Conservatory Faculty

About the Instructors

DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATORY: Howard Shangraw An award-winning actor and director, his professional acting career includes productions off-Broadway, summer stock, feature films, episodic television, day-time soap operas and regional theatre productions for South Coast Repertory Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, Laguna Playhouse, Grove Shakespeare Festival, and various equity waiver theatres in the Los Angeles area. Howard’s extensive directing resume includes productions of classical and contemporary repertoire and musicals for professional and community theatres, colleges and high schools. He has directed shows for the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Matrix Theatre, South Coast Repertory, Stella Adler Theatre, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts acting company and Hi-Desert Cultural Center, where he also served as artistic director. He directed internationally for Theatre Mediterranean in Barcelona, Spain. Howard won an L.A Drama Critics Award for his production of The Swan by Ferenc Molnar at the Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice, California. Also a playwright and composer, his original musical, The People Versus B. B. Wolfe, was produced by South Coast Repertory and toured Orange County under a special grant from Target Stores. As a teaching artist, he has taught Acting, Scene Study, One-Person Show, Mask, Shakespeare, Stage Movement and Techniques for the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, South Coast Repertory Theatre’s adult and youth Conservatory programs, Hi-Desert Cultural Center, Musical Theater University, and Idyllwild Arts Academy, where he chaired the theatre department from 2004-2014. Howard also taught Theater Workshops for Teachers for the Palm Springs Unified School District and the Riverside Arts Council. Howard has studied with notable master teachers such as famed Broadway director Jose Quinterro, Sheldon Patinkin, director of Chicago’s Second City, and Kim Stanley, Claude Kipnis, Stella Adler, and Bobby Lewis.


Maricela recently obtained her Bachelor of Arts from California State University Fullerton in Theatre Education. Being born and raised in the Coachella Valley, it is a priority for her to work closely alongside the theatre community in the desert. She aims to involve and serve the community where she was raised by providing opportunities for students to experience theatre arts in their medium of choice or curiosity. 

Most recently, Maricela has trained in intimacy choreography to supplement her goal of serving the community with its needs. There are few intimacy choreographers in the valley, and she is looking forward to being the on-site choreographer at CVRep for safe and consensual theatre-making. Her mission is to continue exploring and following her passions as they evolve. She will be obtaining her teaching credential in Theatre at the secondary level in the near future. 

Maricela’s previous work involves directing College of the Desert’s production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged in 2020, completing her Associate of Arts Degree for Transfer in Theatre Arts. She has worked closely with and continues to support Desert Ensemble Theatre Company in Palm Springs. She cherished the opportunity to act in Election Day (2018) as Cleo and Rootie in Graceland/Asleep on the Wind (2019) winning the Desert Star Award for Outstanding Lead Actress- One Acts for Asleep on the Wind. 



Click on a name to read more about each instructor.


Melanie Blue is an accomplished actor, improviser, and playwright. She is an 8-time nominee and 3-time recipient of the Desert Theatre League Award for outstanding actress. Prior to moving to the Coachella Valley seven years ago, she performed extensively in LA and Chicago. Melanie has a BA from Sarah Lawrence with an emphasis in Theatre Arts. She is an alumnus of both Second City, and IO Chicago. While in Chicago, Melanie studied and worked with the guru and godfather of all improv, Mr. Del Close, and became his protégé. When she is not teaching acting and improv, she is performing on stages throughout the valley and starring in local commercials. She is currently working in partnership with CVREP creating a program that showcases the improv community in the desert.

As a teacher and a director, Melanie is known for her supportive, honest, and incisive feedback. She is invested in the growth and evolution of each of her students. She prides herself on creating a space safe for exploration where the artist can flourish. Melanie adores all things improv, and her mission is to pass down the incredible storehouse of knowledge and wisdom she’s been fortunate enough to receive, whilst evolving and adapting it for the times and for each individual student. Melanie’s core belief is that the art of improv doesn’t just make better performers, it makes better humans.


Jeanette Knight is an award-winning actor, director, choreographer, playwright, and producer. 

As a member of SAG/AFTRA and Actors Equity Association, she has portrayed over twenty roles, ranging from Rose in The Woolgatherer at the Tony award winning Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, to Shen Te/Shui Ta in Bertolt Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan to Roberta in Going to a Place Where You Already Are. But her most demanding role was Louise in Always, Patsy Cline, which played to sold out audiences in 2011 and 2013. She began her stage career as a dancer, garnering adjectives like “superb” from Variety and studying with icons like the legendary Broadway tap choreographer Henry LeTang.  She has been teaching acting, directing and improvisation at the Idyllwild Arts Academy since 2006, where she has also directed several highly lauded productions, including Stepping Out and A Chorus Line.  Previously, she was the Education Program Director for the McCallum Theater, supervising a faculty of fourteen teaching artists, working as a master teaching artist, and developing the Aesthetic Education Program partnering with New York’s Lincoln Center Institute.  During that same period, she served as the Executive Director for the cutting-edge Beaumont Actors Studio.  Other theaters/venues she has directed for include the Indian Wells Theater, California State University San Bernardino in Palm Desert, Arthur Newman Theater, Palm Canyon Theater, Truckee Meadows Community College, Brewery Arts Center, and Coachella Valley Repertory.  While serving as the Artistic Coordinator for the Indio Performing Arts Center, she conceived of and produced the first ever Coachella Valley Improv/Comedy Festival, which just celebrated its fifth successful year.


Alix Korey returned to her home in Rancho Mirage after co-starring in the 2016 acclaimed Broadway revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. Her previous Broadway appearances include ALL SHOOK UP, CHICAGO, Neil Simon’s 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY, TRIUMPH OF LOVE, AIN’T BROADWAY GRAND, IS THERE LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL, and PIRATES OF PENZANCE.  Off-Broadway, she originated roles in THE WILD PARTY (Drama Desk nomination), NO WAY TO TREAT A LADY (Outer Critics Circle nomination), and SUBURB (Dramaleague award), among many others. She has appeared in numerous films, including six Disney animated features, and on several prime-time TV series, and has released two award-winning solo CDs.  For 15 years, she taught at NYU in the Tisch School’s Cap21 program, and after relocating to California, she continues to teach at Musical Theatre University, a high school arts program for the Palm Springs Unified Schools.



Celebrated actress Teri Ralston shares her many years performing on Broadway and around the world, providing students with a unique insight into the art of and joy of singing. Her extensive acting career, includes the Broadway shows YOUR OWN THING, JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS, and the original productions of Stephan Sondheim’s COMPANY and A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. Her association with Sondheim has continued over the years performing or directing 10 of his works, which includes playing Sally in 3 productions of FOLLIES, Madame Armfeldt in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, and SIDE-BY-SIDE-BY-SONDHEIM in which she starred with Peggy Lee. She was also in the original cast of BAKER’S WIFE, with music by Stephen Schwartz, and had the pleasure of being the leading lady in Cy Coleman’s HOME AGAIN, HOME AGAIN. Favorite roles she performed are Mama Rose in Gypsy, Mame in MAME, Dulce Mae in BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE, Sally Bowles, and later, Fraulein Schneider in CABARET, Cousin Nettie in CAROUSE and Maria, and Mother Abbess in productions of SOUND OF MUSIC. Teri has performed worldwide in cabaret and was the soloist with Michael Feinstein and the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl and the New Mexico Symphony.  She is featured on 7 original cast albums, 3 CDS recorded in London, and a solo CD, I GOTTA GET BACK TO NEW YORK.

Teri has also been teaching for most of her professional career.  She got her BA and teaching credentials in Theatre and Music at San Francisco State University. Through the years, she has continued to coach voice, teach seminars, teach at performing arts high schools, and teach and direct at USC, UC Irvine, San Francisco State University, University of Louisville, Chapman, and Cal ST. Fullerton. She taught at AMDA (American Music and Dramatic Arts) in New York for 13 years, and part of the year teaching at the Musical Theatre University in Palm Springs, CA.


Kudra Wagner (they/she) is a Coachella Valley-based theater director, playwright, and producer. After completing a BA in Theater Arts and Legal Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, Kudra received their MA in Theater Arts with an emphasis on Directing from UC Santa Cruz. Their research is primarily concerned with the modern rehearsal space and the creative liberation of the actor. They specialize in devised theater and a Grotowski-fied version of the Meisner technique. 

Their recent directing work includes a staged reading of Love and Money with Desert Ensemble Theater, two original pieces (The Right People and Frame of Mind) devised, directed, and produced as Artistic Director of Barnstorm Theater Company at UC Santa Cruz, and an original adaptation of popular YouTube web series The Most Popular Girls in School. Their work as an assistant director includes Desert Ensemble Theater’s Desert Star-nominated The Beebo Brinker Chronicles, Cabrillo Stage’s production of Circus: Knives, Blood and Water, UC Santa Cruz’s The Artificial Woman, and Kirsten Brandt’s The Frankenstein Project (UCSC) and Coded (City Lights Theater Company). Their upcoming projects include a production of the west-coast original, Kill The Editor, with Desert Ensemble Theater scheduled to open in January of 2023.

Kudra was most recently seen acting with Desert Ensemble Theater as Jen in All This Intimacy, which was nominated for a Desert Star Award, and in UC Santa Cruz’s workshop of the new musical, The Artificial Woman as The Artificial Woman.

Coachella Valley Repertory

Thought-provoking Theatre of Substance

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