Moonlight Stage Company

Acting Studio and Performance Venue In North Raleigh

Estes Tarver

Acting Instructor / Artistic Director

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Estes Tarver is an award wining actor, director, writer, and producer working out of Raleigh, NC. He has acted in NYC, LA, NC, and regionally. Estes has recently been working on such recent shows as Mr. Mercedes, Swamp Thing, Black Lightning, House of Cards, Teenage Bounty Hunters, Outer Banks, and Burden.  You might also have seen him as a recurring guest star in season two of Under The Dome on CBS as Tom Tilden.  He has also been seen on such shows as Turn, One Tree Hill, Dawson’s Creek, As The World Turns, The Guiding Light, and appeared in Colin Firth’s Arthur Newman Golf Pro. On stage and camera, Estes has worked with oscar/emmy winning actors and directors. He has written and produced award winning film. You can see his feature film, Changeover on Amazon Prime. He has also produced, written, and directed national brand commercials (Walgreens, Alli, Hasbro…etc).  Estes’ students have booked major roles on countless shows and films such as Disney’s The Lone Ranger, AMC's Preacher, The Walking Dead, Halt and Catch Fire Turn, Insatiable, Tropical Cop Tales, Sleepy Hollow, Barely Lethal, Triple Nine, Last Vegas, HBO's Eastbound and Down, Hunger Games, The Bay (Barry Levinson), Army Wives, Hick, Banshee, Revolution, and have had callbacks to many Feature Films, Disney TV, Nickelodeon, Disney XD, the National tour of Peter Pan…etc. They have also worked on or had callbacks to Broadway shows, been accepted and won scholarships into top college programs (Tisch, UNCSA, Elon), had callbacks to CBS, Nickelodeon, HBO, L & O, etc. Estes coaches actors at the professional level, taught acting at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and also the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory. He has an MFA in acting from UNC-Chapel Hill and has students regularly acting in stage, film, and television.

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Estes Tarver and his company Moonlight are some of the most professional coaches and audition taping resources I’ve had the good fortune to have clients utilize. Tapes coming from Estes are perfectly lit, framed, and edited and compete with the best self-tapes I see from a variety of markets. Making them even more competitive is the coaching Estes provides. Clients of mine who have worked with Estes have been flown to LA to screen test for everything from studio features to independent film to network tv to the latest streaming shows and several have gone on to book significant, career building opportunities.

Michael Hepburn
Industry Entertainment

Los Angeles

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Estes is a true gem and it thrills me that the artists I work with regionally have Estes in their corner. He provides a tremendous support to the actor and their families, while navigating projects. He also has great insight on the appropriate direction needed for flawless execution. His tapes and coaching are spot on and better than most I have seen coming out of Los Angeles.

Liz York
Principal Entertainment
Los Angeles

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There is no one more passionate about her students or more committed to the craft. She has an uncanny ability to pull performances from her actors they never thought possible.

Eric Stonestreet
Modern Family

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I learned so much from Jeris about trusting my instincts and “living in the now” on stage. She taught me how to find the honest moments in any acting situation. My auditioning and performance benefited greatly from what she taught me. They are skills I still use today. If you have a chance to study with her…you should! It will change how you approach acting and writing.

Angela Kinsey
The Office

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Jeris Donovan


Jeris Donovan is an actress and comedian who has worked at all levels of the business. She has performed and directed improv for over twenty-five years. She studied improv at Second City in Chicago, Improv Olympic-Chicago, and Annoyance Theater, and has taught all levels of improvisation at the Improv Olympic West conservatory in Los Angeles, where she created and directed several shows and coached many teams most notably LA’s first all-female troupe Bitch Planet. She is the current director of improvisational training at Moonlight Stage Company: one of the only comprehensive youth conservatory improv programs in the country. Her troupes have had the honor of being the youngest accepted in the history of improv festivals such as Atlanta Improv Festival, North Carolina Improv Festival, Oak City Comedy Festival, Soundbites Festival… and perform at improv theaters and comedy clubs all over the South. Jeris is also an acting coach whose clients have booked roles for TV: Stranger Things, Stargirl, Queen Sugar, The Gifted, The Resident, Stephen King’s Creep Show, Misfits and Monsters, NCIS New Orleans, Good Behavior, Mr. Mercedes, TURN, Halt and Catch Fire, The Guest Book, Adult Swim: Film: film: Troupe Zero, Words on Bathroom Walls, Forever Your Girl, What Men Want and national and local commercials.

Carrie Marshall


Carrie Marshall’s voice and original songs can be heard on iTunes and Pandora Radio. She was named the Singer/Songwriter of the Year in 2010 for the NC Songwriter Co-Op competition. She was also a semi-finalist in the 2008 BBC Songwriter Competition. Carrie is very involved as a professional performing artist, studio session singer, producer, keyboardist, vocal coach, music director, actress and model. She holds a B.A. in Music and an M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction, and has had several years of private study in both piano and voice under reputable teachers such as Mark Baxter in Boston, MA and Dr. John Hugo. As a teacher, she has worked at the prestigious Middlesex School in Concord, MA., Concord Youth Theater, Carlisle Public Schools and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. In Nashville, TN she spearheaded the children’s music department for Christ Presbyterian Church, overseeing three performance choirs. Carrie specializes in mentoring serious students in the study of voice, composition, and performance. As a performing singer/songwriter, Carrie’s life experiences are a valuable asset in coaching students who desire to take their craft to the next level. Her submersion in the music and entertainment business allows her to uniquely address the multifaceted aspects of a lifestyle as a performing artist.

2008 BBC Songwriter Competition


Singer/Songwriter of the Year 2010

NC Songwriter Co-Op Competition

Top Charlotte Vocalist

Carolina Entertainment Network

Sean McCracken


Sean McCracken is an actor, singer, and improvisor who has over 20 years experience on stage, as well as in film, television, commercials, web series, and industrials. He has most recently been seen on television in Stranger Things (Netflix), Outcast (Cinemax) and AMC’s TURN: Washington’s Spies, and on stage in Moonlight’s Seascape with Sharks and Dancer, Theatre Raleigh’s Junk, Where Words Once Were, The Secret Garden, Rock of Ages, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Broadway Series South’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the Duke Energy Center. He was also in the 2012 LA Weekly Award nominated production of Turbo Tartuffe at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre in North Hollywood. Sean has studied acting from Emmy Award-Winning director Joan Darling, as well as locally with Estes Tarver, and has improv training from The Upright Citizen’s Brigade and The Second City in Los Angeles, and locally with Jeris Donovan. Sean’s students have booked major roles on Stage, Film, and Television, including The King and I (Broadway), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Theatre Raleigh), Once (Theatre Raleigh), Office Christmas Party, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2, House of Cards, Good Behavior, Daytime Divas, Misfits and Monsters, Black Lightning, The Resident, Swamp Thing, Uncle Frank, Champaign ILL, Reprisal, The Walking Dead 3, Stargirl, and many more, as well as many local plays, shorts, commercials, and industrials. He has a BA in Dramatic Art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Katie Paxton


Katie Paxton is an actress, writer, teacher and coach. Her film and television credits include The Long Road Home (National Geographic, series regular), Billy and Billie (DirecTV written and directed by Neil LaBute, recurring), The Good Wife (CBS, recurring), Forever (ABC, guest star), The Black List (NBC, guest star), How He Fell in Love (dir. Marc Meyers) and The Heart Machine (dir. Zach Wigon). Recent theatre includes The Way of the World by Theresa Rebeck (world premiere at Dorset Theatre Festival), Bedroom Farce (Huntington Theatre Company), Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, In the Next Room, The Imaginary Invalid and Noises Off (PlayMakers Repertory Company). She has booked multiple commercials including a Crest national network spot and has years of experience working and auditioning in the top casting offices in New York.Katie’s students have booked major roles on film and television, including The Blacklist, Quantico, The Deuce, Mr. Robot and Bloodline. Katie holds a BA and MFA in Acting from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has taught at the college and professional level for the past six years in NYC.


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Lisa Jolley


Lisa Jolley is an actor, singer, improviser, and a teacher/coach of all of those things. New York/Regional credits include: Hairspray (Broadway), The King Stag, (Yale Rep) Sweeney Todd (Paper Mill, PlayMakers Rep), Disaster (NCC Summer Theater), among others. Since relocating to North Carolina, she has appeared in Into the Woods, Les Miserables, Hairspray, and The Producers (North Carolina Theatre), Spamalot (Cape Fear Regional Theatre), Next to Normal (Deep Dish), Souvenir, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, and Sylvia (Theatre Raleigh). She is also a featured soloist with the North Carolina Symphony.Television appearances include Law & Order: SVU, Sex and the City, Hope and Faith, and Banshee.As an improviser, she has been a cast member/team player with Amsterdam’s Boom Chicago, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, The Magnet Theater, The PIT, and DSI Comedy in Chapel Hill. Her solo musical improv show, Jolley On the Spot, played to critical acclaim in New York, LA, and at the Chicago Improv Festival, Del Close Marathon, and the New York Musical Improv Festival.Public speaking engagements include Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh (Welcome Address) and three appearances at the North Carolina State University Scholars’ Forum.A graduate of the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music, Lisa has taught improvisation in NYC, the Yale School of Drama, the Wharton School of Business, Camp Broadway, Broadway Theatre Project, and in the Netherlands. She currently teaches voice and acting privately and is an Adjunct Instructor of Voice at William Peace University in Raleigh, and instructor of improv at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory, and now, Moonlight!

Paul Paliyenko


Paul Paliyenko is a professional actor with over twenty years of experience performing on stage, screen, television, radio, and audiotape as an actor and improviser in Boston and Raleigh. His Triangle professional stage credits include August: Osage County and Barefoot in the Park for Theatre Raleigh as well as Burning Coal Theatre Company’s highly-acclaimed productions of To Kill a Mockingbird, Way to Heaven/Camino al Cielo and David Edgar’s The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Paul performed improv in Boston for many years with the U.S. Improvisational Theatre League. He trained in acting with Michael Shurtleff, Jeannie Lindheim and Bill Young as well as locally with Estes Tarver; in improvisation with Keith Johnstone and Adam Felber as well as locally with Jeris Livengood, and in voice, speech & movement with Leigh Smiley (Linklater), and Annie Thompson. Paul is also an award-winning producer, director, cinematographer and sound designer with hundreds of film, video and audio producing and directing credits from his fifteen-year career in Boston. His students have booked major roles for stage, motion pictures, television and national commercials including The Best of Enemies, Embattled, (Future) Cult Classic, Mr. Mercedes, and many more, as well as many shorts films, industrials, regional commercials and local plays. Paul has also taught at the North Carolina Theatre Conservatory and has held appointments teaching film production at Boston University and Emerson College. Some of his former film production students include film and television directors, Gary Fleder and Chris Koch and screenwriter Peter Filardi.

Oliver Riera


Oliver Riera is professional actor and improviser who has worked in film, commercially, and on stage. He is well versed in both improv and acting.  Oliver has always been in a passionate pursuit of his craft both as an actor and filmmaker. Oliver has also been fortunate to study with Rich Talerico (Head Writer for Key and Peele, Mad TV, SNL, Tonight Show) as well as Emmy Winning Director/Actress Joan Darling, Kerry Shear (who studied directly with Lee Strasburg), and Jimmu Carrane (Second City). As a teacher, he has worked on getting students out of their shell, into their craft, and teaching them how to become outstanding performers both on film and stage, as well as coaching/taping different actors for auditions they have for major TV/Film/Stage. Oliver can also be seen on CMT’s Hit TV Show; Nashville. As well as other films he has directed and produced. His students have had callbacks to producers and booked major film and television such as The Accountant (Ben Affleck), Disney Channel, Mercy Street, Bare Knuckle, Outcast, Fist Fight (Ice Cube, Charlie Day, Tracey Morgan), Big Little Lies (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, Zoe Kravitz), and many more.

Gabriella Cila


Gabriella Cila is a professional actor and improviser who has been performing for over 10 years. Her television and film credits include Bobcat Goldthwait's Misfits & Monsters (truTV), Good Behavior (TNT), Table 19 (Fox Searchlight), and The Leisure Seeker (Sony Classics) opposite Oscar winner Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. Recent theater credits include How I Learned to Drive and The Crucible at PlayMakers Repertory Company.

Gabriella has been studying acting under Estes Tarver for 10 years at Moonlight Stage Company. As an improviser, she has studied under Jeris Donovan and has taken workshops with improvisers from The Second City, Upright Citizens Brigade, Boom Chicago, and iO, and is a founding member of the Estesstentials. Gabriella is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina with a B.A. in Political Science.

Matt White


Matt White, is just a small town guy with a huge personality! Which comes out every time he steps onstage with his brand of observational humor, mixed with improv/theatre training leaves audiences engaged and ready for more. He is an award winning comedian, winner of 2012 Port City Top Comic (Wilmington NC) and 2013 Carolina's Funniest Comic (Carrboro NC). Its clear Matt likes to be onstage, he also likes to be behind the scenes. He founded the Seriously Clowning Comedy Org at East Carolina University in 2005, which branched off campus to become the current comedy scene in Greenville NC. Matt White has performed in The Red Clay Comedy Festival (Atlanta GA), Scruffy City Comedy Festival (Knoxville TN), New South Comedy Festival (Greenville SC), Norfolk Comedy Festival( Norfolk, VA), Glida' Laughfest (Grand Rapids, MI), The Boston Comedy Arts Festival (Cambridge MA), The Ventura Comedy Festival (Ventura CA). The Cape Fear Comedy Festival (Wilmington, NC), North Carolina Comedy Festival (Chapel Hill, NC), and Laugh Your Asheville Off (Asheville NC) White has worked with; Ben Kronberg, Tim Meadows, Jon Reep, Orlando Jones, Michael Malone, Mia Jackson, Alonzo Bodden, Nephew Tommy, Joe Clair, Tony Woods, Landry, Eddie Brill, Tig Notaro, Sam Morril, Chris Fairbanks, Louis Katz, Kimberly Clark, Ben Roy, Rory Scovel, Nick Vatterott, Sean Patton, Jamie Lissow, Bret Ernst, Nick Turner, JF Harris, Tom Simmons, Dave Stone, & Tim Northern

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Liam Yates


Liam Yates has been acting in North Carolina for over a decade and has been acting professionally since 2012. He has appeared in numerous productions at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre, and has acted professionally at NCT, Pittsboro Youth Theatre, Shared Radiance Theatre, and Theatre Raleigh. He was recently on tour with Theatre Raleigh in their production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' as Bottom. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2016 where he spent most of his time working in the Theatre for Young People department. He also spent a semester overseas at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David where he trained in film acting, radio acting, educational theatre, and Shakespearean performance. He also earned his certificate to teach and choreograph Stage Combat while overseas, having studied under Phil Croskin. He has taught classes at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre that span a variety of ages starting from preschoolers (Imagination Theatre and Superheroes) to teenagers (Acting for the Camera and Improv). He has also taught workshops for Commedia Dell'Arte and Stage Combat. Last year he taught kids ages 6-10 at the Pittsboro Youth Theatre and directed them in a production of 'Rapunzel'. He also taught a workshop in stage combat over the summer with that same theatre and choreographed their production of 'Peter Pan'. His film credits include several Centerline IBM Industrials, motion capture work with Epic! Games, and a featured role in BrainJuice Productions' "The Witching Hour."

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Mark Cornell


Mark Cornell is a playwright, director, screenwriter, and filmmaker.  Over 80 of his plays have been produced in theatres around the world, including Sprucehaven B with Rising Sun Performance Company in NYC; Two Turtle Doves (Common Ground Theatre); On Pine Knoll Street (Dayton Playhouse FutureFest; O’Neill semi-finalist; Garry Marshall Theatre New Works Festival finalist; Austin Playhouse Festival of New Plays finalist) won the AACT NewWorksFest 2020 and will premiere at The Sauk in Michigan in February of 2020; Carolyn Adamswill premiere in the fall of 2019 at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro; The Other Half won the 2019 Charlies Getchell Award.  His short plays have won numerous awards, including the LW Thomas Award for Bad Thing, Best Playwright at Pittsburgh New Works Festival and Best Script at the City Theatre of Independence for Story Road; and the Short and Sweet Award in Brisbane, Australia for The Rental Company.  Mark has had many of his short plays and skits appear on the Moonlight stage.  Mark has written, produced, and directed numerous short films, including The Camera, which won Best Script at the Carrboro Film Festival.  He also directed Mr. Moonlight (with Estes Tarver and Joan Darling), which was written by Estes Tarver.  He is partner with Mark Jantzen with Marked Men Films and co-creator of Full Nelson Theater with Paul Newell.  He has an MFA in playwriting and a BA in English and Creative Writing from UCLA.


Vinny Valdivia


Vinny has been an improv comedian since 2008. Originally from Long Island, Vinny started taking classes at the ComedyWorx Theater shortly after seeing his first improv show. After a couple of years of being a stage performer his journey continued in 2010 to Chapel Hill where he became a full time company member and in 2012, Associate Producer at the DSI Comedy Theater. Vinny has been on multiple long form improvisational teams and toured the country performing in NYC, Atlanta, Charleston, Virginia and Washington D.C. Since 2011 he has been teaching improv and focuses on team mates being honest with their emotions, using one’s environment and performing in a way that not only surprises the performer but the audience watching as well.When not performing he loves to play the drums and watch reruns of Mr. Show, The State and Kids in the Hall. Vinny is dedicated to the art of improvisation and the positive influence it has on those who not only perform to their highest potential but also the audience who walk away from shows wanting to see more or perform just like he did a decade previous.

Joan Darling

Joan Darling has been nominated four times for an Emmy (the first woman to be nominated) and twice for a Director’s Guild of America Award, winning one Emmy and one DGA award. Also winning an Emmy for her performance as Dorothy Parker in Woven in a Crazy Plaid…  [read more]

Ray Dooley

Special Guest Instructor

Ray Dooley’s career as a professional actor has spanned forty years on stage, television, and film. Since 1989 he has been an actor with PlayMakers Repertory Company, and since 1992 he has been a member of the faculty of the Department of Dramatic Art at UNC Chapel Hill. He currently serves as Head of the MFA Acting program. Ray received an OBIE award for Distinguished Performance in Peer Gynt at CSC Repertory Company in New York, and played Father Flynn in the European premiere of Doubt at Vienna’s English Theatre. His students have appeared on and off Broadway, in major regional theaters across the country, at the National Theater of Great Britain, and on numerous popular television programs. [read more]

Special Guest Instructor