Naperville, IL

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Same Programming, New Name! Academy of the Arts is now Illinois Conservatory for the Arts

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Session 1: june 10–14 | Session 2: August 5–9

Academy of the Arts to launch first classes

A private school focused on the performing and visual arts will begin after-school classes this fall on the CityGate Centre campus at Interstate 88 and Route 59 in Naperville.

Dylan Ladd, one of the founders of the Academy of the Arts, said programs will roll out progressively, with a goal of being fully open by the 2025-26 academic year.

They plan to construct a new building on a site not yet chosen that will be a full-time school for sixth-grade though high school-age students offering core academic curriculum in math, reading, language arts, social studies and science in addition to a range of visual arts and performing arts classes.

When complete, they hope to have a school on par with the Chicago Academy for the Arts. The facility will have a 1,200-seat auditorium with a proscenium stage, fly loft and orchestra pit, an outdoor amphitheater, a modular black box theater, dance studios and academic classrooms.

No location for the estimated $80 million school has been chosen so, in the interim, the academy will lease space on the fifth floor of a building at 2135 CityGate Lane, Ladd said.

As a means of introducing itself to the community, the academy will host a series of pop-up events over the coming year to give area residents a taste of what the new school will have to offer, Ladd said.

Two inaugural master classes were taught this week by Chadae Nichol, a Broadway performer and academy arts educator.

Ladd said the academy is eager to launch programming and was fortunate to have Nichol provide this cornerstone event.

“Holding these classes during winter break fills a gap for students,” he said. “Even a lot of local performing arts schools suspend classes during this time so it allows students to keep up their skills, fill their time and be exposed to accomplished artists.”

Nichol, who grew up in the area and graduated from Joliet West High School, said she was excited to return as a teacher.

“I’ve been traveling and working professionally for the past several years,” said Nichol, who made her Broadway debut in “Motown the Musical.”

Her “Motown” stint enabled to her work with people in the music industry, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, whose autobiography formed the basis for the musical, and to meet musicians Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, she said.

“But even outside of that, it’s continued to open up doors,” she said. “That was definitely one of the most impactful jobs because it’s still it’s kind of like the gift that keeps on giving.”

Nichols said the musical was like being a part of history repeating itself as a group of Black artists with the Broadway troupe traveled across the country and presented the music to the masses in the way similar to how the original Motown artists did more than 60 years ago.

“It was really an experience that I don’t even think that you can fully imagine or explain. It was kind of surreal at times,” she said.

Growing up in Joliet, Nichol said she didn’t see many people pursing the performing arts and she would have loved the opportunity to learn from professionals.

Her first introduction to the arts was a program held during a school holiday break.

“We had the opportunity to take a class with people who were dancing professionally at the time,” Nichol said. “For me, that experience was a defining moment. For the first time I saw, ‘Oh, I think that’s something that I want to do.’”

For that reason, she wants to share her experiences in the hope of inspiring a new generation.

Ladd said the academy has a lot of work to do before opening its state-of-the-art facility and welcoming its first class of full-time students. “Much of that work is fundraising, and we will be holding our first gala event in February,” he said.

The gala — “A Night of Broadway,” featuring stars from Broadway hits like “Hamilton,” “In the Heights,” “The Lion King,” “Wicked” and “The Book of Mormon” — is planned for Feb. 19 at North Central College’s Wentz Concert Hall in downtown Naperville.

Tickets are $100 and available online at

The nonprofit’s first year fundraising goal is $2 million from which it anticipates building momentum toward the $80 million needed to break ground on the school.

“These classes, the gala and community support all are critical elements toward meeting our goal to fully open in fall 2025,” Ladd said.

“It sounds lofty, but we’ve done the research and have the data. This is the right location with the level of community engagement needed to bring this asset to the families of Naperville and surrounding suburbs,” he said.

session 1 • june 10–14, 2024

session 2 • August 5–9, 2024

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Tyler McKenzie / Dance

TYLER MCKENZIE has been a part of Hamilton since 2017. Other credits include – Broadway & National Tours: Matilda, Mamma Mia. He has a BFA in Musical Theatre from Western Carolina University and has served on many faculties and teaching staff around the country, including the Musical Theatre Faculty at Penn State University. IG: @tylrmckenzie

Melissa Foster / Voice

Melissa Foster is a Professor of Instruction in the Department of Theatre at Northwestern University, specifically teaching voice and topics in musical theatre such as Pop/Rock Vocal Style, and Pop Rock Musical Theatre. At Northwestern, she is the recipient of both the 2021 Galbut Outstanding Faculty Award and the 2022 Charles Deering McCormick Distinguished Professor of Instruction Award. She values her time inside the classroom just as much as she does outside, and simultaneously serves as 1 of 5 Faculty in Residence on Northwestern’s campus, mentoring students via their residential experience. When not at Northwestern, Melissa has been a Resident Vocal Consultant for LYRIC UNLIMITED (a division of the Lyric Opera of Chicago), and teaches for the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute at Shenandoah University. She has been guest faculty for Broadway Evolved, Artsbridge, Broadway Breakthru, IHSTA, ArtsLink and NATS. She has also taught countless masterclasses around the world. Highlights include: co-teaching a live-streamed, sold out masterclass with world renowned opera legend Renee Fleming and recent talks at schools and conferences in  San Diego, San Francisco, New York City, Ithaca, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Madison, South Bend, Goshen, Milwaukee, Detroit, Chicago, Birmingham, Palo Alto, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Foster has consulted for the companies of numerous National Tours, including Miss Saigon, Fiddler on the Roof, and A Bronx Tale, and has recently enjoyed consulting for pop/rock projects like working with the NPR Tiny Desk series and for the multi-Grammy winning band Coldplay. Her book, “Don’t Sweat the Technique; A Performers Guide to Hip-Hop and Rap” (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers) was released in November 2023. Foster currently lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband Matt Boresi, their daughter Vivian, and their 2 adorable bunnies, Cinna and Rue.

Kara Lindsay / Acting

Broadway: Wicked (Glinda), Beautiful (Cynthia Weil), Newsies (Katherine Plumber) Original Cast/ Fathom Events Film. NYCity Center: Once Upon a Mattress (Winnifred Standby for Sutton Foster). National Tour: Wicked (Glinda), Little House on the Prairie (originated Laura). Paper Mill Playhouse: Newsies, Jolly Holiday, Little House…Prairie. Sacramento Music Circus: Singin in the Rain (Kathy Selden). NCT: Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins).Kansas City Starlight: Cinderella (Cinderella). Kansas City Rep: Cabaret (Sally Bowles). 5th Avenue: Lone Star Love (Miss Ann Page). Geva: A Christmas Carol(Belle). TV: Murphy Brown”ABC’s “Schoolhouse Rock! 50th Anniversary Singalong”ABC’s “The Disney Family Singalong: Volume II”, Tony Awards, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. BFA Carnegie Mellon University. Huge thanks and LOVE to my friends, family, Stewart Talent/ Industry Entertainment. @karalindsay1

Brittainy Barattia / Casting

Brittainy joined the Gray Talent Group as an Associate Agent in July of 2015. She now heads up the Chicago tv/film/commercial/VO departments.  After earning degrees in Theatre Arts and Psychology from the University of Iowa, she began her career in theatre, working in the fields of fundraising and production and stage management. In tandem with her work in the field of performing arts, Brittainy worked in the aviation industry, during which time she learned that there truly is no place like sweet home Chicago. Brittainy is delighted to be part of the performing arts community and is thrilled to help showcase the amazing talents of the actors at Gray Talent Group.


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