Staff & Board

Our Staff

Rena Cohen, Artistic Director

Rena began her career as a theatre director, teacher and critic. She holds an MFA in Theatre (Directing) and has a strong artistic history, as well as a reputation for innovative, strategic arts administration. Rena is thrilled to combine management with artistic oversight in her leadership role with Realwheels. Rena remains an active community volunteer. She also serves as a speech and presentations coach to select private and corporate clients. Living with two invisible chronic diseases currently in remission, Rena self-identifies as able-bodied: “I challenge myself to understand and internalize the diverse voices of disability communities, and am committed to authentically reflect a broad range of disability-inclusive values throughout Realwheels’ activity and culture”.

Cadence Konopaki, Managing Director

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Deaf Studies / Social Policy from the University of Wolverhampton (England), Cadence has spent the past 14 years working in non-profit organizations and post-secondary institutions. Known for focusing on the growth and development of an organization or program, Cadence has held management positions with ArtStart (Edmonton), the Alberta Lung Association, and MacEwan University. Combining her love of theatre and experience in non-profit management, Cadence transitioned into the arts sector as the Producer for the Deep Freeze Festival (Edmonton), and subsequently worked as the Managing Director of the Freewill Shakespeare Festival (Edmonton) for a number of years. Additionally, she works as a contract theatre technician for Canadian improv companies and as a freelance digital marketer. Cadence believes in the importance of volunteerism and has previously sat on the board of the YMCA of Fort McMurray, Edmonton Arts Council, and Good Women Dance Collective (Edmonton). Other community involvement has included volunteering with Dublin’s Fringe Festival and Edmonton’s Homeless Connect.

Michele Fontana, Acting Academy Manager

Michele is responsible for Realwheels’ actor training program. He has worked extensively in the arts & culture sector, always striving to engage and inspire communities with interactive and participant-centred initiatives. Michele was previously with the Cinematheque as Learning & Outreach Manager, leading the creation and delivery of more than 60 film education programs annually. Since 1998, he has worked in national and international productions as an actor, director, playwright, and set designer. Furthermore, he has created art pieces, videos, and public art projects. Michele holds a PhD, an MSc, and has received professional training in theatre & education.

Connie Laalo, Assistant Arts Administrator

With a background in public arts event programming and production, Connie is happy to be putting her many years of administrative experience to work for an organization that aligns with her values. Her career includes roles at the Textile Museum of Canada, the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and CBC Music. A creative at heart, Connie finds an innovative approach to any project or program. Outside her work, Connie enjoys volunteering, singing and reading.

Lindsey Adams, Marketing & Communications

Coming from an administrative background, Lindsey is also a visual artist, who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Simon Fraser University. Having worked in a variety of settings, Lindsey finds that none encompasses her interests as well as her position with Realwheels, where she finds great pleasure in combining her passion for the creative with her administrative talents, in support of an organization she believes is breaking barriers.

James Sanders, Founding Artistic Director

James Sanders is the founding Artistic Director of Realwheels. In 1998, James graduated as valedictorian earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre from Simon Fraser University. His professional career includes acting, writing, and producing for the stage and screen. Quadriplegic from a spinal cord injury, James is committed to positive and accurate representations of disability in the media. His goal is to represent characters with a disability in stories where issues of disability are not the central source of conflict. His favourite compliment for his acting was when he performed the role of Uncle Ernie in The Who’s musical, Tommy. An audience member asked the director, “Why didn’t James stand up during the curtain call?” James lives and works in Vancouver with his amazingly supportive wife Barbara and adorable son, Max.

Our Board

Amy Amantea – President
Vacant – Vice President
Isaac Wolfe– Treasurer
Amelia Cooper – Secretary
Leena Chen – Director
Henriette Koning – Director
Maya Pankalla – Director
Patrick Pennefather – Director
Martin Thomson – Director

Are you our newest board member? Are you passionate about the work we do? Do you have four hours a month you can give (including one board meeting, one sub-committee meeting, and occasional emails)? Then we want to hear from you!

Send your CV and a short cover letter to: