Our staff is a small, diverse group with rich backgrounds in education, theatre, music, film, gender and cultural studies. Due to the size of our organization, we all work very hard and wear many hats to make each element of every project a meaningful and educational experience.
LAFI, LEAD TEACHING ARTIST
After studying Theatre, Non Profit Administration, Music, and Gender Studies at Rutgers University/NJIT, Lafi moved to New York to pursue a career rooted in social justice and wrapped up in art. As the oldest sibling of several very loved brothers and sisters, inside them grew an inevitable interest in the art of teaching. Passing down knowledge is an invaluable gift that allows us all to grow.
With internships at the Newark LGBTQ Center, LIPS performing arts gallery, and Asian American Film Lab, they grew passionate about non profit organizations. Seeing action-based structure inspired Lafi to do more work to understand every role needed for an effective program. From sound design to event planning, they dove deep into expanding their mediums.
For Lafi, growing up in a mixed race household, living with a disability, and identifying as Nonbinary they are able to serve many different kinds of people- both those who relate and those who don’t. Lafi has committed their work to uplifting and capturing the voices, stories, and images of those who are often underrepresented. When they’re not teaching they are writing, cooking, designing, or playing with their cats Muppet and Ruby.
BETHIANA “BETTY” ORTIZ, DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
Bethiana “Betty” Ortiz is a Development professional with nearly 10 years of experience. Betty is dedicated to supporting girls and women from all over the world. Her passion is to that ensure all girls and women of color have an opportunity in the United States and that their educational endeavors are successful. Betty is a Dominican-American Latina from Manhattan, NY.
MELANIE CLOSS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Coming from a background in Theatre and Music Education (Emerson College ’06, Orff-Shuelwerk Level 1 ’08) and extensive international travel, Melanie Closs founded The Other Side Intercultural Theatre in 2013. She was inspired by her volunteer experience at Pardada-Pardadi Educational Society (Anupshahr, UP, India) to find ways to bring girls from different cultures together, using theatre as a tool for self-expression and communication. She saw the need for girls in her own backyard, New York City, to have safe spaces to be themselves and support each other. She started The Other Side with a project called “Listen”, which included a group of teens from New York and a group of teens from Anupshahr exchanging their dreams and stories using Theatre of the Oppressed approaches. The Other Side has continued to grow with a unique drama exchange and sisterhood building curriculum serving girls around the world and around New York City.
When she is not leading The Other Side, Melanie is rocking out on vocals, guitar, singing bowls, and ukulele, with Mela (original witch metal), Melangu (ambient prog-rock), Jagged Little Pills (90’s ukulele duo), and Zelenaya (Ukrainian metal), and gives private music lessons.
We collaborate with participating teachers to keep pen pal theatre alive throughout the year.
REENA RANA, ENGLISH TEACHER, Pardada-Pardadi Educational Society (PPES)
ANUPSHAHR, UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA
Reena is a young & dynamic English teacher at Pardada Pardadi School. She holds a masters in English with a six years teaching experience. At Pardada Pardadi, she is a student favorite. Reena has a bold personality with smiling courage to face this male dominated world. She has a vision to travel the whole world. Reena thinks drama is an important process to show someone’s own thoughts and feelings to their society. Drama works like a mirror to society and shows the reality of rural people. Through The Other Side, rural girls can show their problems and conditions to people through drama. Girls can effectively share their pain and stories with girls in New York City using drama. Since working with The Other Side, Reena has improved her drama teaching capabilities. Reena sincerely feels that we can represent ourselves to others with drama.