Cortland Rep's 'Ten Little Indians'

Cortland Rep's 'Ten Little Indians'

What do the Broadway casts of Mary Poppins, Wicked, South Pacific, Mamma Mia!, and Legally Blonde have in common? They all feature performers who were once interns at summer theatres. Tony Mansker, Ben Liebert, Margot de la Barre, Veronica Kuehn, and Cara Cooper — who are appearing on Broadway in those respective musicals (South Pacific opens at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on April 3) — interned at New Jersey’s Surflight Theatre. Surflight alumni are also currently working elsewhere in New York City, as well as in Las Vegas, at regional theatres, and on tour, according to Gail Anderson, the theatre’s associate artistic director, production manager, and casting director.

One reason the company has so many alums is that its internship program has been around for 59 years. In a typical summer, 22 interns are hired, paid a stipend, and provided with housing. “Realize that internships are training experiences, like school or class,” Anderson says. “And you’re being given the chance to work with talented people, network, make connections, and get roles, experience, and good credits on your résumé. It’s a lot of work, and you’re probably not going to get paid very much, but it’s about being given the opportunity for excellence.”

Surflight is one of many theatres and festivals offering summer internship programs that allow young actors to be part of a professional company. Interns are usually college-age, or at least 18; training and experience requirements vary. All interns should be willing to embrace new challenges with a positive attitude and be able to work as part of a team. For example, New York’s Cortland Repertory Theatre hires six acting and four technical interns each summer. Acting interns not only form the cast of the company’s children’s show; they act in at least one mainstage show as well. Whereas Surflight’s acting interns aren’t asked to do technical work, those at Cortland Rep work in a tech department when not in rehearsal.

“I think that when they leave us,” says Kerby Thompson, Cortland Rep’s producing artistic director, “interns have a much greater appreciation for technicians. There’s nothing worse than an actor who doesn’t take care of their costumes or props. But when they’ve worked on sewing a costume or building a prop, they certainly learn to respect the tech work that goes into a show.”

Cortland Rep interns are paid $125 per week and provided with housing at SUNY Cortland. When time is available, the theatre also arranges workshops with visiting directors and choreographers on auditioning, preparing a résumé, or the business of showbiz, allowing interns to learn about agents, managers, unions, and other topics that can help jump-start their careers. Traveling south, you’ll find even more internship opportunities.

Interns act in a Pioneer Playhouse production.

Interns act in a Pioneer Playhouse production.

Pioneer Playhouse, for example, is the oldest outdoor theatre in Kentucky. It offers a 10-week summer internship program for a $900 fee, which covers room and board and twice-weekly classes with professional actors on such topics as auditioning, cold reading, monologues, scene study, and improv. “Summer stock actors are the anti-divas of the theatre world,” says Pioneer Playhouse artistic director Holly Henson, whose father, Eben, founded the company in 1950. “They work very hard. It’s late nights and early mornings, but it’s a great way to build a résumé quickly. And one thing is certain: After a season of summer stock, you know if acting is the career for you.”

All Pioneer Playhouse company members — professional actors and interns — audition every two weeks for the next production. Interns can often be found in mainstage roles, even on occasion in leads. After a summer internship, performers may be invited to return as paid apprentices the following year. “Internships can be extremely valuable learning experiences,” says Thompson, “and I’ve found that most professional performers have an internship somewhere in their background. Sometimes you have to do the boring stuff to see the big picture come together.”

The “Spotlight on Summer Training” was published in the Feb. 21-27, 2008 issue of Back Stage and online at BackStage.com.

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