Teaching Faculty

Theatre School of WNY Faculty

Todd Benzin

Todd Benzin has been a professional actor and improviser for over 20 years. He has appeared on stages throughout Buffalo like Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Irish Classical Theatre, Kavinoky Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, MusicalFare, Jewish Repertory Theatre, Ujima, the New Phoenix Theatre, Subversive Theatre, and Alleyway. Todd has also improvised in a variety of venues with groups such as ComedySportz, the Eclectic Improv Co., Show B, and Babushka. In 2018, Todd was awarded the first-ever Outstanding Character Performance Artie for his portrayal of Franz Liebkind in THE PRODUCERS at the Kavinoky Theatre. He has also had on camera experience in films like “The American Side” and has done voice-over work on a number of projects.

Todd has been teaching improv workshops for several years, and has also studied under Michelle Gigante and Josie DiVincenzo for acting and is a graduate of the prestigious Second City Improv Conservatory program in Toronto.

He teaches Teen Foundations.


Josie DiVincenzo

Josie DiVincenzo has coached professional and student actors from LA to Buffalo to NYC. She has her BA and MFA degrees in Acting and Drama from SUNY Fredonia and The University of Southern California, and is a member of SAG-AFTRA and Actors’ Equity Association. She is an award-winning actor, having performed and taught across WNY. Josie’s film and TV roles include over 40 co-star, guest star and movie appearances on many popular prime time TV shows and indie films, along with the feature films DAREDEVIL with Ben Affleck and most recently, MARSHALL, starring Chad Boseman, Josh Gad and Kate Hudson, an BASHIRA, both out of LA and NYC, shot in Buffalo, NY.

Current classes include Auditioning for the Camera, The Business of the Biz, and the TV/Film Intensive.


Don Gervasi

Don Gervasi is a graduate of Toronto’s Second City Conservatory Program and has been acting and improvising for over 25 years. He can be seen in the films MARSHALL (starring Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad); and QUEEN CITY (starring Vivica A. Fox and Peter Jason). He has performed on many Buffalo stages including Kavinoky Theatre, MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, and Jewish Repertory Theatre of WNY.  He is a proud member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE); Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA), and Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) where he has served as Equity Liaison for the Buffalo-Rochester Area since 2010.

As an improviser, he has trained under Susan Messing, Mick Napier, Moira Dunphy, Jerry Schaefer, and the late Frank McAnulty. He is a founding member of Buffalo’s own Eclectic Improv Company and long-form duo Babushka; and has improvised with the likes of Jason Alexander, Phil Lamarr, Dan Castellaneta, and Catherine O’Hara.

You may also recognize Don from recent AAA and Seneca Allegany Casino commercials. He also co-hosts the comedy podcast The Discount Deejays.

He teaches Adult Acting 101.


Chris J Handley

Chris J Handley is Alleyway’s Artistic Director and founded the Theatre School of WNY in 2018. At the Alleyway, he appeared in REEFER MADNESS, UNHOLY TRINITY, PHILOSOPHUS, and NAVIGATORS. He is a 3 time Artie nominee and has been seen onstage locally in FUN HOME, ELF THE MUSICAL, THE TEMPEST, TALLY’S FOLLY, ASSASSINS, ANYTHING GOES and many more. He worked across the country as actor, director, and voice/speech/dialect coach, and has appeared in new, classic, and contemporary plays and musicals, television commercials, an award-winning independent soap opera. He spent over two years as an entertainer on a Mississippi riverboat, and on numerous developmental workshops of new plays and musicals. Along the way, his colleagues included many current Broadway performers, and several TONY-nominees.

Chris teaches Acting and Directing at SUNY Fredonia, and previously taught Acting and Voice/Speech at Indiana University. He has trained with Patsy Rodenburg at NYC’s Michael Howard Studios as well as Lincoln Center Education. MFA Acting Indiana University, BFA Musical Theatre SUNY Fredonia. He is a member of Actors’ Equity Association.

He currently teaches Truth Telling, College Audition Prep as well as special masterclasses and private coachings.


Karen McDonald

Karen McDonald has worked as a theatre professional for over 25 years as an actor, singer, writer and educator. She has performed in major theatres across the United States, Canada, Asia and Eastern Europe. Locally she has been featured at Alleyway Theatre, Studio Arena, Showboat Festival and Dominion Repertory Theatre. In Toronto: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, SOUND OF MUSIC, NUNSENSE, ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, GUYS AND DOLLS, OLIVER! to name a few. In New York: FUNNY GIRL, THOSE WERE THE DAYS, GYPSY, and OTHELLO. International and National tours: 42ND STREET, PIRATES OF PENZANCE, and BIG RIVER.

Many of her plays have been featured at festivals and theatres, most notably UP IN A BALLOON which premiered at the Metro Room in NYC, subsequently at Cape May Stage in NJ and Dominion Rep in Fort Erie.

Karen has taught through the Arts in Education of Western New York, Studio Arena Theatre School, Learning Through The Arts in Toronto, many performing arts schools. She continues to be a guest instructor at various institutions and as a private coach.

A proud member of Actor’s Equity, ACTRA and the Dramatist’s Guild, Karen is the first recipient of the Senator Dale Vulcar Award for Excellence in The Arts.

Current classes include Teen Character Stories and Advanced Teen Devising. She has taught Adult Acting 201, Teen Intermediate, and Musical Theatre Lab.


Maria Pendolino is an award-winning professional female voiceover actor. Born and raised in Buffalo, NY, Maria has been a professional working actor for more than fifteen years, Maria’s vocal style is real, conversational, authentic, natural, friendly, relatable and sassy. Trained in musical theatre, film, television and voice, Maria’s delivery is youthful and on-trend. Top clients include Dannon, Hoover, Google, AWS, Robert Mondavi Wines, The University at Buffalo and more. Accolades include winning the 2017 and 2018 Voice Arts Award for Best Voiceover Performance in the e-learning and consumer sales video categories. Maria was also awarded the 40 Under 40 Award in 2020 by Buffalo Business First. In 2020, she was nominated for a German Computer Game Award as part of the Prim Adventure Game team. Maria lives in Clarence with her husband Eric and their three rescue cats: Nellie, Mozzie and Two Scoops. Visit her website at www.voicebymaria.com.

Current classes include Introduction to Voiceover.


Bella Poynton

Bella Poynton is a playwright, director, and scholar from Buffalo, NY. She was a Regional Playwriting Resident at Road Less Traveled Productions from 2016-2018 and is the director of Queen City Playwrights, Buffalo’s new play development workshop for area playwrights. Recently, her work has been produced and developed by The Bechdel Group, MadLab Theatre, Quantum Dragon Theatre Company, Alleyway Theatre, The Great Plains Theatre Festival, Panndora Productions, and Otherworld Theatre Company and Post-Industrial Productions. She has been a finalist for the Heideman Award, the Woodward/Newman Drama Award, and the Sam French OOB Festival. Recently, her short play THE OFFER was published in The Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2019 (Smith & Krauss) and her article “Rambling with Robots: Creating Performance Futures with Online Chatbots” was published in Global Performance Studies. Her article “Playwriting with Robots: Creating Cyborgian Theater with Online Chatbots” is forthcoming in Theatre/Practice. Bella is a member of the Alleyway Playwrights Circle, the literary manager of Post-Industrial Productions, and serves as the Graduate Liaison for the Mid America Theatre Festival’s Playwriting Symposium. She holds a BFA in Acting from Boston University, an MFA in Playwriting from The University of Iowa, and is currently PhD candidate in Performance Studies at The University at Buffalo.

Current classes include Introduction to Playwriting.


Darryl Semira

Darryl Semira has been a professional actor for the last 21 years. His Broadway credits include MAMMA MIA!, the original Broadway cast of BOMBAY DREAMS, and the first national tour of MONTY PYTHON’S SPAMALOT. Darryl has also appeared on TV and at regional theatres throughout the country in world premieres of shows by Charles Strouse, Maltby and Shire, and Maury Yeston. Locally, he has starred as Berowne in LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST at Shakespeare in Delaware Park, as well as appearing in shows at the Kavinoky and Road Less Traveled. He recently worked with Anne Bogart and members of SITI Company, training in Viewpoints and Suzuki while directing and acting in developmental stages of THE THREE SISTERS. Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, he has lived in both New York City and Los Angeles (where he was an acting teacher and coach at the renowned Margie Haber Studios). He received his BFA in Musical Theatre from the University of Michigan and is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA.

He teaches Adult Acting 301.