Program lets teens tell the stories of Indiana youth throughout time

By Abrahm Hurt 

INDIANAPOLIS — Surrounded by shelves and vials containing different medicines, Samuel Heldt demonstrates the 19th century pharmaceutical technology of a pill cutter and grinder.

Heldt, who will be a senior at Carmel High School in the fall, is one of two students in the Youth Actor Program at the Indiana Historical Society. The program allows high school students to get jobs in their interactive exhibits.

Samuel Heldt impersonates J.K. Lilly Sr. in an exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society. Heldt is using a grinder that would have been used in the pill making process in 1877. Photo by Abrahm Hurt,

“I know all the history and everything,” he said, “but it’s being able to weave it all into a conversation and talk as though I am Josiah Lilly.”

Heldt impersonates J.K. Lilly in an exhibit set in 1877 that allows visitors to experience Eli Lilly’s new and upcoming pharmaceutical company on Pearl Street.

He said the job has helped him grow and build on his acting ability.

“I’ve been using this as a way to — for one — work on my improv skills because this whole job is literally thinking on the fly,” he said.

Heldt got involved in theatre his freshman year to meet his fine arts requirement. From there he got more involved in theatre, and his plan is to attend a college or university to pursue a degree in fine arts.

He first heard about the opportunity when Dan Shockley, director of museum theater for the Indiana Historical Society, came and described the job to students.

Heldt said the best part of his job is watching the people who are just fascinated by what they experience in the exhibit at the historical society.

“They’ll come into the space and just be immediately awed by everything that’s around them, the facts that we tell them and the history that we teach them there,” he said. “You can see this look in their eyes that’s like, ‘Wow this is amazing. I never knew this before.’”

Shockley said there are two goals for the program.

“One is to be able to share from the mouths of youth the stories of youth whether it’s 1877 or any other time period in Indiana’s past,” he said. “But the other is to offer interested and talented school students the ability to have on their resume before they’re out of high school a professional acting job.”

He said the program allows the historical society to demonstrate avenues to work and live history.

“When we have school groups come in, they’re seeing someone close to their age working in history,” Shockley said. “We do a lot of talks with school kids about what does it mean to work in history. It doesn’t just mean you’re a history teacher.”

The historical society has partnered with two high schools to bring students to the historical society: Carmel and Lawrence Central. Shockley said he would like to work with more schools and expand the program to four students in the future.

Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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