We’re very happy to have Bethany Elswick working with us this summer! Please, learn a little about this talented young woman and we hope that you stop by to meet her!
It was February 14th, 2013 – Valentine’s Day in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. It was a frigid night as I, the 5th wheel of this date, walked with our group into the arena. As we found our seats in the very last row, I nervously situated my puffy winter jacket around me and tried to get comfortable in my seat, wondering how well I would be able to see the stage. To my surprise, when the performance started, I was dazzled by the production and on the edge of my seat wondering if Belle could truly love a beast. I might as well have been on the front row, as I forgot any of my previous concerns and was fascinated by the intricate moving sets, the skill of the performers, and the amazing musical numbers. While I already loved musicals and knew I had an interest in theatre, attending that live production of Beauty and the Beast confirmed for me that I was going to pursue theatre, in some way, as a career. I felt like Belle’s voice was echoing in my heart as she sang:
I want adventure in the great wide somewhere, I want it more than I can tell And for once it might be grand. To have someone understand. I want so much more than they’ve got planned…
While waiting for my chance on the stage, I continued to be inspired by local productions of, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roof, Hansel and Gretel, and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. I entered college determined to pursue Speech Education with a second teaching field in Music at Pensacola Christian College and flew down to Pensacola for my grand adventure. As soon as I set foot on campus, I was marking down audition dates and deciding what to perform. My first audition was for the productions put on by upperclassmen enrolled in the Dramatic Productions class. I landed my first role as Hannah, the housekeeper for the March family in Little Women, so proud to be in my first college production.
As much as I stressed about my five lines, I did enjoy making a host of new friends and memories in that production. I kept auditioning throughout college, and as you can imagine; some went better than others. I remember my first callback for a Shakespeare production very vividly. It was for a Fine Arts series production with an esteemed director on campus, and I arrived unprepared but confident. I had communicated to the director that my time was limited as I had to rush over to my own rehearsals (for Little Women) and she called me up to read for the first scene. There were two things I was unprepared for, the character I was reading for, and the other people on stage reading with me. Why I didn’t read the play before I showed up, to this day I don’t know. Why I was unprepared to read that scene alongside faculty members giving their 110%; I don’t know. Obviously, everyone in the campus theatre world wanted to be in this show! Some experience was earned through successes, and some experience was earned by embarrassing myself in moments like at that callback. That’s the thing about the highs and lows of theatre, most often it is in front of an audience. My peers, teachers, and often complete strangers were there to see my best moments and my worst.
During my sophomore year, even after many failed auditions and call-backs, I changed my major to a double major in Performance Studies and Music. This choice wasn’t without my own doubts and anxieties, but even when my teachers would tell me I “could” do it; I ultimately knew I “needed” to do it. Why? Because it was difficult. I didn’t have the high dose of talent I saw in my classmates, I didn’t have a lengthy resume, and I didn’t have opportunities handed to me; but I wasn’t looking for an easy experience. I could see that the track for Speech Education would not challenge me as much as Performance Studies and another major in Music and that I needed to follow a path that challenged me. I will say that the satisfaction of graduating with a double major in degrees that I am sure some of my peers thought I would never obtain; was awesome. Having such demanding majors had me running from one rehearsal to another, singing in an opera chorus one semester and then directing Arms and the Man the next. In addition to performing and directing, I also worked behind the scenes as a stage manager and house manager. These opportunities showed me that I was just as happy to be backstage as on stage. What mattered to me was a successful show and an audience captivated by the performance. I continued to make decisions to be involved in productions that put me outside of my comfort zone and pursued classes that not only stretched me creatively but academically.
When I was nearing graduation, one class stood in the way that made me sink at my desk while registering. Advanced Music Theory. To be honest, if I didn’t have to take it, I probably wouldn’t have. That was one challenge I was ready to ignore. We all knew we had to pass the class to graduate, but somehow when the teacher spent 15 minutes in the first class hour telling us this again, you could see the class split as the one half were like, “Obviously, I’m going to pass” and the other half were calculating the cost of an extra year of school and whether or not they could become a music minor and still graduate on time. I remember how clear he made the fact that everyone needed to pass, everyone could pass, but you had to be willing to put the effort in to do so. The first couple weeks of class, I had one of his office hours free and walked up to the band room/office he was using. I felt like everyone was watching me as the clanging of the double doors resounded down the hallway and I walked up to his desk, which was covered in selections of choral music. I felt so embarrassed but articulated that I needed help and that I wanted to understand the material. He helped me, and each week in class I became a little more confident and learned a little more. I ended up with an A in the class and I was so proud of that well-earned, fought for grade.
The next semester, I used that story as the basis for a personal experience speech and found myself nervously going into my teacher’s office to say: “Hey, I wrote and performed this speech if you want to watch it.” I gave him a copy and left, thinking he and I would both forget about it. It was about a 9-minute speech, nothing life-changing. I swear in under 15 minutes he came out to the lobby and saw me and told me that he always thought I was one of the smartest people in the class. As I recovered from the initial shock of hearing that, I realized that I had spent years trying to prove not only that I had talent, instincts, and ability, but that I was SMART! Of course, I could communicate well, break down the beats in a scene, and sing an aria, but I was also smart! I could understand complicated problems and learn subjects that seemed difficult at first. That encouragement helped me believe in myself and decide to pursue my master’s. I began pursuing my M.A. in Communication with a concentration in Media & Arts Management and Marketing at Regent University immediately after graduating from PCC in 2019. Thanks to that confidence from my instructor, I enrolled in classes like Investments, Finances, and Fund Relationships; Non-profit Organizational Law; and Organizational Research, Analysis, and Problem Solving.
Since 2019, while working full-time and taking classes, I have continued to challenge myself by being more involved in local theatre and finding ways to build on my knowledge and experience. I had the chance to be a part of founding Obsidian Theatre and serve as the Patron Development Manager and Assistant Director of our summer 2021 production of The Mousetrap. I also had the chance to work with the West Florida Home Educator Drama Troupe’s fall 2021 production of Little Women as Assistant Director and played the role of Aunt March. Both of those shows used the Gordon Community Theatre as their performance venue where I had the chance to meet the wonderful folks at The Gordon and PenArts.
Even while staying involved in the arts, I needed inspiration again and found it in one of the shows I was able to attend recently. I had the chance to visit Everblue Arts for the first time for their production of Little Women, the Broadway musical. As I was, again, dazzled by a production; I couldn’t help but think that a dream that began with a grand adventure was again being inspired by another great adventure. This time, I was listening with tears welling up in my eyes as Jo sang:
Here I go
And there’s no turning back My great adventure has begun I may be small
But I’ve got giant plans
To shine as brightly as the sun
I will blaze until I find my time and place I will be fearless,
Surrendering modesty and grace
I will not disappear without a trace
I’ll shout and start a riot, be anything but quiet. Christopher Columbus, I’ll be Astonishing
Now, I may not be astonishing just yet; but I am doing my best to continue to challenge myself and bring the arts to those around me. I am so happy to have the opportunity this summer to work as an intern at PenArts and help with our upcoming production of The Revolutionists. I hope you have enjoyed learning a little more about me and I cannot wait to share more with you about our upcoming events and projects. See you soon at our next event at The Gordon!
Ashman, Howard & Menken, Alan. Lyrics to “Belle (Reprise).” Performed by Susan Egan, Disney Theatrical Productions Ltd., 1994. Genius, genius.com/Original-broadway-cast-of- beauty-and-the-beast-belle-reprise-lyrics.
Howland, Jason & Dickstein, Mindi. Lyrics to “Astonishing.” Performed by Sutton Foster. 2005. Genius, genius.com/Jason-Howland-astonishing-lyrics.