Meet the Leadership Team
Co-Founder, Program Director
Vanessa Becker-Weig is Co-Founder of The Girl Project. Vanessa is a transplant from Central Ohio, where she earned a B.F.A. in Acting at Wright State University. Since moving to Lexington 10 years ago, Vanessa has directed or choreographed numerous productions for Woodford Theatre, the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, U.K.O.T.’ s Broadway Bound, The Academy for Creative Excellence, Dunbar High School, and several award-winning productions for the Itheatrics Junior Theatre Festival in Atlanta. She was the Education Director for Woodford Theatre from 2015-2019 and served as Artistic Director for the theatre in 2020. Prior to moving to Lexington, Vanessa served for ten years as the Education Director and Resident Director/Actor for the Phoenix Theatre (now CATCO). At the Phoenix, she directed, choreographed, and appeared in more than fifty productions as well as designed and implemented classes, camps, workshops, and in-school residencies. Vanessa specializes in movement theatre and theatre styles such as Kabuki, Commedia Del ‘Arte, Laban, Puppets and Masks, and Musical Theatre, and she was in the regional tour of the musical The Secret Garden, which incorporated both deaf and hearing actors and won several Central Ohio artistic excellence awards. Vanessa is a proud recipient of a Bluegrass Alliance for Women Impact Award and the prestigious Freddie G Fellowship from Music Theatre International.
Ellie Clark is Co-founder and Co-Director of The Girl Project. Ellie took a short hiatus during the summer of 2016 as she pursued her MFA. She graduated from Ohio University's Professional Actor Training Program in 2018. While there she was the recipient of the Martha and Foster Harmon Fellowship for her “exceptional talent and dedication to the live theatre arts." Ellie has performed extensively throughout parts of the North East and on the East Coast and is a teaching artist whose work focuses on theatre performance and physical actor training for the stage.
Born and raised in Lexington, KY, she is a graduate of the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCAPA) and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and received a BFA in Acting from the University of Kentucky. Ellie has worked with the prestigious Actors’ Theatre of Louisville in their yearlong apprentice program. She also trained with New York’s SITI Company in their summer intensive where national and international artists take part in highly demanding physical work and theoretical research to generate original theatre. As a ten-year resident of New York City she continued her training with the SITI Company in Viewpoints, Suzuki and Composition. Ellie acted as Education Director and Associate Producer for Woodford Theatre from 2013-2015. Ellie is a founding member of Lexington’s Project SEE Theatre, acting as co-artistic director, co-producer and actor. She was also a Co-Founder of the Lexington Shakespeare Institute, which came to be known as Kentucky Conservatory Theatre and was a teaching artist with the program for nine years. Ellie currently resides in Atlanta with her partner Evan Bergman. You can visit her website at www.ellieclark.org.
Research and Advocacy Director
Margaret: Margaret McGladrey, Ph.D., is an applied sociologist committed to practice-based and participatory action research with government agency and nonprofit organization partners in the arts, child welfare, education, and public health. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship with the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, Dr. McGladrey was named the inaugural Director of Program Capacity and Support for the Kentucky Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Network responsible for the program evaluation and quality assurance activities of local CASA programs that train and guide community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in Kentucky family courts. Her recent work involves youth-led participatory action research with The Girl Project, for which she created The Girl Project: Next Generation middle school mentoring program and serves as the Research and Advocacy Director responsible for the program's feminist critical pedagogy and grant-writing/evaluation. Her interdisciplinary research has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Feminist Formations (the journal of the National Women's Studies Association), Journal of Children and Media, Cultural Trends, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, American Journal of Health Education, and Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships. She also is a certified teacher of Kundalini Yoga and has been teaching mindfulness, meditation, and yoga classes in community and school settings for more than 10 years.
Jeni Benavides serves as the Program Facilitator for The Girl Project, Voices Heard and The Girl Project: Next Generation. She is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina and attended the University of South Carolina where she studied theatre, focusing on performance.After receiving her B.A., Jeni went on to study at the University of Kentucky, where she received her M.A. in Theatre. Her master’s thesis, Cultivating the Unassailable, analyzed the pedagogy and application of The Pacific Performance Project (also known as P3/East), which integrates the Suzuki method, Shogo Ohta’s slow tempo work, as well as principles of aikido training. Jeni has trained with P3 in both South Carolina and most recently in Seattle. She also is a passionate storyteller for The Girl Project, doing a lot of documentary theatre work for the high school program as well as TGP’s community event Voices Heard: Kentucky. She is a passionate theatre educator who served as Education Director at Woodford Theatre in 2020 and teaches part time at the University of Kentucky. Many thanks to Vanessa, Ellie, Margaret, and the team who has supported bringing her into this wonderful community of artists and students.