Performing with a Purpose: Bringing Life to the Community

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Engaging in performing arts is often seen as a pathway to fame and fortune. But for two Central Florida students it’s a means of creating community, sharing feelings, and learning about the world around us. 

Eighth-grader Carson Holley and DeLand High School senior Jaidyn Richardson are both W. Daniel Mills Apprentices on the performance track. The program is in its second year helping students connect with professionals while gaining valuable skills and training.  

As one of the youngest apprentices, 14-year-old Holley had her sights set on getting into the program for a while. She wanted to audition last year but had to wait because she wasn’t old enough.  

Holley landed her first role in La Boheme at age 6. “Not many kids would do three and a half hours of opera in Italian and think to themselves: ‘This is what I want to do with my life!’ but I did,” Holley says.  

Holley is enrolled in The Classical School at First Academy, a non-traditional educational program for students who need more flexibility due to athletic, training, or performing schedules. Currently, Holley attends school in person only two days a week freeing her up for singing gigs at Estefan Kitchen at the Margaritaville Resort, Best of British Pub, and Disney Springs.  

“I see performance as a way to bring to life everything from important topics to fun, silly ones. It’s a way to see things you’ve never seen before and a way to see yourself. I can’t think of a better way to communicate or connect with others,” Holley says. 

Both Holley and Richardson agree that the apprenticeship is a unique opportunity for performing arts students to learn their craft while earning and working alongside professionals. “My choir teacher Mr. Ross Cawthon taught me that an amateur practices until he gets it right, a professional practices until he gets it wrong.” Richardson explains what that means is that perfection is not the goal, learning is. 

Maybe that’s why Richardson’s dream role is Usnavi from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights”. Richardson likens the character Usnavi’s desire to return to the Dominican Republic as an actor’s aim for perfection, but like Usnavi, Richardson finds everything he needs is already there. “That’s the soul of performing, learning in the moment,” Richardson says.  

Richardson says he feels fortunate to have been accepted into the apprenticeship and is excited to learn about all aspects of theater. From set design and writing to lighting and directing, Richardson says the masterclasses are already expanding his performance skills. 

He recently participated in the Orlando Rep’s Funikijam Show, a musical, sing-along, play-along show for younger children. “You know little kids are unpredictable, which is what all live theater is, really,” Richardson says. “As a performer you have to be prepared to handle it. I learned so much from [the kids]. I feel like they had a special connection.” In fact, after one of his performances one little boy told him that he wanted to do what Richardson did when he grew up. 

Open to either continuing his performing arts education in college or starting a singing, dancing, and/or acting career right out of high school, Richardson says he’s grateful to his parents for always supporting him. “They can see that this is not just about being a star or something like that for me. I don’t want to perform just to impress. My hope is to inspire others,” Richardson says. 

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Written by Tarre Beach

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