Melissa has dedicated the past 13 years to The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, creating pathways for social and emotional development through theater arts, to LA’s hardest-to-reach youth and families. As Executive Director, Melissa leads her team to ensure organizational excellence, program growth and expansion, and increased visibility. She has represented US as a thought leader in various capacities, including the First International Teaching Artist Conference in Oslo, Norway, and has designed and facilitated performance based training workshops for corporate and nonprofit clients, such as the Dramatist Guild of America, Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, and the Satyagraha Institute’s Nonviolent Training Program. Prior to her role at US, Melissa served as Project Coordinator with New York City’s Roundabout Theatre Company, managing 25 teaching artists at Bronx Theatre High School. She has worked as a teaching artist for various arts organizations in NYC, including the Guggenheim Museum.
Melissa holds a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management from Antioch University, Los Angeles and a Bachelor’s in Theatre-Mass Communications from South Dakota State University. She also is a Certified Nonprofit Professional from the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.
Melissa directs and performs for stage in Los Angeles. Some of her TV acting credits include, Angie Tribeca, Two and a Half Men, The Middle, Anger Management, and Seinfeld.
Jake Arky is an actor, writer, and storyteller. His is the author of the plays Brothers of Emery, Little Perfections, Linchpin, and Erasers. His short stories #deathies, The Green Flash, and Video Tape Sleepover have been published by SSWA Press. Jake co-founded So Say We All: a non-profits arts production and education organization specializing in the literary and storytelling arts. He regularly performs stories on stage with The Moth, RISK!, Fireside Storytelling, and the Oakland Story Slam. He received his B.F.A. in dramatic writing from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
Mario Hernandez is a Mexican-American educator, actor, writer, and father who brings a twenty-year teaching and performing career to the role of Program Manager. Spanish is his first language and he credits his immigrant parents for fostering his creativity and curiosity. He began as a teaching assistant for the Lorton Prison Project while attending Georgetown University, and went on to become the first Director of The Boys Project in New York. In addition to managing several New York tutoring programs, he’s written social and emotional curricula for 5th and 7th grade boys. An avid lover of films and filmmaking, Mario also worked for some of the most prestigious film festivals in L.A. including the AFI Fest, L.A. Film Fest and L.A. Latin International Film Festival, where he served as the Guest Services Coordinator. Mario began with the Unusual Suspects as a Volunteer Mentor at Markham Middle School in 2018 and became a teaching artist the following semester. In the summer of 2019 he worked as the program assistant before becoming the organization’s outreach coordinator. Being a part of The Unusual Suspects has been thrilling and he is overjoyed to be joining the team as a Program Manager, and to continue bringing playwriting and performance into the lives of young people.
Gloria De Leon is an actress, and lifelong “theater kid” from Santa Paula, CA. Growing up in a Mexican household, Gloria fell in love with telenovelas, and being an actress became a lifelong passion for her. Her first job was as a housekeeper for the local theater, which led to working backstage, to acting as an extra, to eventually, co-founding a second venue for the same theater company. Gloria graduated from UCLA with a degree in Theater, and has since then performed in both Spanish and English productions across LA and Ventura Counties. Her love of telenovelas never fading, she co-created and co-hosts Noveleando, a podcast all about novelas. The underrepresentation of disenfranchised communities onstage and in film, led Gloria to venture into writing. As a member of the sketch comedy team FATCH, Gloria continues to create work that celebrates diversity and inclusion. Being able to write from her own perspective has been an invaluable experience, and she loves that The Unusual Suspects teaches people to write and produce their own stories. Gloria began as a Page Play reader, then volunteered in the classroom as a Volunteer Mentor, and is now very excited to continue to support the organizations’ work from the US offices as the Program Associate.
Director of Development & Communications
Driven by a deep desire to help disadvantaged youth find their voice and a path to healing, Hedi is passionate about the mission of The Unusual Suspects and brings to her position a well-established background in the non-profit community with nearly a decade of leadership experience in fundraising, communications/marketing, program and event management, and volunteer organizing. Prior to joining The Unusual Suspects, Hedi served as the Executive Director of the statewide non-profit organization the California Fire Foundation for approximately six years, overseeing the Foundation’s core functions, steering the organization’s remarkable growth and shepherding it to national prominence. Previously, as the Community Outreach Manager for the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, she managed volunteers, nationwide, in fundraising and recruitment efforts, and assisted with the Foundation’s communications/marketing, helping exceed organizational goals. Hedi’s early career in entertainment and marketing within the private sector includes a role in account management at advertising agency start-up Spot Runner and executive support positions at major talent agency William Morris Endeavor, as well as New Regency Productions.
Hedi holds both a Master of Public Administration and Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Southern California. Born in Maryland, she has lived in Los Angeles most of her adult life, with a brief residency in Sacramento, CA. A chess enthusiast and board/card-game aficionado, she is a passionate dog-lover, and dog-mom to Stewy, a rescue who has her wrapped around his little paw.
Nick Williams is an actor, producer, husband, and proud father. He was store director at Hollywood Video’s flagship store in Los Angeles and is the former art board President at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood, where he still acts on a regular basis. Some of his recent performances at NOTE include Rio Hondo, Entropy (Scenie Award), I Wanna Hold Your Hand (two Scenies Awards), What May Fall (Broadway World Awards nomination), The Pity of Things (two Broadway World Awards nominations), Skeleton Stories, Nibbler and Kill Me, Deadly (Ticket Holder Awards’ Best Supporting Actor nomination). Among several non-NOTE performances in Los Angeles, his portrayal of Chris Keller in All My Sons at the Raven Playhouse was recognized for “Best Performance by a Lead Actor / Drama” (Stage Scene LA). He holds a BA in Acting from Willamette University. Nick has worked in Development for The Unusual Suspects since 2012 and is honored to play a small role in bringing the transformative power of theatre to our most underserved communities.
Michael has been a longtime supporter of The Unusual Suspects and has a fierce belief that the arts are an important piece in a child’s development of confidence, collaboration, and success – no matter where their future takes them. For many years he has been involved in the Los Angeles arts community as an actor, singer, and long ago, a dancer. Michael has also been active, as a volunteer, with the non-profit organizations; Hearts In Motion and Meals on Wheels.
His business background comes with more than 20 years’ experience in Operations and Facility Management, and he is a certified LEED AP (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design). He began his career as general manager of a wholesale bread manufacturing company where he was eventually promoted to VP of Operations, then moved to a software telecommunications company, and recently worked at a global, commercial real estate organization. Joining The Unusual Suspects is the perfect place to share his passion for the arts and experience in business management.
Part Time Grant Writer
Rachel brings a decade of devoted nonprofit experience (American Hospice Foundation, Five Acres, Pasadena Village, San Gabriel Valley Choral Company) to the US team. She earned a BA in Anthropology from Reed College and an MA in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago. Now parent to a toddler-with-a-capital-T, she was once deeply involved in starting a food co-op in an effort to bring responsibly-sourced groceries to Pasadena/Altadena. Rachel comes from a family of educators, musicians, and writers, and is grateful for the opportunity to generate support for US’s vital programs.
Development & Communications Assistant
A longtime, fervent advocate for children, Alexa has recently been helping young kids build their careers in entertainment as a junior agent at DDO Artists Agency, Los Angeles, one of the leading talent agencies representing youth across the country, with offices in LA, NY and Chicago, for Commercial, TV, Film, Voice-Over, Print, & Theater. Prior to joining DDO in 2017, Alexa worked for The Disneyland Resort, growing into many different roles within entertainment. Graduating from California State University, Fullerton with a BA in Theatre, and a native Los Angelino, Alexa was not exposed to performing arts until high school where her passion for theatre began after it helped her combat her shyness and develop valuable skills. Alexa is eager to help expose the arts to the next generation.