"I've done theatre and musical theatre, and my teaching certificate is in music, so I know the performance end of things. But the intensity of production in the summertime is a lot different," says Tonya Myers, gamely seeking the right word to describe her exhaustive introduction to internship.
Myers, a 1993 graduate of Illinois' Milliken University, was an administrative intern at The Peninsula Players, in Door County, Wisc., during the summer of '95. She is one of the six people we interviewed for this, our introduction to summer internships and apprenticeships. We began by calling administrators at three Equity summer theatres in the eastern U.S.: Peninsula Players; Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina; and TheatreFest, in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. We asked each of these interviewees to refer us to a former intern/apprentice for another point of view.
Note that slash in "intern/apprentice." It means "or," and it's there because you won't find a universal meaning for either word in summer theatre; each company employs its own definition, just as each has evolved its own artistic and administrative identities. Peninsula hires only interns. Flat Rock's apprenticeships are supplemented by a few select intern positions, available to those who excelled as apprentices. TheatreFest offers a choice between apprentice and internship programs.
What are the differences between interns and apprentices among our three examples? At TheatreFest, explains Artistic Director John Wooten, apprentices are part of an educational program as well as a work force, taking non-accredited Saturday master classes from professional artists and mounting their own showcase at the end of the season, as well as doing strike and turnaround, running crew or front-of-house. Each receives a $75 weekly stipend and is eligible for credits in Actors' Equity Association's Membership Candidate Program ("EMC" credits). Free housing is possible.
TheatreFest interns work for college credits rather than for cash. In exchange for three credit hours, and possibly housing, they're given responsibilities similar to those of the apprentices. Interns' own colleges or universities pretty much regulate the amount of time that these students will devote to TheatreFest activities: "Sometimes there's a certain outline that we have to follow," says Wooten.
At Flat Rock Playhouse, reports Co-Apprentice Director Dale Bartlett, "The apprentice pool is primarily people who will in the long-term pursue an acting career. Every season we also have people interested in design and tech who want to get overall experience onstage and backstage before they isolate themselves." Bartlett and his colleagues base their hiring on auditions--most of them seen at the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference--which are followed up with interviews. Flat Rock apprentices work "in all facets of theatre--from mainstage to backstage plus public relations and marketing." Their assignments change biweekly (as do the shows).
As is the case with many summer programs, Flat Rock charges apprentices a fee--specifically, $850. Dormitory-style housing (shared bathrooms) and three meals per day are part of the package. EMC candidates earn 10 points over the season, and six hours of college credit are attainable through the University of North Carolina at Ashville. There's also a $20 weekly stipend paid through the National Park Service. It administers an historic site across the street--Carl Sandburg's retirement home--which features three outdoor productions. Performing in these shows (all based on Sandburg works) is part of Flat Rock's apprentice curriculum, and each apprentice will be cast in at least one of them. Former apprentices who are invited back as interns at Flat Rock focus on specific areas of theatre work; those taking on technical or administrative positions earn stipends.
The Peninsula Players internship stresses "a hands-on, very practical experience, working side by side with professionals in theatre," says General Manager Todd Schmidt. Although at times "the line blurs," basically interns are divided into two categories: production and administrative. Opportunities to assistant-stage-manage arise throughout the season--but no acting roles are guaranteed. "We have had interns who have been in shows if there are small parts available and they're right for what we're looking for," notes Schmidt.
An intern receives a weekly stipend of $60; transportation assistance money is available; housing and food are free. College credits are offered as arranged by the interns with their schools. And EMC credit points may be accumulated at the rate of one per week.
What's Playing, and When
This year at TheatreFest, the staff begins rehearsals about May 19, for a season running through July 31. Tentatively scheduled to open the Main Stage season are a new George Faison-Richard Wesley musical, "The Power and the Glory," directed and choreographed by Faison. It will be workshopped in March, and there are hopes of moving it to other venues after the summer. "The Sound of Music" follows on the Main Stage, while the smaller Next Stage will host a new play, TBA, directed by Olympia Dukakis.
A childrens' festival, TheatreFest for Kids, runs on both stages, mounted cooperatively with Pushcart Players, a New Jersey-based Equity company. Pushcart brings the show; TheatreFest presents and provides face-painting, specialty acts like jugglers, and other entertainment for the children. Apprentices often participate as strolling characters or part of the specialty acts.
Flat Rock's '97 apprentices will work from June 8 to Aug. 17. The season opens with "Something's Afoot," followed by "Same Time Another Year," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Catfish Moon," "Big River," "Cash on Delivery," "Bus Stop," and "Dr. Cook's Garden."
Peninsula's June 24-Oct. 12 season is still in the works, but will comprise five shows: a mix of drama, comedy, and probably one musical. Interns arrive around June 1, staying as long as they can before returning to school.
A Tradition of Apprenticeships
Since their inception, all three of our theatres have used interns/apprentices--in the case of Flat Rock, that's 57 years, beginning in 1940 when the company was founded as the North Carolina Vagabond Players. But, over the years, changes have been made nationwide: From classes and workshops to two-hour dinner breaks to even a daily gripe session (at TheatreFest), today's apprentice/intern programs tend to focus more on the growth of the individual and less on the exploitation of his labor.
"It's not about grunt labor," declares TheatreFest's Wooten, speaking for all of our interviewees. "We're looking for people who have a strong desire to learn and progress in theatre, and are willing and excited about the fact that they're going to be completely immersed in the theatre for most of their waking hours--people eager to learn about all facets of theatre. They need to be team players because, from apprentices to artistic director, sometimes we have to pitch in and help out in different areas."
Founded in 1986, TheatreFest is a program of Montclair State University, sited on campus. The company's 950-seat Main Stage is a proscenium space with fly space. It operates under an Equity Letter of Agreement, referenced to the LORT D contract. The Next Stage, a 99-seat black box, is an Equity SPT (Small Professional Theatre) house.
Musicals rehearse for three weeks, plays for two. "Power" and the Dukakis project will each run for three weeks, "The Sound of Music" for four or five. Since TheatreFest is presenting--not producing--"Power," no sets or costumes will be built in Montclair. The Dukakis project will be "mostly built"; "Sound" will be half built, half pulled from stock.
The work load for TheatreFest apprentices "is extremely intense," reports John Wooten. "They're working on the job in their area from 10 to 6 during rehearsals. Once in performance, they're in the office during the day, take a dinner break, then do their assignments for the show. How much they put into it is how much they're going to get out of it."
Julianne Blake, who apprenticed at TheatreFest in '96 as an assistant to Wooten and Associate Producer Roger Riggle, describes her own typical day: "I'd come in about 9-9:30, do whatever needed to be done in the morning for John, make phone calls, deal with actor problems." After an hour-long lunch break, the afternoon's work included filling out pension-and-health reports for Actors' Equity, more actors' problems, typing scripts, visiting rehearsals, and calling agents. At night, after taking an hour for dinner, Blake ushered and/or sold concessions, heading for home about 11 pm.
An acting major at Montclair State University, Blake signed on as an administrative apprentice because "this gave me an opportunity to get familiar with the business aspect of theatre, the budget, and dealing with people--all the problems. I never had been exposed to any of that before. It makes me appreciate the theatre even more from an acting perspective."
Blake's administrative apprenticeship is one of several available at TheatreFest. Props, costume, tech, and stage manager apprentices assist in those areas. New this year are a musical apprenticeship (helping the musical director, playing the piano, etc.) and an acting apprenticeship (understudying roles, assisting the rehearsal staff and actors). Small roles in an Equity production are also possible.
All TheatreFest apprentices/interns produce their own showcase, from scratch, at the end of summer--a series of scenes that they write, produce, act in, and market themselves. A dramatic workshop class is taught early in the season to help them prepare. Many will act in the show, notes Wooten--even if they're not acting apprentices.
Teaching the Practical
Flat Rock's 460-seat proscenium house (sans fly space) operates under an Equity CORST Y contract. Shows generally rehearse for two weeks; virtually all sets are built, and 70% of costumes either built or purchased. Founded in 1935, the company is now in its 63rd season. Dale Bartlett lists the usual apprentice schedule as: breakfast from 8 to 9 am; two master classes, from 9 am to noon; an hour for lunch; rehearsals from 1 to 5 pm; two hours for dinner; preset responsibilities from 7 to 8 pm; then onstage or backstage for the 8:15 performance. There might be a master class from 11 to midnight, though most nights are clear from 11 pm on. And "we try to give them a day off," adds Bartlett, by throwing a party around July 4th.
Last year, Flat Rock offered its apprentices 52 master classes and "lots" of roles, particularly in the musicals. In '95, roles were fewer, so classes numbered 74. This season, Bartlett anticipates having performing slots for apprentices in three Equity shows: "Whether or not they act will be determined by their [on-site] auditions."
"In our master classes, we don't delve into Acting 101 or theatre history," states Bartlett. "Instead we focus on the practical application of what they're going to do as soon as they graduate--casting calls, where they need to go to get a job, how to use publications like Back Stage and Variety.
"We try to do ongoing classes with visiting directors, actors, choreographers, be it acting for the camera, mime, ongoing vocal work, scene study, monologues, audition techniques, ongoing workshops with designers--how designer and actor can develop a working relationship and how they benefit each other. They should know that there's a lot more to learn than what the university system provides, and it comes from practical experience and exposure to professional directors, actors, designers, and theatre management. The better understanding you have of every element of the theatrical process, the better prepared you're going to be to make a living in the theatre."
Tristan Poje, an apprentice at Flat Rock last year, certainly found his training practical. He came to Flat Rock having just graduated from the College of William and Mary--and via a successful audition at the annual Southeastern Theatre Conference. "I had done community theatre before," he recalls, "but this was my first work with a professional Equity house. It's certainly the most intensive I've had." Thanks to vocal/musical director Kevin Wallace, whom he met at Flat Rock, Poje is now acting in "Fiddler on the Roof"--his second show for Commonwealth Musical Stage, in Virginia Beach, Va.
Because Flat Rock recruits primarily acting students, apprentices are guaranteed one (and sometimes do two) showcases. "All elements are produced by them under the mentorship of staff," explains Bartlett. Whatever their content--one-acts, original scripts, etc.--these showcases are "conceptualized and realized fully by the apprentice company members."
Poje learned a great deal from working in the range of styles afforded by both the showcase and the National Park Service's Carl Sandburg presentations. Those comprise "Rootabaga Stories," "Sandburg's Lincoln," and "The World of Carl Sandburg." Poje performed in the first--a staging of Sandburg's compilation of jokes, parables, and songs for kids. "'We got to play different, more cartoony roles. We also got to really be ourselves; there wasn't a lot of restraint. We got to sing some songs and play typical American characters."
Flat Rock's apprentice showcase was "very different," continues Poje. "Everyone had a say in what went into it and it was up to the artistic director, Jeffrey Taylor, to take all the requests and put them together into a common theme. I was very fortunate. The main thing I wanted to do was publicity and be the managing director. Not only did I do that, but I got to perform a lot. The directors of the shows would pick their top choices for casting scenes." Poje did "Midsummer Night's Dream" (Demetrius), John Patrick Shanley's "The Red Coat," and David Ives' "Sure Thing." "It was a good stretch," the apprentice recalls--"not only different things but in the same evening. It gave me a good idea of how different each style was."
If you long for a dose of pure, old-fashioned summer stock--no frills, great scenery, and living and working side by side with the pros--Peninsula Players qualifies. "The theatre is right on the shore of Green Bay, in a woodsy, beautiful setting," enthuses general manager Schmidt. "The scenic location is just gorgeous, a real sylvan paradise. It's kind of a summer camp for adults.
"We offer a unique relationship--working with professionals, living with professionals, eating with professionals. Everyone in our facility lives on the property: actors, interns, directors, designers, technicians. Interns really get to know our actors, directors, and stage managers; they're not living a separate life."
Schmidt is seconded by former intern Tonya Myers: "It's really a beautiful atmosphere, a great place to work. Everyone I've worked with has tried to incorporate a nice family atmosphere. There's no difference in Equity and non-Equity at all. Everyone gets along the same. A lot of the Equity actors come back year after year. The community loves them, and they reach out to the community; they're very down to earth."
The Peninsula's 460-seat proscenium house uses a limited rope-and-pulley fly system, and operates under an Equity CORST Z contract. Each show is rehearsed for--and runs for--two to three weeks. Virtually all set pieces and 50%-70% of the costumes are built in-house.
In selecting apprentices, Schmidt looks "for people who get along well, are easy-going, and have keen interest in being theatre professionals--people who soak things up. Those kids really get a lot out of the experience, rather than someone who just needs this for a college credit. They work hard for their $60 a week.
"Interns are not the leads, and are frequently not even in our shows," cautions Schmidt. There are no classes, no workshops, no showcases. Why not? "Because of our rehearsal schedule," he answers. "Actors are in rehearsal during the day and performance at night, building one show while the other one is up. There's not enough extra time in the day to fit in formal classes, although we've discussed it"--and apprentices, he observes, usually want to go off by themselves when they have a few minutes to spare. Instead, the focus is on training, "primarily through hands-on, side-by-side working experiences."
"Todd really stressed that he wanted it to be a learning experience," says Myers. "He tries to lighten up as much as possible, to give as many breaks as he can. It was a well-rounded learning experience."
Interns breakfast at 9 am, work from 10 am to 1 pm in their areas of concentration, break for lunch from 1 to 2 pm, and return to work from 2 to 6 pm. Dinner ends at 6:30, and pre-show duties (from selling tickets to car-parking to props-running) begin at 6:45. "Everyone's involved till the show comes down," concludes Schmidt.
In past seasons, TheatreFest has attracted apprentices from as far away as Illinois, Washington State, and California; about half come from the New York-New Jersey area, and those include many Montclair State University students. New York City is a big draw, observes artistic director John Wooten. Not only does the school's proximity to Manhattan (a half hour away) make it possible to attract many professional actors, directors, and designers to TheatreFest, but it enables apprentices to husband their limited free time and take in a Broadway show or two.
Wooten, like his peers, knows the value of practical training and professional connections for apprentices. "The professionals who are on staff and who teach the master classes are out there working, and give a perspective to the apprentices," he attests. "They know the tricks of the trade and can give a description that sometimes students can't get from a classroom." He believes that TheatreFest apprentices get a feeling for the theatre scene in New York, where many aspire to base their careers.
"They get the experience of working together to present a production at the end of the summer, as a company within a company, adds Wooten. "So they learn what it's like to be involved with making a theatre company work. They are responsible for making it happen from the ground up. They get supervision, but we purposefully don't go in there; we let them do what they need to do."
In 1996, Julianne Blake's fellow apprentices elected her to be the producer of the end-of-season showcase. She also acted in two of the pieces: original scripts, written by fellow apprentices. And--pretty heady stuff for a student about to enter her sophomore year in college--she found herself acting on the Main Stage in "West Side Story," when an Equity actress unexpectedly left TheatreFest to take a longer-running job.
Playing a Jet girl in "West Side Story," Blake benefited from working with talented professionals. She learned first-hand one very important aspect of the acting biz: "At the same time they were doing the show, they were looking for work, and they would come back with all these stories about auditioning for Broadway. In the dressing room I would ask them all these questions, like about agents, and I'd hear both sides." Some had agents; some worked without. Blake hasn't lost contact with these mentors, either: "I see them sometimes when I go into New York City for dance classes--in coffee shops--and I realize what a small world this is."
The TheatreFest showcase offered Blake another kind of training: "It was interesting because I got to work with my peers and got a totally different perspective," she reports. "I treated them with the same respect that I treated Roger Riggle, my professional director. And they treated me with the same respect. When you work with people all the time, you start to wear on each other. But we pulled together."
Flat Rock's 15 apprentices came from 11 different states last year. For Tristan Poje, a native of northern Illinois and now a resident of Norfolk, Va., "What took me by surprise was the rapidity of everything. In one summer the apprentices helped put up five different shows. As soon as you thought you had one done, it was already time for the next one to go up."
He's echoed by Peninsula Players' Tonya Myers, who found her biggest surprise to be the intensity of the work. Myers, another northern Illinoisan, graduated from college in '93. Currently a substitute teacher, she holds a degree in musical education and a desire to someday manage an educational outreach program. After working as an administrative intern with the Players in '95, she joined the staff in '96 as salaried box office manager, and expects to return to that job this summer. "The intern experience was great because it was so hands-on," she explains. "We rely heavily on the interns. You learn the stuff, are forced to learn it fast, and get to the point where you pretty much have mastered it.
"Everyone fills different roles. We had people that were very outgoing and not afraid to say things and take on real leadership roles. And we had others who didn't want that and were just there to soak it all in and did what they were told. Obviously, I learned a lot," she adds, alluding to her promotion--"a lot that will equip me to definitely move on to bigger and better things."
Myers' story is not unique. "All of our interns have enjoyed the experience, " says Schmidt. "Many have come back to do the same or similar work," frequently taking on a staff position. Most notable may be the company's producer, James McKenzie, a Wisconsin native who got his start in show biz by interning at Peninsula in the '40s. About two-thirds of the Players' interns come from Wisconsin and the rest of the Midwest, one-third from faraway points like California and Louisiana.
At Flat Rock, Dale Bartlett reports, "We've always had a strong internship program; we work a lot of people up through the ranks." TheatreFest's John Wooten agrees: "We have a pretty high promotion rate--the better apprentices often come back as staff in future years." He cites by way of example a 1994 apprentice who did front-of-house, returned in '95 to take on the more competitive stage manager apprenticeship, and joined the staff in '96, earning his Equity card as ASM.
It comes as no surprise to learn that both Blake and Poje would like to go return to their summer "homes" this season. Blake wants to work with again with Wooten in administration. Poje hopes for a publicity or marketing internship at Flat Rock--but he'll also be auditioning at this March's SETCs, just in case.
In 1996, says Poje: "I was very happy with the fact that I had spent this entire summer in such an intensive program and still came out loving theatre. I felt more comfortable and better prepared to try experiences in the professional world.
"There were also a lot of personal barriers that something like that helps you get over. You start to see yourself as a tiny cog in the grand master scheme. Even though you're a very small part, you see how it couldn't go on without you. Basically what you have to learn is humility, but once you learn it you come to realize that you're part of something a lot