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Empowering Artists Since 2008: An Interview with Berridge Director Andrea Mardon

November is "Artistic Empowerment Month" here at Berridge Programs! Here, company founder and director Andrea Mardon tells us tells us what artistic empowerment means to her and how Berridge accomplishes it.

Teacher receiving applause from students and collegues

How did you get the idea for Berridge France?

I stayed at Chateau le Mont Epinguet on vacation back in 2005. I was running study abroad programs for a big outfit in New York City, but I’d trained as an actor. And I’d just thought it be so amazing to get all these professional actors I know together with young artists in this incredible place and have this kind of artist’s retreat, away from the world. So the original idea for Berridge was kind of like an artist’s retreat.

Students perform in Movement class showcase
Students, Sheridan Merrick and Zachary Leonard performing their Movement final showcase.

How has it changed since then?

The interesting thing is that it really hasn’t changed! Then it was just the flash of an idea but now, fifteen years later, that’s still what it is. It’s like we’re sequestered on this little island of our own making, and we just make art in this creative community. Both Berridge West and Berridge France have the exact same feeling so it’s not all about a chateau in France, it’s really about Berridge.

So what does it mean to “empower” someone artistically?

Traditional teaching is normally about imparting information and checking that it’s learned correctly. But what we do at Berridge is empower artists around their own unique gifts. What that means is we uncover information you already have about yourself like what you want to create, what do you have to say, what do you love? And then helping that come forward out in to the world.

How does Berridge do that?

We put our students in this very nurturing, very positive environment where they feel good about themselves. They realise that this is a safe place where everyone is trying to figure out what they want to contribute. And the faculty are trying to figure out how to help you do that. That’s the difference; Berridge is not just a place where you come to learn, it’s a place where you come to discover yourself.

Actress reciting monologue
Student, Emma Gordon performing her Shakespeare monologue for her final showcase.

Can you think of specific moments where you witnessed young artists being empowered?

Our teachers use the mantra “you are enough”; you don’t need to put anything on, we just want to see you. There are moments when you can see students visibly “getting” that. They start to understand their own authenticity on a deeper level and whatever walls or defences they came in with drop away. That’s when you can bring your best self into the world and feel powerful as an artist. It’s amazing to witness.

How does the place where you host the programs contribute to this idea of empowerment?

I think where we are is integral to what we do. In France we have this historical location that feels quite magical out in the French countryside with great food and amazing field trips. In Santa Barbara we are in one of the most beautiful parts of the country on this woodsy college campus in the mountains. It all contributes to this feeling of being on an island where you feel safe and everybody’s in this creative community. We all want to support each other and help each other make art.

Chateau le mont Epinguet
Berridge Programs housing and learning accommodation, Chateau le mont Epinguet.

What about the faculty? What’s their role?

Everything we do is about building confidence, empowering students, having them being more reflective, being more invested in their own personal outcomes, thinking about what they wanted to put forward into the world. All of the faculty contribute to that through their own areas of specialization. It might be feeling empowered by tackling difficult text such as Shakespeare, making a film fir the first time, getting more into your body as a performer, baring your soul on stage through something you’ve written. Whatever medium, everything centres around this theme of empowerment.

How do I know if Berridge is “right” for me?

If you look at what’s on the website and you feel a big “yes” that you have to be part of a Berridge community, that’s an excellent guide. I get this feedback from a lot of students. They see our website, they read about the programs, look at the pictures of the chateau or Westmont College and they just feel like the have to be there. It might be the travel abroad experience, the outstanding faculty, the breadth of learning or you might just be attracted to the language we use such as nurturing, supportive, non-competitive, whatever it is, follow that yes as a guide. The same is true in life!

Musical Theatre students performing dramatic song on stage
Musical Theatre students, Cristina Neely and Sophia English performing in "Cell Block Tango."

When do you feel most empowered as an artist yourself?

I feel empowered in a community, and I think that’s why I love doing Berridge. When everybody is creating things in this environment, there’s nothing like it. Feeling supported in all the ways, the food, the conversation, the culture, the scenery. The whole atmosphere gets charged with a sense of positivity and possibility. And that feels the most empowering to me.

To get a sense of how we empower artists at Berridge, check out our faculty videos, meet our alumni or listen to our faculty on our podcast Talking Berridge.

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