PenArts Blog

Hear from our 2022 Intern, Bethany Elswick!

THANK YOU to PenArts!

I can’t believe the summer is over, just like that! It really does feel like only a few days
ago I was introducing myself. I’d love to take this chance to share one thought that comes to mind as I reflect on my internship. The thought is don’t be afraid to try something outside your comfort zone, you’ll never know what good things await if you never try!

When it came to my last semester of graduate school, I had been planning over the last
three years to spend that time writing a thesis, not interning. I am grateful my instructor gave me confidence to pursue an internship and it was amazing to watch all the pieces come together when I spoke with Christine at PenArts. I cannot imagine a better place for me to be pushed out of my comfort zone and to complete my degree. Christine had been encouraging me since the spring to broaden my horizons and while it started out taking an acting class, I got more involved and ended up at dance classes, an improv class, and performing original poetry at August’s open mic night!

While most of my interning work involved The Revolutionists, I was so thankful for each opportunity to learn and broaden my horizons. I am no expert, but with each class I’ve made new friends and connections, been introduced to new artists and techniques, become more confident in myself, and had loads of fun! If you are looking for a safe and welcoming space to engage with the arts and push yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of, look no further, visit PenArts at the Gordon! Maybe that next adventure for you will be American Mariachi – Auditions are August 25 th @ 6:00pm (for info please email or call (850-857-8961). See you there!

You can keep up with Bethany’s adventures and future artistic pursuits @bethanyjelswick on Instagram!

July’s Artist of the Month – Louise Harris

PenArts at the Gordon is dedicated to using the arts to unify our community in Pensacola,
and the Monthly Artist Mingle is a fantastic example of an event that does just that! Rehearsal for The Revolutionists (which Louise is also assisting with as Sound Assistant & Soundboard Operator) was wrapping up as the lobby of the Gordon filled with friends, family, and fans of the artist of the month. PenArts at the Gordon is truly at its best when it is busy. Louise explained to PenArts at the Gordon that she has been studying art, in all forms, since a young age; but her exhibit features some of her mixed media and acrylic paintings. In between the times the lobby was crowded with art admirers enjoying the featured works and waiting in line to purchase paintings or prints, PenArts at the Gordon hosted a Q&A time which gave Louise the opportunity to share some of the stories behind the displayed works and the details of her process. I have found Louise’s work so inspiring as I have been working with PenArts at the Gordon this month and was so excited to hear more about her passion and process. I had the chance after the event to follow up with Louise and she graciously agreed to share some Q&A time with us on the blog too!

At the Q&A we jumped right into questions about your work, but I wondered what
artists inspired or currently inspire you? I know you started in the arts at a young age, but
are there artists, (visual arts, dance, or theatre) who you look to for inspiration or some
that you admire?
“Florence Pugh, Keith Haring, Galen Hooks”

One of the first things you mentioned when describing your approach to visual art is
that it is storytelling? When did you have this realization and once you had it, how did it
change your approach to visual art? 
“I think I took ownership of my role as a storyteller in my last year as a Florida Cicerone
(campus tour guide/university ambassador) at the University of Florida. In our tour training we always talked about the importance of sharing the student experience over campus facts that you could find on the internet. We frequently circulated the famous Maya Angelou quote, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I learned to share my struggles and my triumphs on tours, and families responded positively to that vulnerability. I will never forget loved ones coming up to me after my tours to thank me for sharing my experience and letting me know how much more comfortable they felt in sending their student off to college after hearing the resources I was able to utilize in my time as a student. As a visual artist, I then started to release the need for my work to be “pretty” or look good (whatever that
means!) I began to fall in love with the stories and emotions and problems that I could explore in my work and found myself more purely creating.”

You describe in your bio that art is therapeutic, I know during the live Q&A you
mentioned some roadblocks in the last couple of years with covid sending you home from
university or with your health, could you elaborate on how those pieces you created since
the start of the pandemic and your diagnosis have helped you process those events?
“I created one of my favorite pieces two days after I scheduled my brain surgery (which
occurred 3 days after my college graduation). Needless to say, there were a lot of emotions for me to juggle. On one hand I was incredibly anxious but on the other I was looking forward to what could be a permanent solution. This was the week I painted “Two of Swords” which depicts a semi-headless figure with the words “keep your head up.” Physically, I was in a lot of pain and discomfort due to my Chiari Malformation. I couldn’t attend dance classes, I couldn’t carry my backpack around campus, and I hardly recognized the way my body was functioning, but the mental toll was almost worse. Having to hold my breath in all of these moments was incredibly taxing, which I think is reflected in the painting. The missing head to me symbolizes the way to be able to turn my brain
off from the chaos, but also how it felt to know that my brain would be operated on. I painted this piece all in one sitting, listening to my favorite music, and with the goal of letting everything inside of me find a home on the canvas.”

You mentioned during the Q&A session that you use art as a way of self-
exploration. What are some things you have learned about yourself during these last couple
of years as you have focused more on visual arts?
“Well first of all, I have completely redefined my definition of what it is to be an artist. I
discovered that I didn’t just want to be an actor, or just a painter, I want to be as multi-faceted as possible and continue to challenge myself to create in new ways.”

In the Q&A you described your process as organic, what do you mean by that? Is
there a specific piece on display at the Gordon that you think best represents that element
of your process? 
“Very rarely do I sit down with a canvas and know exactly what I’m going to paint.
Usually, there is a color or image or texture that I start with and the piece evolves from there. I would say my process is incredibly freehand, and even when I have an idea in my head, I let my materials guide me to the final project. As a former ballet dancer, this has helped me unlearn a lot of my perfectionism and gives my art the space to grow into itself.”

If you had to pick one story/one piece that is currently displayed at the Gordon to tell
our readers about, which one would it be? 
“Three of Swords: this piece reflects the feeling of having to change yourself. For my health,
I had to undergo surgery, but the feeling of always having to alter my body in some way was
boiling over by the time I created this painting. On top of necessary changes, we are so often faced with societal expectations to look a certain way, dress a certain way, have your body be shaped a certain way… its nauseating.  Laura Gunderson’s The Revolutionists has some incredible dialogue about this. The character of Marie Antionette comments that “it’s always women who have to do the changing isn’t it?” and Charlotte Corday criticizes “impossible beauty standards.” These struggles are not new, nor are they unique to me. My take on the Three of Swords reflects all of this, and I painted it far before reading or working on The Revolutionists.  And here’s some words commonly associated with the Three of Swords Tarot Card for you to chew on: UPRIGHT: Heartbreak, emotional pain, sorrow, grief, hurt. REVERSED: Negative self-talk, releasing pain, optimism, forgiveness.”

Why are the choices to use recycled canvases and materials you have on hand
important to you and your work?
“I wanted to encourage myself to create from materials that already exist and give them a
second life. I mainly source canvases and half-full paints from the Repurpose Project in
Gainesville, FL, but I also pick stuff up from thrift stores and the curb. I believe that you don’t have to have access to expensive materials in order to create something that is beautiful, impactful, and/or cool. Lastly, I have found that the limitation or obstacle of using recycled materials/reused materials can actually inspire a different level of creativity and lead me to creating something that I never expected.”

What would you tell those who are interested in visual arts but may not feel talented
enough to start experimenting? 
“Art was not born out of a place of praise or profit, it was born out of a human need to
connect, create, and express yourself. I say if you are attending to that need for creative
expression, you are an artist. Start where you’re at today, you can figure out your style, favorite mediums, and all the other details later!”

If you missed July’s Monthly Artist Mingle, I hope you enjoyed having this chance to
hear more from Louise here on the blog! As I have said, this event is quickly becoming one of my favorites at PenArts. When asked about the event, Klarissa Moore shared that, “This was my first Monthly Artist Mingle and will definitely not be my last. As someone who is pursuing a career in the creative arts, it was very refreshing to network and surround myself around likeminded individuals for a few hours. Louise’s artwork is amazing, and I loved hearing her perspective behind her work and her process. This event left me feeling inspired and hopeful for the creative community here in Pensacola.” Klarissa is currently performing in PenArts upcoming production of The Revolutionists and will be hosting dance classes at the Gordon July 26th-28 th & August 2nd – 4th (Reach out to for more information on the dance classes).

The Monthly Artist Mingle is such a refreshing time to enjoy lovely local art, to connect
with other artists, and to engage with the artist. If you haven’t had the chance to see Louise’s work, be sure to stop by The Gordon before the end of the month! To learn more about Louise and her work check out: and
follow her on Instagram @weezieswork. Louise will also be appearing in “The Feast,” an
upcoming production at Pensacola Little Theatre on August 26th – 28th & September 1st – 3rd (check out for more info).

Are you a local artist interested in being featured as an Artist of the Month? Email for more details about how to be featured!

JULY 2022

Two recent and reoccurring events hosted by PenArts at the Gordon are Open Mic Night and the Monthly Artist Mingle. Let me tell you about them!

Open Mic
           You could hear the buzz of those attending and performing throughout the Gordon as they exchanged greetings and grabbed refreshments. Once everyone had gathered in the theatre, the performances began. At the end of each performance, there was an eclectic sound of snapping, clapping, and cheering as the audience celebrated the performer. The environment was open, engaging, and eager as each performer, whether a seasoned veteran or newcomer, made their way to the microphone. Original poetry and blues music were enjoyed by an audience vividly living in the moment and appreciating the art. It was my first open mic night, and I cannot wait to go back! After just watching one, I already began thinking of things I could perform myself at the next open mic night. The environment seemed very welcoming to someone considering breaking out of their comfort zone, wanting to try something new, or sharing something meaningful to them. In between performances, I was texting friends saying, “you’ve got to come to this next time” and “This is so interesting and engaging.” Even if I am not ready to perform by August, you will see me in the audience cheering on others! Open Mic Night is free admission
and normally from 7pm-10pm on the second Thursday of each month (not including July, since we have rehearsals for The Revolutionists)

Monthly Artist Mingle
         Do you know an encaustic painting artist? I didn’t until our latest Monthly Artist Mingle! I had the pleasure of meeting Tera Fujan or @translucentfirefly on Instagram and learning about the process behind her artwork. She generously brought tools from her workshop to help explain her process and the literal layers of work that can go into each piece. She shared in her short biography posted near her work displayed in the Gordon that: “Art lifts me up and moves me forward. Experimentation is key to inspiration for my art and encaustic wax is a never-ending source.” With her artwork displayed around the Gordon, we could ask Tera questions about a specific work or technique, or we could simply let her know our favorites and ask about the inspiration! Getting to meet Tera and hear more about her story and love of arts and crafts, was such an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday evening. Stay tuned for the announcement of our artist for July! Mark your calendars for July 9th from 5pm-7pm for our next monthly artist mingle. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite events hosted by PenArts at the Gordon!

JUNE 2022

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!

Getting to Know Our Summer Intern – Bethany Elswick

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, beauty-and-the-beast-belle-reprise-lyrics.

Howland, Jason & Dickstein, Mindi. Lyrics to “Astonishing.” Performed by Sutton Foster. 2005. Genius,

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