By Indiana State University
Apr 3, 2019
Two Indiana State Alumni host PBS show “Journey Indiana”
Indiana State alumni Ashley Dillard and Brandon Wentz travel across Indiana to explore unique Hoosier experiences as hosts of “Journey Indiana” for PBS.
They have been shooting for about four months and each episode requires different preparation.
“I watch all of the segments for that episode and then do a little research of my own so that I learn something about the places we’re talking about,” said Dillard from Highland, Ind. “I then research the person that we’re interviewing so that I feel fully prepared to have an interesting conversation with them. The most important part of the show, for me, is to stay relaxed and conversational. My favorite kind of television is where I feel like the person on the screen is talking to me like I’m their friend. I strive to be able to do that with “Journey Indiana” too.”
With a background in theatre, the two alumni took a huge leap of faith when they went to audition for the show.
“There was a two-day audition process that we had to go through in April of last year. When I came in for the callback, Brandon was the final person they had me do a screen test with,” said Dillard. “I was so happy to see him there. Auditioning can be very nerve-wracking, especially when it’s in a format you’re not completely familiar with, so to have Brandon there was a real comfort.”
Dillard and Wentz have known each other for 14 years dating back to their time in Indiana State’s theatre program. They both credited Professor Lew Hackleman for the reason they chose State.
“He was a professor in the theatre department at the time that I applied and he was the one who decided who received performing arts scholarships,” said Dillard. “Without ever meeting me, he called me and not only offered me a scholarship, but he also told me what a good fit I would be for Indiana State and vice versa. There was something so genuine about him and the way he talked about the school and the department.”
“When I got to State he had just retired and I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to interact with him. But I would see him from time to time and he would come to see the shows at Indiana State that I was in and chat with me afterward. He always believed in me and he knew without a doubt that State was the right place for me. Years later got to perform with him and it was a really special, full circle moment for me.”
While at State, the theatre department was all-encompassing and the two spent most of their free time in the theatre building. This led to an array of opportunities for them in their four years at State.
“One of the things I loved about my education was that I learned every aspect of the art,” said Dillard. “I hung lights. I built scenery. I worked in the costume shop. I worked in the box office. I directed and wrote. This really helped prepare me for the professional theatre scene because I have a true appreciation for the work that goes in to every part of it. It’s made me a better collaborator and colleague.”
“I also performed a few summers with the professional summer theatre, Crossroads Repertory. That was my first taste of acting professionally and it really forced me to grow and become a better artist. I owe all of my foundation work to my time at State.”
“I had the fortune to get on stage my first semester, and from then on I was able to take on as many projects as I could handle,” said Wentz. “If you worked hard and were proactive, the opportunities were there. At some of the other colleges I looked at, I wouldn’t have gotten as much personal attention or as much hands-on experience, especially not right out the gate, that I got at State.”
Dillard and Wentz are both very adamant about students to take advantage of the opportunities and connections State has to offer.
“Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, even if you’re not sure how it will help you in the future,” said Dillard. “When I was a student at State I never would have imagined that I would be hosting a television show. But I stayed open and positive and took every opportunity to learn and grow that came my way. When you continually push yourself to try new things, new and exciting pathways always present themselves.”
Image courtesy of Indiana Public Media.