Alphabet Arts is a nonprofit artist collective that brings together puppeteers, poets, and other diverse artists to create and present innovative and educational performances and programs for youth, families, and adults. By directly providing quality arts, arts education, and educational enrichment programs to underserved schools and communities, we educate and inspire the next generation of creative thinkers and doers. By supporting the development and presentation of boundary-breaking work, we create opportunities for diverse artists to collaborate, innovate, and broaden their community impact.
Dr. Amber West (Artistic Director & Co-Founder) is a native Californian poet, theater-maker, writer, editor, and educator. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Calyx and The Feminist Wire, and in the anthologies Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence and Furies: A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors. She is excited that her chapbook of poems, Daughter Eraser, was published in 2015 by Finishing Line Press. Her plays and “puppet poems” have been performed on the east and west coasts. She has also published scholarly essays in journals like Puppetry International and edited collections such as the The Routledge Companion to Puppetry & Material Performance. West was a Regents Scholar at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she earned a BA in Literature/Creative Writing in 1999. After college, she served in Americorps’ Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program, building and managing a mentoring program for at-risk middle school children in Richmond, California. The U.S. Department of Education awarded her a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, which helped to support her in earning her MFA in Poetry at NYU and her PhD in English at UConn, where she successfully defended her creative dissertation, “Fourth Way: Feminist Hybrid Poetics Beyond the Page,” in 2014. She has taught poetry in underserved public schools for many years through nonprofits such as America SCORES and Community Word Project. She currently lives in Los Angeles and teaching writing at UCLA.
Neelam Vaswani (Managing Director) is originally from Atlanta, GA. She has lived in NYC for the past 15 years working as an AEA Production Stage Manager and Production Manager. In her many years in New York she has worked on a wide range of shows, including Mabou Mines’ Peter and Wendy; The Adventures of Charcoal Boy; and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, which was featured at the International Edinburgh Festival and the Singapore Arts Festival; Basil Twist’s La Bella Dormente nel Bosco, Master Peter’s Puppet Show, Petrushka, and Arias With A Twist; and Ruth Malezech’s Song for New York. Neelam’s work in the theater has taken her all over the US and abroad to places such as France, Stockholm, Edinburgh and Singapore. She is happy to have joined the Alphabet Arts family.
Kirsten Kammermeyer (Co-Founder) is a teaching artist and puppeteer residing in Brooklyn. Kirsten is a graduate of San Francisco State University where she received her BA in Theatre Arts with a double minor in Dance and Recreation/Leisure Studies. Her puppetry work includes performing with Basil Twist’s puppetry company in Behind the Lid (2007), Petrushka (2008-12), and Arias with a Twist (2008-13); Chris Green’s puppet adaptation of Stravinsky’s Firebird (2012/13/15), and original piece, American Weather (2014); Erin Orr and Rima Fand‘s production of Don Cristobal, The Billy Club Man (2012); Lindsay Abromitis-Smith‘s production of Epyllion (2012); Kate Brehm‘s Do You Copy? (2008) and Dark Space (2009); Drama of Works‘ Warhol (2006); Enchantment Theater Company’s puppet and mask adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (2004); Leibe Wetzel’s Lunatique Fantastique productions of My Dinner With Lunatique, Snake in the Basement, Wrapping Paper Caper, and Brace Yourself (2001-2003); Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theater Programs school productions Bodywise and Zip’s Great Day (2001-2004). As part of our collective, her puppetry experience includes the design, creation, direction and manipulation of Alphabet Arts’ City of Hamburgers (2009/10/11 and 2014), Las Vegas’ Defense (2012), Fable of the Flying Fox (2012-14), Puppets Got Talent (2010/11), and Sweatshirt Adventures (2012), and the puppet adaptation of Annie Bacon’s The Folk Opera (2013). She co-founded 16 Tons Theatre Company, creating and performing in Eternal Struggle of Man Vs. Heavy Object (2004), Ghost Stories (2005), and The Rise and Fall of 16 Tons (2006) at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. She is a teaching artist with Arts Connection, teaching puppetry and theater as well as a consultant for the Broadway Jr. Programs. She is also T.A. with the Story Pirates, helping students throughout the boroughs create original and creative stories, and is the drama and puppet director in the Afterschool Programs at PS 261 in Brooklyn. Currently, Kirsten is attending the NYU Steinhardt School of Education, pursuing her graduate degree in Educational Theater.
Sarah Engelman (Co-Founder Emeritus) has worked as a producer and production manager in various industries for several years. After graduating from San Francisco State University with a Theater degree, she worked with Intersection for the Arts on a production of Howard Korder’s The Lights, with an original score by jazz bassist Marcus Shelbey played live by a 15 piece orchestra. Here, Sarah was introduced to music production by her hero, David Coffman, and was soon hired as the Production Manager under his direction at SFJAZZ, a leading international organization focused on jazz creation, presentation, and education. After several years at SFJAZZ, Sarah moved to New York and became the Company Manager for Dan Zanes and Friends, a Grammy© Award-winning family music folk/rock band. After touring the US and Australia for a few years with DZAF, she became an Associate Producer at Festival Network, a world class music festival production company, where she helped produce the Newport Folk Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, JVC Miami Jazz Festival, JVC New York Jazz Festival, and began work on the International Music Festival in Abu Dhabi. Sarah is currently the Production Coordinator for PROJECT, a fashion tradeshow produced in New York and Las Vegas twice a year featuring the most influential and directional advanced contemporary brands in the marketplace today. As a member of Alphabet Arts, Sarah merges her production skills with her passion for the arts.
Lawrence “Ren” Carrillo is originally from California and has been living in NYC since 2006. He toured with Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Program in Northern CA. In NYC he has performed in Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man with Erin Orr and Rima Fand, The Eye Which We Do Not Have with Kate Brehm, and Stravinksy’s Firebird with Chris Green and David Neumann. Ren has been working with Alphabet Arts since 2009 helping to create and perform City Of Hamburgers, Puppets Got Talent, Sweatshirt Adventures, and The Folk Opera.
Mark Sitko is the Associate Artistic Director of The Bushwick Starr – a cutting edge theater that presents original work by New York’s most promising emerging theatre artists. He is also the Artistic Director of Van Cougar, a Brooklyn based theatre company that creates plays from oral stories collected from the public. Originally from California, he has spent the last 5 years working as a Production Manager/Technical Director for groundbreaking companies in New York city including Soho Rep, Soho Think Tank/The Ohio, New Georges, and Clubbed Thumb. Currently Sitko is studying under the guidance of Mac Wellman, Erin Courtney, and his exceptional classmates in the MFA Playwrighting program at Brooklyn College. He is also a founding member of the Alphabet Arts artist collective.
More collective biographies coming soon!
Alphabet Arts is a diverse collective of artists, arts advocates, and arts educators. Additional members of our collective include Samuel T. West, Chris Borchardt, Zeb L. West, Jamie Moore, and Lindsay MacNaughton.