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New Works Collective

Collective Members

Opera Theatre’s New Works Collective is a disruption of the traditional commissioning model: it gives decision-making power to the community through a collective of St. Louis residents.

Learn more about the members of the New Works Collective:

Paige Alyssa


Born and raised in St. Louis, Paige Alyssa has worked tirelessly as a performer, producer, and songwriter. The singer-songwriter began participating in youth choir as a five-year-old at Olivette Missionary Baptist Church, and by age nine, they were accompanying on drums alongside mother, Bernice Hegwood, who played piano and organ.

By 2015, the budding musician obtained a Bachelor of Arts in music with honors, studying jazz voice under the direction of Debby Lennon. Since then, Paige Alyssa has performed, written, and produced over five EPs, one LP, and performed across the Midwest and Southern California. They have also been recognized as one of the top artists in St. Louis by the Riverfront Times and St. Louis Public Radio and is a 2018 Regional Arts Commission grant recipient. 

Darwin Aquino


Dominican conductor and composer Darwin Aquino serves as Music Director for the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra and was the Assistant Conductor for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in the 2022 Festival Season.  As guest conductor and composer, he has appeared with the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, the Juilliard School in New York, the Caribbean Lyric Festival, the Missouri River Arts Festival, the Orquesta Sinfonica de Heredia in Costa Rica, Chamber Project St. Louis, and the Latin American Music Festival in Venezuela. Darwin has enjoyed regular engagements around the world, including the Philharmonishes Staatsorchester Mainz, Saarländisches Staatsorchester in Germany, National Symphony Orchestra of Costa Rica, Filarmónica Boca del Rio in Mexico, Alfredo Saint Malo Festival Orchestra in Panama, FIU Symphony Orchestra in Miami, and the Orchestra of the Americas (OA), among others.  

As a passionate advocate of social change through classical music, Darwin worked closely for many years with Gustavo Dudamel in Venezuela and previously held posts as Artistic Director of El Sistema, Director of the National Conservatory of Music, and Music Director of the National Youth Symphony Orchestra in his homeland the Dominican Republic.

Be.Be Brown


Brianna Elise Brown, who performs under the moniker “Be.Be,” is a vocalist and pianist whose repertoire spans styles from traditional jazz to neo-soul, R&B, and more. Born in Queens, New York, she relocated to St. Louis in 2002, where she graduated from Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and Webster University. Throughout her college years, Be.Be built her foundation as an artist and performance resume by opening for national R&B artists including the Grammy-nominated Chrisette Michelle and building her own band, Be.Be & the Neosouls.  She completed a residency with the Kranzberg Arts Foundation and was named a top 25 finalist in BET’s national AmpliFIND competition in 2021.

Tiélere Cheatem


Bold, ethereal, rich in whimsicality, a nouveau artist with a modern queer sensual twist. These are just a few words to describe The Rusty Artist’s work. Tiélere Cheatem (They/Them), is a daring artist whose vibrant and emotionally charged oil paintings showcase the beauty of Surreal Expressionism through the male form. A St. Louis native, Cheatem was awarded the Ann Metzger Biennial award with the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, Best in Show with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group’s (MTUG) art show, the Ann Metzger Biennial award with St. Louis Artists’ Guild and was recently picked as STL Bucket List’s Top 5 Artist of The Year for 2021. No stranger to the theatre scene; Cheatem appeared in productions with The Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, The St. Louis Actor’s Studio, Community Arts Festival “Live at The Grandel,” and Fly North. In 2020 Cheatem partnered with Painted Black STL an organization created to empower black artists within the community. Through this partnership, Cheatem has been able to elevate his work and others within the community.

Caroline Fan

Activist/Political Consultant

Caroline Fan is a social entrepreneur who has worked in leadership positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Caroline currently serves as CSO to Lux and Nyx, a luxury handbag line for the modern professional woman. She specializes in public affairs, fundraising, and community outreach. Caroline works with clients to promote their brands and guides them through complex and rapidly changing regulations, policies, and political challenges in the public and private sectors. She has also led a number of successful crowdfunding campaigns and won a few hackathons.

Caroline is a prolific writer and founded an award-winning blog that received accolades from the Library of Congress.  She has also been honored by the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum as one of 15 APA Women Leaders. She graduated from Williams College and received an M.P.A from Baruch College through the National Urban Fellows program. 

Dr. Grace Lee


Dr. Grace Lee is a retired public school educator who currently serves as the Dean of Faculty at Mary Institute St. Louis Country Day School (MICDS), an independent school in St. Louis, Missouri. She is also the director of the Equity and Justice Academy in Character Education (EJACE) for Character Plus. Previously, she served as a school social worker, ELA teacher, assistant principal and principal in the Jennings, Parkway, Webster Groves and University City School Districts. In every aspect of leadership, Dr. Lee brings her social work lens to her role as an educator and community volunteer. She works to create systems to ensure equity and access. The core of her beliefs centers on ensuring that we truly engage with each other as active, equal partners in upholding a community that fosters a sense of belonging, purpose and recognition of self-worth.

Dr. Lee also serves on several boards in the St. Louis region. She is serving her first term as a school board director for the Webster Groves School District. She also serves as a board member for Lifewise STL, Innovation Technology Education Fund (ITEF) and Conflict Resolution Center-STL. She also serves as a volunteer and coach for the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society Student Visionary Program.

Meridith McKinley

Public Art Consultant

Meridith McKinley is a founding partner of Via Partnership, a St. Louis and New York based consulting group that develops comprehensive public art strategies and facilitates public art projects. Working with public agencies, developers, cultural organizations and community groups, Via plans, curates and produces public art throughout the United States and Canada.

With over twenty-five years’ experience in strategic planning and community engagement, McKinley has worked in cities such as San José, Vancouver, Calgary, Providence, El Paso, Las Cruces, Nashville, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. to develop public art plans; assisted communities across the country in developing new public art programs; and commissioned art for public and private clients.  

 McKinley is active in numerous civic organizations in St. Louis. She currently serves on the boards of Laumeier Sculpture Park and Critical Mass for the Visual Arts. She is a former member of the boards of St. Louis Artworks, Metropolis St. Louis, and the Coro St. Louis Leadership Center. She has served on allocation committees for the United Way of Greater St. Louis and the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis.  Meridith is an alumna of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs. She received a Bachelor of Arts with honors from the University of Iowa. 

Jacqueline Thompson


Jacqueline Thompson is a theater-maker who is passionate about creating art to promote social change. Thompson received a Master of Fine Arts in acting from the University of Louisville as well as a graduate certificate in African American Theatre in 2012. 

As an actor, she has performed with The Black Rep, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, Mustard Seed, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Metro Theater, New Jewish Theatre, and Upstream Theatre, among others. As a director, she led Shakespeare Festival St. Louis’ Shakespeare in the Streets in 2015 and The Telling Project-St. Louis in 2016, which is a national performing arts non-profit that employs theater to deepen our understanding of the military and veterans’ experience. In 2015, she was the lead St. Louis producer for a national collaboration with Oregon Shakespeare Festival and The One Minute Play Festival for The Every 28 Hours play festival.    

Jacqueline completed the Regional Arts Commission’s Community Arts Training (CAT) Program to help facilitate the intersection between community engagement and the arts.  In 2018, she won the St. Louis Theater Circle Award for outstanding actress in a drama.  She was selected by the Theatre Communications Group (TCG) to participate in the Rising Leaders of Color program and received a Visionary Award recognizing women who have impacted the arts in St. Louis.  

Alonzo Townsend


Founder of The Townsend and Three Agency, designed to help independent artists obtain the necessary tools to thrive and survive in St. Louis, Alonzo Townsend has lifted the St. Louis music environment by supporting artists that include Tonina, Marquise Knox, Denise Thimes, Mvstermind, Dylan Triplett, and more. He is answering the call to further build the legacy of great music in St. Louis music where the foundation was laid by his father the late blues legend, St. Louis Walk of Fame Inductee and Grammy Winner, Henry J. Townsend (Mule). His agency currently manages a concert series at The Dark Room that amplifies the rich legacy of musicians in St. Louis. Outside of managing artists, Alonzo is a spoken word artist in his own right. He also leads the Mission Fund, which has distributed grants to more than 120 artists through COVID-19 Emergency Relief.

Dr. Philip Woodmore

Choral Director/Composer

St. Louis native Dr. Philip A. Woodmore has been an active member of the local music community for many years. Phil received a bachelor’s in business marketing and vocal performance at St. Louis University, a master’s in music education from Webster University, and his Ph.D. in music education from the University of Missouri – Columbia.

His research interests are the changing voice, voice pedagogy, and the transformative power of music. Phil has taught voice at Ferguson and Berkley Middle Schools, Crestview Middle School, and the Center of Creative Arts (COCA), and served as director of the Saint Louis Metropolitan Police Department Choir. He is currently the Music Director for Muny Kids for many seasons to come.

Phil composed an original score for Antigone in Ferguson, which has traveled the country for the past five years including a national university tour, Off-Broadway premiere, and international premiere in Athens, Greece. Since the success of Antigone in Ferguson, Phil has written an original score for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon, called The Drum Major Instinct, and served as the artistic director for the Fall 2021 Requiem of Light, an event that marked the loss of life during the pandemic for St. Louisans.  

Leadership support for the New Works Collective comes from the Mellon Foundation and the Edward Jones Foundation.



Return to the New Works Collective Homepage