Montverde Academy junior Sydney Barker and homeschooler Brooke Herrera (who is simultaneously pursuing her high school diploma and an associate degree at Pasco-Hernando State College) say they are forever grateful to have received a W. Daniel Mills Apprenticeship at Garden Theatre. Both 17-year-olds are on the performance track and say that the apprenticeship has helped them grow and continue working towards their performing dreams.
Barker says without the apprenticeship she may not have received the support she needed to step outside her comfort zone.
“I’ve learned to bring a part of myself to the characters I play. Now I understand more than ever that every performance is unique because there is a piece of you in the character and vice versa.”
Barker has been singing since she was in third grade and performed with the Orlando Repertory Theater for many years as well. She says she feels like the apprenticeship took her to the “next level.”
“Getting to work with professionals that have deep compassion and understanding of performing, has changed me. I really can say that I’m not the same since I began the apprenticeship at the beginning of the school year.”
Barker, who was a friend of fellow Montverde Academy student Daniel Mills before his untimely death in 2020, says she takes comfort in knowing that so many theater students are getting excellent guidance and experience with an apprenticeship created by his family in his name.
“Daniel loved to perform and entertain. This apprenticeship honors the life he lived. I can only imagine he’s looking down and smiling, seeing all the future actors and stage technicians that this program is helping,” Barker says.
Herrera says one of the proudest and most exciting moments in her life came during her apprenticeship with the Garden Theatre. She got to sing for Kelli O’Hara, one of her theater idols. O’Hara was the headline performer for the Garden Theatre’s 2020 presentation of “Encore” and helped teach a masterclass for the apprenticeship program.
“It was humbling to perform for such an experienced and celebrated actress and singer like Kelli O’Hara. I felt like one of the luckiest people in the world,” Herrera says.
According to Herrera, one of the most surprising things she received from the apprenticeship was the care and encouragement she got from the other apprentices, performers, crew, and teachers. Performing since she was three years old, Herrera has dealt with competition and the rejection that sometimes comes with it.
“Usually when you’re competing for a role, the environment can be very judgmental and sort of toxic. But at the Garden, all I got was support and positivity.”
Working with the professionals at the Garden Theatre helped Herrera’s confidence in herself as well as strengthened her performing skills. She credits Garden Theatre’s Education Director Nick Bazo, Artistic Directing Consultant Roberta Emerson, and Artistic Director Joseph Walsh, with making her a better performer and a better person.
“I have never worked with a leader as special as Nick. He cared so deeply for everyone’s well-being. With Nick and Roberta and Joe in my corner, I felt like I could go deeper and explore more. When you’re supported like that, you can’t help but grow.”
Both Herrera and Barker are sad the academic year is over and know that soon their apprenticeships will end too. They say they appreciate being welcomed into the Garden Theatre family and encourage other performers to audition for the Daniel Mills Apprenticeship Program so they too can grow and go after their dreams.