who we are



Bethany Arrington
Travis Barnhart
Elliot Burton
Jay Espano
Abby Gillette
Jenny Lamb – Co-Founder
Andrea Minchella
Chrystal Paige Brown
Kristi Parker Barnhart- Managing Director
Caroline Phillips
Maggie Portman – Co-Founder
J. Preddie Predmore – Artistic Director, Co-Founder
Jessica Smith
Daniel Waters

Office Manager

Shirah Neumann

Jr. Artistic Associates

Parker Bell
Mandy Duncan
Emily Hawkins
Hannah Hawkins
Sophie Leib-Neri
Sofia Matza
Ellie McKnight
Caroline Phillips
Griffin Pollard
Madeline Reese
Margaret Sheils
Maggie Smith
Ezra Steinberg

Teaching Artists

Kristi Parker Barnhart
Elliot Burton
Nathan Drackett
Jay Españo
David Kornfeld
Maggie Portman
Emily Rogers
Amy Young

Board of Directors

Robert Sisco, President
Anne Coon
Anne Phillips
Janelle Reese
Joseph Sheils


Meet our Founders

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Jenny Lamb is co-founder and Company Member of Li’l Buds Theatre Company.  Born in Pennsylvania and raised all over, Jenny has called Chicago her home since 1999.  She founded the company with Jeff and Maggie in 2005 and has since been a teaching artist, playwright, director and designer.  She is the author of the original musical mystery series Penelope Pennyworth: Girl Detective and co-author of all of Li’l Buds’ original holiday musicals.  Her inspiration to explore children’s theatre and theatre education are college mentor Linde Hayen Herman and teacher Charla Hayen.  An accomplished Chicago actress, Jennyy was featured as one of six Chicago actors by Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune in 2008 and has received accolades for various performances in her career, including most recently the world premiere of Trainspotting USA (Book and Lyric Theatricals) and Cabaret (Light Opera Works). She’s lent her talents to Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, BoHo Theatre, Interrobang, Lifeline, Dog and Pony, Porchlight Music Theatre, and Light Opera Works.


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Maggie Portman is a co-founding member and current Company Member of Li’l Buds Theatre Company. She has been a lead teacher, director, choreographer, costumer, props and set construction/designer advisor for the company since 2005. Maggie began performing at the age of 6.  She was inspired to start Li’l Buds Theatre Company after over thirteen shows at Cobb Children’s Theatre Company in Georgia where she grew up. At Cobb, kids acted in the shows and also built their own sets, costumes, and props under the supervision of talented scenic painters and a technical director. They ran the fly system, changed their own sets, ran the light board and sound, and stage managed their own shows. It was a magical experience and became her dream to start a theatre like Cobb Children’s Theatre here in Chicago. Maggie went on to get a BFA in music theatre at Shenandoah University where she met Jenny and Jeff, the fellow co-founders of Li’l Buds; “we began Li’l Buds with the hope that we would not only offer kids a great outlet to be creative and imaginative but also to work alongside professional actors in our two main stage productions a year and through our hired Teaching Artist staff for our drama classes.  It’s an important niche of ours that all of our teachers are currently performing and working with some of the top theaters all across Chicago.” Favorite roles include playing Lily St Regis in Paramount Theatre’s production of Annie, a Silly Girl in Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast, and Chrissy in Hair at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora under Rachel Rockwell’s direction. Other Chicago credits include Eva Peron In Evita, Florence in Chess, and Rumpleteazer/Demeter in Cats (Theo Ubique Theatre), Squeaky Fromme in Assassins and Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime (Porchlight Music Theatre), Martha in The Secret Garden and Meg Brockie in Brigadoon (Light Opera Works). In 2000 Maggie did the New York non-equity National Tour of Hello Dolly as Minnie Faye US/ensemble. She received two non equity Jeff Awards in Chicago in 2009 and 2010 for principal roles in a musical and received an Equity Jeff nomination for best supporting actress in a musical for Meg in Brigadoon at the Goodman Theatre.


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Jeff Predmore co-founded Li’l Buds theatre company in 2005, with the desire to offer high quality theatrical training that challenges the children and explores the limits of their imagination. Jeff received his BFA in theatre for youth from Shenandoah Conservatory. After college Jeff toured the country performing for children with Theatre IV in Richmond Virginia.  His tours led him to Chicago 14 years ago and he has been acting professionally and teaching ever since. His passion for education led him to a full time teaching position at the prestigious Frances Xavier Warde School,  where he worked for  eight years four of which he served as drama teacher. Jeff now teaches and directs for li’l buds full time leading residencies and after school drama programs at schools throughout the city. As an actor some of his past roles include the critically acclaimed Chicago remount of Gorey Stories where he played the role if C.F. Earbrass, bottom in Midsummer Nights Dream, Stephano in the Tempest, Smee in Peter Pan, and of course Santa in the Li’l Buds original holiday musical series.


Teaching Artists


Elliot Burton is tickled pink to work as a Company Member at Li’l Buds Theatre! He was last seen at Li’l Buds as Jack the Bird in Those Silly Reindeer, as Curly in Peter Pan, and numerous others in Gulliver’s Travels. Elliot is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago where he holds a BFA in Musical Theatre. A few of his favorite hobbies include playing with his cat, snowball fighting, and working as a teaching artist at Li’l Buds. Thanks to his friends, family, his fantastic fiancé Sean, and to Jeff, Jenny, and Maggie for the countless opportunities they’ve given him!


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Nathan Drackett is an actor, teacher, and musician in Chicago. He has been with Li’l Buds Theatre Company since 2014. He has been teaching drama and circus arts for the past 10 years, and has taught at The Actors Gymnasium, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, and The School for Theatre Creators. He is also a member of Filament Theatre Ensemble and has performed with The Actors Gymnasium, The Lyric Opera, Piven, Redmoon, 500 Clown, Mercury Theatre, and Signal Theatre. He also performs and teaches as a freelance musician, clown, and acrobat in and around Chicago.


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Jay Españo’s ever-evolving cosmopolitan journey as actor, singer and director has led him to perform and collaborate in more than 70 productions with some of the most respected theater companies in the Asian region, as well as dabbling in film and television. A recent US transplant, he toured the US and Canada in the lead role of the king in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King And I. Jay enjoys studying and in the last six years he has acquired a Musical Theater degree, yoga teacher’s certificate, a Graduate Laban Certificate in Movement Analysis (GLCMA) and a Master’s degree in Film- Directing at Columbia College Chicago.


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Kristi Parker-Barnhart is thrilled to be a lead teaching artist with Li’l Buds! Kristi has been performing as an actress for twenty-one years and has been an educator for seven years. Originally from Oklahoma, Kristi has called Chicago home since 2010. Lending her talents as a writer, actor, director, improviser and ukulele player, Kristi has worked with several great Chicago Theatre Companies. Her most recents include: Hobo Junction Theatre, The New Colony, ComedySportz Theatre, Open Door Repertory Theatre, Stage 773, and Waltzing Mechanics. Kristi is looking forward to all of the fun and excitement of being a teaching artist with Li’l Buds!


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Jeff Predmore


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Maggie Portman