Who We Are

Lauren Van Hemert, Editor-in-Chief

Lauren Van Hemert, Editor

A native of Miami, Florida, Lauren’s love of musicals started at the age of six when her dad took her to Radio City Music Hall to see a revival of the movie THE SOUND OF MUSIC. Prior to graduating from Indiana University-Bloomington, she hosted her own weekly talk show on Public Radio WDNA Miami and worked as a production intern for ‘As The World Turns.’ As the former Contributing Editor for Broadway World Raleigh, she covered over 50 shows in the Triangle. In January, she launched the RDU on Stage website to expand coverage of the Triangle theater community. She also hosts the weekly RDU on Stage podcast. Lauren is a proud member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

Kim Jackson,

Kim Jackson, Critic-at-Large

Kim moved to Raleigh with her family just over two decades ago, and she has loved her life in the Triangle. When her children were younger, she made the rounds of family-fun events at the museums as well as kept busy with hockey, gymnastics and Irish dance. Now, her kids are in college (Go Pack!), one has graduated (Elon), and she has the opportunity to pursue other interests, like theater. Kim majored in history and English, also receiving advanced degrees in both, and held jobs where she wrote for various in-house publications. She is also a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. She’s excited to be a part of RDU On Stage and looks forward to sharing her reflections on our dynamic theater community.

Jasmine Gallup, Theater Critic

Jasmine Gallup, Critic

Jasmine first became interested in the theater at a young age, acting in plays and musicals around her hometown of Raleigh. She became obsessed with the stage after seeing WICKED in New York City as a high school student. Dazzled by the lights of the Great White Way, Jasmine started seeing as many shows as she could afford, exploring theaters in Raleigh, Cleveland, DC and New York. While earning her bachelor’s degree in English from Case Western Reserve University, Jasmine wrote for the school newspaper and Cleveland Magazine. After graduating, she returned to North Carolina to work as a reporter for The Sanford Herald, with hopes of becoming an arts critic. She now lives in Apex and is eager to share her insights. 

Dani Jessant, Theater Critic

Dani Jessant Theater Critic

Dani Jessant is a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and has lived in North Carolina since 2015. She’s enjoyed the world of performance arts from a young age, with her start as the family “comedian,” always finding ways to be the life of the family event. The love of laughter has motivated Dani to seek out organizations where she can express her passion for performing, speaking, writing and provoking an impactful emotion for her audience. Dani graduated from Joppatowne High School, where she was a member of the Speech Forensics team. She specialized in Children Literature and Dramatic Interpretation and was the recipient of multiple awards for her high school Speech Forensic competitions. High School is the period in which Dani found her passion for theatre and performed as lead roles in her Junior and Senior years. She continued her studies at Towson University, where she joined the Speech team. Dani won national awards for her Dramatic Interpretation performances and is so excited to be apart of the RDU On Stage team, to ignite her passion for the art through active participation.  Dani’s other experiences include extensive volunteer work, such as: working on a mission in Ghana and providing services for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Beyond the arts, Dani also shares a passion for mental wellness and centers most of her work around the topic. Today, she shares with people around the world her experiences and the means by which she became “All Cult Up” through her book Brown Girl All Cult Up, a book written as a reflection of her personal story with religion and self-love. She spends her time conducting workshops, speakings and sharing her mission to promote self-love through her selftivity curriculum and interactive self-love storytelling company, Health Be Mind. Dani is a proud mom of three wonderful children. She shares her heart with her little ones.

Grace Niesel,
Junior Critic

Grace Niesel, Junior Critic

Grace, age 14, is a writer, actress, and the only junior critic for RDU On Stage. Even though she’s only been at this gig a short time, she’s very excited about this opportunity, and hopes to one day put it in her portfolio for college applications. She has a deep love of obscure musicals, snails, and ’80s movies. Favorite musicals: RENT, SPRING AWAKENING, and AMERICAN IDIOT.


Mike McGee, West End Correspondent

Mike McGee,
West End Correspondent

Mike McGee is a native of New Jersey but has called Raleigh home for over 15 years. His love of theatre started when he was 8 years old seeing his first Broadway show, Peter Pan starring Sandi Duncan. A life long theatre-goer, he started his journey as a theatre practitioner at Raleigh Little Theatre. This has led him to be an active Stage Manager , Actor, and Director at theatres across the Triangle. He’s also served on the Board of Directors at Raleigh Little Theatre where he was President from 2014-2016 and earned the Charles V. York Distinguished Service Award in 2016. He now serves on the Board of Directors at Forest Moon Theatre. When not participating in Theatre he travels the world (where he sees a lot of theatre) as a Software Sales Executive for IBM. Mike is married with two children and many pets.

Jesse Gephart, Contributor

Jesse Gephart has been performing in the Raleigh-Durham area since 1998 and has been seen in over 35 productions. He has been fortunate enough to have been cast in many different types of roles, from working in the ensembles of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUES IN TEXAS AND ROBBER BRIDEGROOM; supporting parts inDISTRACTED, AVENUE Q, AND AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY; to leading roles in THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, SLEUTH, and SIGNIFICANT OTHER. Since 2007, he’s directed over 20 productions, including the recent production of GODSPELL at Theatre in the Park, the Theatre Raleigh production of I AM MY OWN WIFE, and the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre production of BE MORE CHILL.

Juan Isler, TORN Founder, Moderator

Juan Isler is originally from Kinston NC. He has a degree in music from Winston-Salem State University and has been part of the theater scene in Wake County since 2014. He has worked with various theater companies as an actor and sound designer and was most recently seen in the Burning Coal Theatre production of The Container and the North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre’s production of Bourbon at the Border.