper and pencil to computer systems to the internet, providing new ways to enhance patrons’ experiences. Long a friend of Next Act Theatre and supporter of its mission, she was pleased to become part of its dedicated team in 2014. Since then, she has found in her interactions with Next Act audiences ample validation of her often-stated opinion that the nicest people come to theatre. Christine’s abiding interest in the fine and folk arts of diverse cultures means that she herself is often found in an audience.
Others of Note
David Cecsarini, Producing Artistic Director emeritus
David proudly served as Artistic Director and Producer for Milwaukee’s Next Act Theatre for 30 seasons, where he directed more than 40 productions and acted in as many others. Behind the scenes, he created sound effects and scores for most of Next Act’s work and for many other professional productions. David was one of Next Act Theatre’s founders, shepherding the company from its founding in 1990 (read our full history) to his retirement in 2023. During that time, he was instrumental in the construction of two venues for the company, first the Off-Broadway Theatre at 342 N. Water Street and then the company’s current artistic home at 255 S. Water Street.
Charles Kakuk, former Managing Director
Charles joined David Cecsarini at the burgeoning Next Act Theatre in 1992, beginning a long and successful business partnership. His many administrative talents served the theatre well, enabling it to grow into two theatrical homes (the Off-Broadway Theatre and the current space at 255 S. Water Street). Charles guided Next Act with a deft hand for 22 seasons. Shortly before the 2014-2015 season, he lost his long battle with cancer. “He has truly given his all and Next Act survives as a testament to his determination and commitment,” David said. Today, members of the Charles D. Kakuk Legacy Society honor the memory of Charles and his commitment to Next Act by making planned gifts to the theatre.
Board of Directors
Brooke Billick, Artisan Partners Limited Partnership (Retired)
Haly Besaw, RW Baird
Donna Martynski, Community Volunteer
Treasurer, Immediate Past President
David Anderson, Johnson Controls (Retired)
Terri Alioto, Community Volunteer
Paul Barno, Grantosa Drive Elementary School (MPS)
Michael Burzynski*, CliftonLarsonAllen, LLP
John DiMotto, Circuit Court Judge (Retired)
Mohammad ElBsat, Carrier Globe International
Cathyrn Jakicic*, Blue Lotus Center
Annie Jurczyk, Keller Williams Realty, Inc.
Jane Lukic, Wheel & Sprocket/Kegel’s Inn
Daniel P. Murray, Broadway Law Offices
Sean Rierdon, Clarios
Susan Schoenfeld, Community Volunteer
Sandra Zingler, Community Volunteer