We're more than an  academy...

Ellen Papa, Studio Performance Director:
Ellen, Director of Discovery’s Studio Performance & founder of Music That’s Mine Inc., has been a professional actress, singer and teacher for over 20 years! Ellen is a working member of the Screen Actors Guild for 18 years and has been seen in major motion pictures, national commercials and heard coast to coast as a voiceover talent in national radio spots. Ellen now dedicates her time teaching youngsters how to be truly awesome performers on stage and in life through her classes, summer camp, and her private lessons where she is considered one of the most successful vocal coaches in Virginia! 

We're a community!

Emilee Papa has been performing since the age of 5, and became a professional actress at 10, when she starred in her first worldwide video for International Missions Board, as the featured actress, and then again at age 12.  Both videos have been seen around the world! Emilee has performed in 19 musical productions including Morticia in ‘Addams Family’,  Gertrude McFuzz in “Seussical”, the ‘Genie’ in “Aladdin”, ‘Marci Park’ in “25th Annual Putnam Spelling Bee”, and ‘Aunt Eller’ in “Oklahoma”.  Emilee is a student at Christopher Newport University majoring in musical theatre. While at Godwin High School, she was the student director for their award winning Show Choir! Emilee was awarded best in ‘vocal excellence’ and ‘outstanding showmanship’, and has been a choreographer and teacher at Studio P for over 5 years. As a teacher at Studio P, her classes are always the most eagerly anticipated where students enjoy her infectious personality and positive & knowledgeable guidance!

Sonjia Upshaw was born and raised in the small, southwestern town of Alamogordo, New Mexico. While completing her studies in Music Education at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, New Mexico, she took on the challenge of developing a choral music program at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic School. What started with 12 eager students in 1988 blossomed over a two year period into a strong, competitive choral program that continues to thrive today.

She has performed in show choirs, performance choirs, operas, musicals, and jazz choirs both in high school and college. She had the privilege of performing Mozart’s Requiem in Lincoln Center with a national collegiate choir. Since 1990, Sonjia has taught choral music at the middle and high school levels, training a cappella, performance, jazz, and competitive choirs. She has been a church accompanist since the age of 13 and currently serves as the head accompanist for Southside Baptist Ministries in south Richmond.

Sonjia is a piano, voice, and music theory instructor with her own studio, Sacred Beginnings, and her love for teaching and performing is translated into her students. She composes and arranges music and her heart’s desire is to tap into the undiscovered talent each child has and use it to help them develop strength and confidence that will translate into success across all areas of their lives!

Deborah Ferrandois truly an innovative teacher and performer! For 9 years, Deb worked at Theatre by the Sea in Portsmouth New Hampshire in set design, costumes, props, and various acting roles. She then was a staff member at HAT Theatre here in Richmond for 5 years, and is now the current director of the Living Nativity that has entertained thousands of Richmonders for over 20 years! Her exciting teaching techniques give her students a truly rewarding classroom experience!

Christopher Grainer is a gifted Ukulele player where he has been perfecting his playing skills since elementary school!  For 5 years Chris has been a member of the elite traveling performance troupe, Studio P Stars, and played the lead role in Studio P’s original and critically acclaimed original musical, “Crossroads” earlier this year! Multi-talented, Chris is also a member of Collegiate’s Varsity Track and Field team and a member of the International Thespian Society. Chris is also a teacher at Studio P’s award winning summer camp, and is loved by students of all ages!


Alexis Black is an Adjunct professor for Acting, Movement and Speech for Business Professionals at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is an MFA candidate in Theatre Pedagogy, emphasis in Movement.  As an actor she has performed in NYC, at regional theaters and several international tours, as well as on AMC and The Discovery Channel (ID).  As a Fight and Movement Director, she has worked locally with Virginia Repertory Theatre, Cadence Theatre Company, Quill Theatre, Richmond Triangle Players and Firehouse Theatre.  Outside of RVA she has choreographed for multiple regional theatres, Off-Broadway, and recently served as assistant fight choreographer to David Leong on Fool for Love on Broadway, starring Sam Rockwell.  In the fall of 2016 she is thrilled to assist David Leong again on movement and fight choreography for Romeo and Juliet at the Shakespeare Theatre Company (DC). Alexis is thrilled to be teaching at Studio P!  

Michael Whitty is a performer and musician born and raised in the lovely Richmond, Virginia. He has been performing/acting since the age of 7 after his first musical, “The Music Man,” as Winthrop. Michael is one of the student directors of ‘Debut’, the award winning show choir at Godwin High School which is where he spends a majority of his time. He is also involved in musicals inside & outside of school. It has always been a dream for Michael to become a choreographer or writer for a musical or show. He has been in more than 15 musicals; some include “Les Miserables” as Babet/Chain Gang and “Seussical” as The Cat in the Hat. Michael is so excited to be working with Studio Performance Academy and being able to work with aspiring artists and performers in the community. He believes you can do anything if you put your mind to it!

Alexis Papa has been performing on stage since she was 8 years old! She has performed in more than 10 musicals, and her real love is directing. Alexis has been an assistant teacher & director with Studio P for over 7 years! Alexis has been a staff member at Studio P’s performing arts summer camp for the last 9 years, and has now taken over the business end of camp! Alexis is currently a senior at Roanoke College, where she is president of their prestigious acapella group, ‘Main Street’. She has also performed in Ireland as a member of Roanoke College’s all-women’s choral group under the direction of renowned director, Dr. Jeffrey Sandborg! Alexis is on the executive board for her sorority, Alpha Sigma Alpha. She is also head resident advisor, and has interned the last two years in Richmond and in Washington D.C. for Congressman Dave Brat! 

Studio Performance Academy
operates out of Discovery Church:

13000 Gayton Rd.,  Richmond, VA 23233

(804) 839-5305