2019 Keynote Speakers

Dr. Sivasailam “Thiagi” Thiagarajan is the founder and resident mad scientist at The Thiagi Group, an organization with the mission of helping people improve their performance effectively and enjoyably.

Thiagi served as the editor of ISPI’s Performance & Instruction for more than 10 years. He has written a monthly GameLetter for 15 years; it currently appears as the GameBlog on this website.

Thiagi has twice been elected the president of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI), 27 years apart (in 1979 and 2006). He has also been the five-time president of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA).

As a global nomad, Thiagi has lived in three different countries and has conducted training workshops in 21 others. Earlier in his life, he has been a high-school science teacher, street corner magician, researcher, editor of a professional journal, keynote speaker, college professor, USAID project director, and writer.



Dr. Raquell Holmes is a pioneer in the use of improvisation and performance to advance scientific research communities. Trained formally as a cell biologist, Holmes works in the fields of high performance computing and computational sciences. As the founder of improvscience, she uses her training in human development and performance from the East Side Institute to help scientists build collaborative learning and research environment.





Pablo Suarez is Associate director for research and innovation at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, as well as Artist in Residence at the National University of Singapore (NUS-LRFI), visiting fellow at Boston University, honorary senior lecturer at University College London, and faculty member at University of Lugano (Switzerland). He has consulted for the UN Development Programme, the World Food Programme, the World Bank, Oxfam America, and about twenty other international humanitarian and development organizations, working in more than 60 countries. His current work addresses institutional integration across disciplines and geographic scales, and the use of innovative tools for climate risk management – ranging from financial instruments for faster disaster preparedness, to self-learning algorithms for flood prediction, to collaboration with artists and improvisers to inspire thinking and action. Pablo holds a water engineering degree, a master’s in planning, and a Ph.D. in geography.

Aretha Amelia Sills is a Los Angeles-based writer and teacher of improvisational theater and creative writing. She is the granddaughter of Viola Spolin, and studied Spolin’s improvisational theater games for many years with her father, legendary director Paul Sills, creator/director of The Second City and Story Theater. She is the associate director of Sills/Spolin Theater Works and she has conducted workshops at Paul Sills’ Wisconsin Theater Game Center, Bard College, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, The Art of Acting Studio, Sarah Lawrence College, Stockholm International School, and Northwestern University. Aretha was nominated for an INNY Award for Best Improvisation Instructor and was the keynote speaker at the California Educational Theatre Association conference. She also teaches Improvisation for Writers and directs The Predicament Players. Aretha offers workshops regularly in Los Angeles, annually in Chicago and New York, and occasionally around the world. Please email Aretha Sills to request to be notified about upcoming workshops, or to inquire about bringing her to work with your school or group. Aretha is also a novelist and non-fiction writer. She received her MFA from UC Riverside, where she was a Gluck Fellow, the Graduate MFA Fellow, and the Dean’s Distinguished Fellow. She has been a lecturer in creative writing at UCR. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Maybelle, The Utne Reader, Calyx, South Bank Poetry Review, and Qua. Her piece, Muddy Waters and Mozart: Remembering Townes Van Zandt, was featured in LARB’s first print edition.