For Daniel Mills Apprentices Ailani Herrero and Jacquelyn Salisbury, diving deeper into acting has taught them more about themselves and the world. Herrero, 18, and Salisbury, 14, may seem like a world away for teens, but they share something in common. They both got their start in acting at church.
Herrero, a senior at International Community School, performs at Summit Church Orlando Base Camp, where her mother, Doris, is the children’s ministry director. The school is a hybrid Christian institution with both in-person and online classes. Theater productions featuring biblical stories have been brought to life by this volunteer group, with some of their works showcased at the Orlando Fringe Festival. “It was so exciting to be in plays at my church. It felt like an adventure,” Herrero says. “I fell in love with acting right away, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Salisbury, whose next production is “When I Grow Up,” a collection of performances at St. Luke’s Church, started acting at five. At age nine, she began working at the Holyland Experience. Salisbury played various roles on the main stage at the biblical theme park. “I loved getting to be a part of Bible stories. It was fun, and I felt like the message was so important,” Salisbury says.
Salisbury worked at the park for two years while being homeschooled. Her older sister Victoria also performed at the park and continues to work as a professional actor. Salisbury says she is grateful to her mom, Amanda, for driving her to auditions, voice lessons and acting classes. She is also encouraged by her sister’s continued commitment to the craft. “Victoria has been a big inspiration to me. Seeing what she’s done makes me want to keep going,” Salisbury says.
While Herrero and Salisbury received their start in biblical productions, they have gone on to share their artistic gifts in a variety of school and community plays. Salisbury shares that being an apprentice has given her more confidence in her abilities. “The Daniel Mills Apprenticeship program is a welcome and warm group of people. I feel lucky to have such a close-knit group of people to work with and learn from,” she says.
The masterclasses offered to apprentices are valuable learning experiences where Salisbury says she feels safe to ask questions and not worry about being judged. “Some people may think that performers can be really critical. But everyone is super helpful, and they all want to see you succeed,” Herrero says.
Seeing the diversity in productions such as “Hamilton” and Disney’s live-action “The Little Mermaid,” Herrero says she is excited about the future of performing arts. “I love that we are seeing different people in roles that we’ve often expected to be played by Caucasians,” she says. This sea-change has given her hope and helped relieve some of the self-doubts that crop up for many performers occasionally.
Through the Daniel Mills Apprenticeship Program, Herrero has learned to challenge any painful feelings she may have experienced and use them in her work. “When seemingly bad things happen, now I know I can use what I’m feeling to dig deeper into a character,” she says.
Likewise, Salisbury appreciates how the program has allowed her to connect with people who believe in her abilities. “Sometimes we do games, learn about set design or movement—there’s always something different. But the best part is that we all support each other,” Salisbury says.