MISHAWAKA, IND.-- Every year since 2013, John and Therese Gardner have funded the “Stratford Experience,” giving Bethel students involved in theatre an opportunity to attend the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.
If a student only sees high school theatre, or just what they do in college, then there’s nothing to aspire to,” said Barb Franklin, Bethel’s Secretary for Theatre Arts and Box Office Manager. “They go and see professional theatre, and see the caliber of acting, and get the chance to talk to actors... it’s just such a greater thing for them to aspire to.”The opportunity is open to any students who have taken part in theatre here at Bethel. “The only stipulation the Gardners have made on this is that [the students] have to be involved in some way in the theatre department,” said Franklin. “Whether they’re an actor, whether they’re crew, whether they’re on a make-up crew, a dresser or if they just usher for a show... they don’t have to be a major in theatre [or] a minor in theatre.” Students who want to participate in the experience begin by filling out an application that includes their basic information, why they want to go and an essay expounding on their reason for wanting to go. The next step in the application process is signing up for an interview with key individuals such as John Gardner, Don Hunter, Barb Franklin, Johan Godwalt and Debra Swerman. “We ask them, you know, have they explored the website, what do they know about Stratford, what do they hope, you know, to gain,” said Franklin. “We might ask them questions about the essay that they submitted to us.” The students who participate in the festival gain valuable knowledge and lifetime experiences. “Because of the name, ‘Stratford Festival,’ people think it’s just Shakespeare maybe,” said Franklin. “But it’s not; it is a mixture of musicals, of new plays, they have a smaller studio and they do some plays and things in that; they actually have four theaters.” In addition to the plays, students participate in many other events during the week, including lunch with the Gardners, backstage tours and interaction with various theatre employees and actors. “This year we met with a stage manager... and she invited a couple of our students to come up with her in the booth while she calls the show, so they could see,” said Franklin. “Not very many ever get to do that.” For more information about the festival, visit www.stratfordfestival.ca