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What’s Expected of Interns: the good, the bad, and the truthful

July 12, 2012

I’ve been an intern.  I can trace back almost my entire career [not to mention – a husband] to the experiences & contacts I made at an internship I rocked for 2 summers.  The hardest I’ve ever worked in my life was at my internship, and the least I slept, and the most I learned.  Theatre is a very hands-on career.  Of course college courses are important, but nothing compares to the hands-on training you receive as an intern or Production Assistant.  That being said, I haven’t always had the easiest experiences with PAs/Interns now that I’ve established my career.  Many of these interns go to very reputable schools and/or have received adequate training, but seem to be lost in a professional setting.  I have included a list of what I expect from my interns [and what they should expect] in a professional theatre setting.


Look, when it comes to this issue, I don’t care if you’re going to school to be an actress, a set designer, or brain surgeon your role in this production is INTERN and the simple fact is that you will occasionally be sent to grab coffee for the Creative Team.  Expect it, accept it, and make the best of it.  Write everything down, collect money from everyone, and use your Middle School math skills to make sure everyone gets the correct change.  More importantly: make sure everyone gets the correct order – there’s nothing worse than the intern coming back and there’s no “caramel” to your “macchiato.”  You aren’t being abused, you’re offering a needed service because there is someone to grab coffee for the team while we beat our head against the table with the latest production crisis.  When you get the order right – we are grateful and appreciative,  when the order is wrong – we are frustrated and under caffeinated.  As cliche as it sounds: the interns get the coffee.  Someone’s got to do it.


I’m young for my position, and look younger than I am.  I’m used to people assuming my incompetency until I have a chance to prove them wrong.  I refuse to express the same judgmental frame of mind when dealing with my interns.  That being said, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained a task to someone, they say “yes, I understand” and then twenty minutes later the task hasn’t been completed because the intern didn’t know how to do it.  Be honest with your skills, strengths, and weaknesses – you’re here to learn, this is an internship!  We won’t judge, but we can’t teach you until we understand what you already know and what you still need to learn.


When you are told to be “on book” while the actors run a scene, the third time through when the actor calls “LINE!” you better be able to answer them in a fraction of a heartbeat. Just because no one called for line the first time, it doesn’t mean that no one will call line for the rest of rehearsal.  When one of the Creatives lets their guard down because they trust you – keep that trust!  Do good work, and do consistently good work.  Pay attention, and take the tedious with the exciting.


You know the basics, you know what needs to be done.  The first thing you do in a rehearsal room is sweep – if you’re the first person there go get the broom! If the Director says in the middle of a scene “can we have something to represent the stool?” grab a chair and get it to place in scene before the director finishes his/her sentence. Facebook Apps, novels, and viral videos have no place in the rehearsal room.  If you honestly can’t think of anything you’ve already been asked to do that you should be doing at a given moment, ask your supervisor if there is anything you can help with – chances are they’ll be grateful you care enough to ask!


This is perhaps most important.  Let’s say I ask you to run to grab me a coffee. As you’re getting your coat on the Director asks for those new script pages you forgot to print out, as you head out the door the Musical Director asks if you can check if anyone is in the rehearsal space after as he’d like to stay after rehearsal with an actress to work on a song.  Your priorities should instantly shift to: Print Pages, Check on Rehearsal Space, Get Coffee.  This is a fast-paced industry, and new things get added and change every second, priorities constantly shift and multi-tasking is a requirement of everyone in every position.  This is especially important for interns.  Who the request came from is an easy cheat sheet for what you should be working on first: Director>Stage Manager>Designer.


It’s not that your opinion isn’t appreciated, and if you honestly have an idea on how to solve a problem, tell your supervisor privately and s/he will decide if it is something that should be brought up to the entire team.  Know your place, respect the positions of the staff, and observe everything like a SPONGE when sitting in on a Production Meeting.  You will learn an awful lot by watching and listening to the dialogue that forms between a Creative Team.

Internships are great opportunities to get your feet wet in professional theatre.  Hand cards/resumes to everyone you meet. Having been exactly where you are let me offer some sound advice:

Work your @$$ off  – you only get out of it what you put into it!

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 15, 2012 1:16 pm

    Reblogged this on Interns on Strike.

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