Who We Are
Board of Directors
Lauren Van Hemert, President/Founder
When she founded RDU On Stage (rduonstage.com) in January of 2019, editor Lauren Van Hemert envisioned it as a conventional media hub of the Triangle theater community – covering the local scene with reviews, features, interviews, and a podcast. It was always a lot more about community than criticism and became even more so due to events. An alumnus of Indiana University, Van Hemert earned a journalism degree with minors in theater and Spanish, going to work as a news writer. But she never imagined she’d be able to combine her different passions until seeing an ad several years ago in Broadway World, which was looking for a regional contributing editor in Raleigh. Getting to go to the theater and then talk and write about it was a dream come true. It also led to Van Hemert starting RDU On Stage, with a tight local focus. And while the timing seems unfortunate with the pandemic making live theater impossible, RDU On Stage has figuratively “kept the theater doors open” by becoming a key online gathering spot. In fact, RDU on Stage’s audience has widened beyond the Triangle throughout the pandemic that in April 2021, Van Hemert re-branded and became Beltline to Broadway. Van Hemert is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, Society of Professional Journalists, and Broadway Makers Alliance. “I love the arts, and going to the theater is my sanctuary space,” says Van Hemert. “I’m not an actor or a performer, but I am a writer, reporter, journalist. Sharing stories with this community is exciting. Especially right now, when we’re connecting a seemingly disconnected world.”
Juan Isler, Vice Presdent / Board Chair
Multi-tasking has always come naturally to Juan Isler, a key member of the local theater
community, who keeps a busy schedule across multiple platforms. He has worked on more than 50 plays in venues across the Triangle on both sides of the stage, as an actor, technician, and director. He serves on various boards, NRACT and Beltline To Broadway, and is on the core leadership committee at Pure Life Theater. All of this, while working as an event coordinator at NC State University. And as host of TORN: Theater on Racist Negativity, he is one of the public faces of the online hub Beltline To Broadway (beltlinetobroadway.org, formerly RDU On Stage). A native of Kinston, Isler grew up singing and earned a music-business degree at Winston-Salem State University in 1993. He worked as a deejay before coming to Raleigh, where he got a job as technical director at what is now Spectrum News in 2004. A decade later, Isler wound up in his first play almost by accident, cast in a 2014 Raleigh Little Theatre production of Mirandy and Brother Wind. But that was enough to give him the bug. He plunged into acting as a passion, often doubling as the sound engineer for the plays he acts in. In the wake of widespread unrest following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year, Beltline To Broadway/RDU On Stage founder Lauren Van Hemert wanted the site to have an online conversation about race relations and diversity. She reached out to Isler to host it, and what started as a one-off event became a running series called TORN” with Isler talking to a range of guests. “Racism in theater is a touchy subject and I figured nobody would want to acknowledge it. But we’ve brought it to the forefront. I hope we can keep doing it after theaters open back up.”
Kim Jackson, Treasurer
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 Beltline to Broadway and looks forward to sharing her reflections on our dynamic theater community.
Grace Niesel, Board Member
Grace Niesel (they/them) has been described in many ways. Family describes them as compassionate and intelligent, friends have described them as eccentric and passionate, but they simply describe themself as “awkward, but tries to be kind.” They find themself drawn to the odd things in life, pouring over unsolved mysteries and the paranormal, spending time with their beloved pet axolotl, attending semi-annual reptile conventions, and blaring gothic rock music while they do their homework. All of that being said, they also hold a love for the more simple things in life, and are happy settling in to watch The Muppet Show while surrounded by stuffed animals and eating pastries. They’ve been writing with Beltine To Broadway since 2019, when it was RDU On Stage, and just them, Lauren, and Kim. Their work has been featured in Burning Coal Theatre’s KidzWrite Festival, and various poems, essays, scripts, and narratives of theirs have won local, state, and even national awards. They take pride in every aspect of their identity as a nonbinary and disabled artist, and are happy with the place in society that they’ve forged for themself.