Garden Theater honors lost student with apprenticeship program | West Orange Times & Observer

Windermere residents Harold and Rosy Mills work with the Garden Theater to turn a nightmare into a dream.

In 2020, the Mills family’s life changed forever, when they lost their youngest son, William Daniel Mills, in a boating accident.

“Daniel was probably one of the most liberated people I’ve ever known in the sense that he accepted others no matter who or what they came with,” Harold said. “It was never a question of whether someone had a weakness or a deficiency. He never said, ‘Let me ignore your disability.’ Instead, he said, “Let me celebrate it. It’s who you are, and it’s your contribution to the world and that’s what should be celebrated.

Today, the family honors their son in the way they know he would have wanted – not out of grief but rather by creating opportunities for others.

Harold and Rosy launched the William Daniel Mills Apprenticeship Program at the Garden Theater for young performers aged 13-22 in 2021 to celebrate Daniel’s legacy and his love for theatre.

This year, the inaugural class of the apprenticeship program includes 30 students. Apprentices will spend the next season in theater preparing for a career as a performer, director, educator, playwright, stage manager or set designer.

The one-year program includes a variety of masterclasses and workshops. The apprentices recently enjoyed a masterclass with Kelli O’Hara, Tony winner and Emmy and Grammy nominated actor and singer. To honor Daniel, the main stage theme for the season is “Identity”.

So far, some of the trainees have worked on plays at the Garden Theater such as “The Bodyguard”, “Man of La Mancha”, “Looped” and “Big”.

Harold said Daniel loved the world – mostly because of the humans in it – and thought everyone was fascinating in their own way.

“He always created this environment for people where they felt like they belonged,” Daniel’s father said. “He was someone people always knew they could come and trust and find a listening heart where they felt welcome.”


Daniel’s love for acting started with his sisters, who were both involved. Harold said his son loved theater-related work and the dedication that came with it.

“I would always compare him to a kid of baseball cards in the sense that he knew actors, performers and their stats from years and years ago,” Harold said. “We would go to Broadway every year, and he would tell these people about a performance they did six years ago, and they would be so surprised.”

The Garden Theatre’s director of education, Nick Bazo, said one of the main aims of the theater is to engage and impact the community and the apprenticeship program embodies this concept perfectly.

“The goal is to provide artistic training and professional opportunities for young artists in our community,” he said. “The apprentices each follow their individual course, according to their centers of interest, as well as a collective course.”

Harold said the selected students all share similar qualities but are uniquely different.

“Theater kids are sometimes seen as a community of misfits, and I mean that in the best way,” Harold said. “You hear their different personalities and backgrounds, but when they get on stage, they’re all the same. They share a deep passion and love for acting, and their differences are put aside as they step into their roles and come together.

The Apprentices are led by Bazo, Associate Art Director Roberta Emerson and Art Director Joseph C. Walsh.

“The Garden Theatre, and especially these three people (Bazo, Emerson and Walsh), have been incredible leading this effort,” Harold said. “They turned our dream into reality.”

“It’s such an honor that the Mills family entrusted us with this program,” Bazo said.


A month before Daniel’s accident, he auditioned for his first professional role at the Garden Theatre. The Mills later learned that Daniel would have gotten the role.

Daniel was particularly close to Emerson, who served as his theater manager and his sister’s manager, when he attended Montverde Academy. They then worked together at the Garden Theatre.

Harold said Daniel liked to learn, and Emerson pushed him to work hard.

“Daniel was one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met,” Emerson said. “He was one of those people who always stood up for others and he wanted ‘fair to be fair’ no matter what. He was funny, silly and smart – almost too smart for his own good. He was very stubborn in the way he was passionate about the things he thought were important and he always pursued those passions.

Emerson said she had worked with Daniel since he was in eighth grade.

“Even qualities that some people might consider negative in a person – he used those qualities to turn them into something he could do good with, for his well-being and that of others,” Emerson said. . “He had one of the best smiles ever and he changed the energy of the room no matter what. If Daniel was there, somehow, it was better.

The Mills family said they hope to grow the program in the future by hosting multiple locations in the area to give more students the opportunity to pursue their passions.

“(Daniel) has been such a blessing,” Howard said. “I always felt like I learned more from him than he learned from me.”

Daniel’s parents said that over the past few years they have learned of the vast number of people Daniel has impacted and who, for example, even revealed themselves to him.

“That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Turn a nightmare into a dream,'” Harold said. “That satisfaction of knowing that we’re going to build a legacy for Daniel, which is part of our new dream, while building a dream for other students in a field they love.”

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