Alumni News

On Collaboration, Theater, and Foraging: Florence Gill ’22

Florence Gill '22

By Gaurav Aung ’24

Bennington College was Florence Gill ’22’s destination long before they knew it existed. Born and raised in Doncaster, England, they had no idea attending college in the United States was an option. After finishing their General Certificate of Secondary Education (roughly the British equivalent of an American high school diploma), they were on a path that would lead them to a strict education at a university in the United Kingdom, yet they found themself at a crossroads: they wanted the depth of a specialized undergraduate degree but also the breadth of study that couldn’t be found in the UK.

“In the UK, you apply to a course, not the college itself. How did I know what I wanted to do with my life at 17?” said Gill.

Gill found Bennington through the Sutton Trust US Programme, a social mobility project run in collaboration with the Fulbright Commission that assists underprivileged state school students in their application to colleges in the United States. It was at Sutton Trust that Gill was handed a list of schools in the U.S., including Bennington. It was the first time Gill would learn of the place. 

“I quickly realized, it was the only place on the list I kept coming back to,” said Gill. “The remoteness meant I could focus on my academics and projects, and the small size promised close faculty relationships and community, and well… who doesn’t love trees? I was hooked.” 

Bennington became the sole application that they submitted. When they received an acceptance letter and scholarship from the College, there was no looking back. 

“The Amish Project” - Daniela Naranjo-Zarate ‘22 (pictured), photograph by Iñigo Auza de la Mora
Daniela Naranjo-Zarate ‘22 in The Amish Project. ​​​Photograph by Iñigo Auza de la Mora

At Bennington, Gill was immediately drawn to theater, what they described as “an unwitting passion” of theirs.       

“I’d been involved in theater before,” said Gill. “But I thought I’d never be able to afford to be an artist, so I never seriously considered it.” But when they got to Bennington, that changed. “My peers took me seriously when I said I wanted to go into theater. My art making became an intentional decision.” 

In their second semester, they became stage manager for Sarah Gancher ’01’s The Place We Built, directed by faculty member Jean Randich. 

“The practitioner model at Bennington meant I was surrounded by people who were professional artists and designers,” Gill said.  

Through working with drama faculty members Michael Giannitti, Jenny Rohn, Dina Janis, and Sue Rees on performance, projection, stage management, and lighting, Gill experienced the full gamut of being a theater practitioner before even having completed their first year. Soon enough, any reservations they were experiencing fizzled away, and they settled into both theater and Bennington. 

It wasn’t just the drama faculty they connected with: they were also building creative partnerships with fellow students. In their junior year, they stage managed and co-directed the student production The Amish Project with Delaney Circe ’21, a play centered around the aftermath of the 2006 Nickel Mines, PA, schoolhouse shooting. 

“COVID protocols meant we needed to stage the performance outdoors, and the production was transformed by the natural environment. Light played an important part in the play: the candles, the light shifting for different characters, even the sunset. It created this ethereal beauty.” 

It was through working with Circe and Daniela Naranjo-Zarate ’22, the set designer and an actor in the production, that Gill realized the value of different perspectives and taking on different roles in art making. 

Nobody is going to create or experience the same thing with art. Your experience is tailored to you, and it is very easy to assume everybody thinks the same way you do, said Gill. 

For their senior project, they wrote and directed Creature, a multimedia retelling of Shelley’s Frankenstein, in collaboration with Thomas Finegar ’22.

“Creature” Thomas Finegar ’22, Ryan Fahey ’25, Stefanos Zogopoulos ’23 (pictured right to left). Photograph by Ade Byron.
Thomas Finegar ’22, Ryan Fahey ’25, and Stefanos Zogopoulos ’23 (pictured right to left) in Creature. Photograph by Ade Byron.

The cooperative spirit they had channeled consistently throughout their time at Bennington was especially useful here, as the play would be composed entirely by Gill’s long-time collaborators and friends. Creature would synthesize their work in theater and their research interests in interactions between the human and the non-human and the ethics surrounding these encounters. 

Gill’s SCT Thesis, Current Perceptions on How To Be Human: The Regulation of Society, Digital Labour, & The Post-Human, explored how people have historically weaponized language by labeling certain populations as “non human” and informed the concept and physicalization of the performance. 

Sheila Kwake ’24 shown with  the Lester Martin hoop and VAPA dumpster fabric, in Creature. Photograph by Lorena Fernandez Camba ’24.
Sheila Kwake ’24 shown with  the Lester Martin hoop and VAPA dumpster fabric, in Creature. Photograph by Lorena Fernandez Camba ’24 

“That’s what the play is about, the policing of the human/non-human binary,” said Gill. 

Gill’s approach to theater-making is deeply influenced by faculty member Kirk Jackson, who also directed several productions Gill stage managed. 

“Kirk instilled in me the value of showing, not telling, and of making the most of what you have,” said Gill. “I’m grateful for his mentorship.” 

Whilst conceiving Creature, Gill would literally forage for ideas with their set designer, Daniela Naranjo-Zarate. 

“For years we walked around campus finding different places and objects that we wanted to use in our plays: picture frames, scaffolding, staircases, risers, chalk…” said Gill. “There were so many ideas. For Creature, I went digging in the VAPA dumpster to find fabrics. We used the giant hoop from outside of Lester Martin [Theater] that we’d walked past every week for years and always said ‘one day we’re going to use that.’”

Everything had potential to be incorporated into the play, and Gill’s experimental approach would result in a successful production of Creature, which would then prove instrumental to their post-graduation success.

After graduating from Bennington, Gill worked as a production management fellow at the Tony Award-winning Berkeley Repertory Theater. They oversaw the budgetary, administrative, and departmental facets of staging plays there. While Bennington gave them a foundation in staging plays, Berkeley supplemented this education and provided valuable insight into the financial and logistical factors that have to be in alignment for a main stage production. Gill emphasized how important Bennington was to their success at Berkeley.

“I had the understanding of what was needed throughout the rehearsal process and how to approach the different aspects of production management,” they said. “I was prepared for the fellowship because of the wide-ranging experience I had from my time at Bennington.” 

Gill is now back in Doncaster. They freelance on creative projects and work part-time at Theatre Royal, Wakefield. They are currently collaborating on projects with Chol Theatre’s Angry Girls Collective and The Growth House. Their work as a workshop facilitator and commissioned artist centers on gender inequality. They are also currently serving as a member on the Board of Trustees, a position they will have held for academic years 2022-2023 and 2023-2024.