Using Theatre to Discover Self-Expression and Love

Graham Barker (left) and Riley Herrera (right) smile for a photo

Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “youth is wasted on the young,” but W. Daniel Mills Apprentices 13-year-old Graham Barker and 15-year-old Riley Herrera turn that adage on its head. Both Herrera and Barker are homeschooled and attend some Florida Virtual School classes while they learn their craft and forge paths in musical theatre and performing. Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, “youth is wasted on the young,” but W. Daniel Mills Apprentices 13-year-old Graham Barker and 15-year-old Riley Herrera turn that adage on its head. 

Herrera, who lives in Tampa with her family, started dancing when she was only two years old. At seven years old, she started tap dancing and loved it. “It’s such a happy dancing style. I mean you can’t be sad when you’re tap dancing. I don’t think people who watch a [tap dance] performance can be sad either. It’s just a great way to dance,” Herrera says. 

Herrera’s first professional gig was at the Holy Land Experience when she was 10 years old. She performed in the religious theme park’s Biblical children’s plays for two years. “It was a great experience. Everyone was so nice. It was a lot of fun,” Herrera says. 

The cliche that performers are self-involved and fame-hungry is smashed immediately when Herrera describes the Daniel Mills Theatre group. “It’s such a warm and welcoming environment,” she says. “It’s more than just acting and performing. It’s about bonding and learning,” Herrera says.

Looking forward to honing her skills and learning about all aspects of theater production in the program’s masterclasses, Herrera says her dream role would be Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” because Elle is fun, bubbly, and dances a lot.

Theatre is a Safe Place

Ocoee resident Barker agrees that the apprenticeship and the theater group’s overall focus is on creative expression and creating a safe place for everyone. “If anything, the atmosphere [in the apprenticeship] is freeing. You’re free to discover more about yourself or a role or theme of a play. The teachers, the professionals, and the other apprentices are all about being open.”

Of course, when you’re young and learning, you may make mistakes. Barker says that when he gets or gives feedback, it’s done so gently and helps improve the performance and the audience’s experience. “It is always done with love. I never feel judged or picked on. We’re like family,” he says. And even though both Barker’s sister Emmy and Herrera’s sister Brooke are still involved with the apprenticeship and acting group. Emmy is the assistant director and choreographer this year. So, in some ways the troupe is family.

At only 13 years old, and the youngest apprentice in the program, Barker says he hopes to continue performing and possibly go on to study theater in college. “I know I have a lot of growing up to do but if I can, I hope to be doing some kind of performing in the future,” he says. 

Currently, both Herrera and Barker are in the group’s production of “Carrie” at Orlando Fringe Theatre, which used to be Mad Cow Theatre. Barker says his favorite kind of theater is comedy. His dream role would be any role in the musical “Frozen.” Until then he looks forward to a future that might even include auditioning for a role, maybe as a Frozen character, at Walt Disney World. “This opportunity [with the W. Daniel Mills Apprenticeship] is a great step in the right direction,” Barker says.


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Written by Tarre Beach

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