Behind The Scenes

Behind the Scenes of Creature Mountain and the Slime Corporation by The Garden Players


Every spring the Garden Players put on an original musical that engages timely topics in lively theatre. The Garden Players take their name from their host—The Church-in-the-Gardens in Forest Gardens. The rehearsal and performance space is inside the church’s Community House on Borage Place. And the Community House itself is home to a well-loved theatre space that fosters creativity and joy. Nobody knows that better than the program’s director, Betina Hershey. Hershey, a veteran director and actor of music, film, and theatre, sees her role as one who “fosters a collaborative, thoughtful, and imaginative environment.” This year’s show, Creature Mountain and the Slime Corporation, tackles themes around pollution, trash, and animal rights. The result is a performance that takes its message seriously—but at the same time doesn’t appear to take itself too seriously. “I enjoy introducing fantastical elements like superheroes, villains, dragons, and martians, which never fail to excite the students and make these topics lighter to explore.” In today’s world this only seems possible when you are working with children and that is exactly Ms. Hershey’s forte.


Garden Players actors playing animals in Creature Mountain & The Slime Corporation

How does a show like Creature Mountain come to fruition?

It’s a collaborative process that intentionally values the ideas and talents of the very students who participate. In addition to her acting classes, Hershey also offers a playwriting class. According to Hershey, the playwriting class consists of seven students ages 10 to 14, all of whom have participated in previous shows. “The fun starts at the drawing board and is very collaborative,” says James (an eighth grader who helped write this year’s musical). “The climate change idea came together at the drawing board by asking questions about how to fix problems, especially as it related to animals.” And when they say this is a collaborative process, they demonstrate that they mean it. Maisie, a fifth grader, wrote two scenes for the show. In addition, Maisie also helped develop the characters and edit the script. Even younger children apart from the playwriting class are given space to express input. At a recent rehearsal in the Community House one Rising Star (the group for younger students), a six year old, gave Ms. Hershey some stage direction suggestions and they were met warmly and enthusiastically implemented. In the Garden Players participants are valued in word and deed no matter their age or experience. 

Garden Players - Animals get ready to demand "No More Trash"

As its own story…

Creature Mountain and the Slime Corporation focuses on a company that cares about its bottom line more than it cares for our shared home. And yet even as the show lampoons greedy bosses it also introduces moral conflicts. Luke, another eighth grader, plays one of the bosses of the corporation named John. John tries to take advantage of the mountain by storing all the trash that pollutes the environment. Luke notes that, in general, his character is good at exploitation—specifically exploiting people, animals, and situations that benefit the company’s bottom line. But John also feels deep down that what his corporation is doing is harmful. He finds himself living between these two opposing realities. This kind of character development feels deep for what appears to be a children’s show—and yet this is common for Hershey and the Garden Players.

Garden Players actors (Left to Right) James, Luke, Maisie.

New this year to Garden Players

is assistant director Lorenza Bernasconi. Bernasconi is an actor who brings her own experience to bear on the Garden Players. “I help the actors rehearse the scenes and stay focused on the scene’s rhythms.” The theme of collaboration continues across the board as Bernasconi notes that, “(Hershey) brings ideas for scenes directly to me. I get to offer ideas and notes that help strengthen scenes and makes them more dynamic.” Hershey was looking for fresh voices to bring into the Garden Players this year and Bernasconi fit the bill. As a fellow working actor, Bernasconi brings her fresh perspective from the Queens Theatre, off Broadway productions, and the writing she does for adults. Also in the role of assistant director in her second year with Hershey is Stefania Papadopoulos, whose area of expertise includes playwriting and directing. As much as Hershey is a force behind the program she shows she is a team player at heart through partnership and delegation. There is real community building happening inside the walls of the Community House.

Garden Players Alumni, Parents & Creatives. Front row: Benny, Lorenza, Betina, Katherine, Toby, Nick, Melinda

 The student actors express their joy for the community they have found in the Garden Players.

Toby made a point of sharing that he “fell in love” with the program at age 12 during his experience in a previous musical called Your Turn. Benny, a student playwright and actor in Creature Mountain, could hardly contain his enthusiasm for the process as he described his role as Morgan, a corporate spy. And while Garden Players may graduate as they enter high school many, like Katherine, return as student assistants. “I graduated from the program last year but was welcomed back this year with open arms to assist the kids in the show. I get to help the kids stay focused and help them with their lines.” When you ask the students why they keep coming back to the Garden Players they say it’s because of the joy-inducing community it gives to them. 

Garden Players actors surround Benny, playing Morgan, to keep him from drinking the slime-gone-wrong

Hershey suggests joy in community is a feature—maybe the feature—of the program.

What I love most about the Garden Players is the opportunity to create a new musical each year and witness its transformative impact on our young performers. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch kids discover their creative voices, grow in confidence, and express themselves authentically.” American sociologists have noted the loss of “third places” (outside of work/school and home) in our country that bring community and meaning to life. Tucked behind the Tudor homes off Ascan Avenue is a vibrant “third place” community. Inside the walls of The Church-in-the-Gardens and Community House children and adults alike get to discover their passion, foster their purpose, and serve the community by sharing their joy.

Garden Players' youngest actors, Rising Stars, sing "The Most Incredible Thing"
  • by Matthew Staneck, dad of young Rising Stars actor, Lutheran pastor in Glendale, and writer. 
  • Photos by Aidan Grant.
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