One Thing I Wish I’d Done In College Before I Became a Stage Manager
I feel like I used my time in college pretty wisely to help build a foundation for my future career, but if I could turn back time, the one thing I would’ve really liked to do was an internship. I never even heard the word internship uttered at my college. I honestly didn’t have a clue they were even a thing for stage managers.
Back at the Broadway Stage Management Symposium last June, one of the stage managers on one of the panels was talking about her path to Broadway and my ears perked up when she mentioned that she went to a little school no one has ever heard of.
There’s kind of a Broadway pack of alumni from Yale, Columbia, North Carolina School of the Arts, and SUNY New Paltz. Those schools have crazy strong Broadway networks. Of course, there are lots of schools represented on Broadway but you’re likely to hear these schools mentioned a lot.
This lady knew she wasn’t going to have that kind of network, so she took every Broadway playbill she could get her hands on, made a spreadsheet of the Broadway stage managers’ regional credits and applied for internships at the theaters that had a large representation on her spreadsheet.
I couldn’t even. I was floored. She is brilliant.
I was so wildly impressed by her creative thinking and determination.
I would’ve been way more prepared for my first job after college because stage managing school shows is great, and one of the best ways to actually learn stage management while at school, but it’s way different from stage managing out in the real world.
Since I can only say I regret not doing an internship, I turned to the interwebs to get some insight from folks who had done stage management internships to see if they were happy with the experience.
“Worked as the SM intern at Flat Rock Playhouse. I interviewed with them at SETC and was excited to stay in NC, was glad that they offered housing that didn’t cost me anything, meals were provided (for 6 days a week) and I was paid! It was a great place to work, and is now like a second home for me. I returned for Summer 2015, after graduation, before moving to NYC.”
Jessica managed to do internships three different times during her college years, and they got progressively better and more centered around what she wanted to do.
Another key takeaway here is that she found her internship at SETC – the Southeastern Theatre Conference, an annual conference full of folks looking for theater related stuff, job interviews, grad school recruiting, and, yes, internships.
“I also did an internship with Wicked in NYC after graduation, which is what ultimately brought me to the city. A month long, and unpaid, but an AMAZING experience that has led to everything else I’ve done since then.”
One thing I like about Jessica’s final internship is the length. Saving up enough to fund one month in New York City is a really doable length. Other internships that drag on for months with no or little pay can become a real problem in a big city.
“I remember not quite understanding from the head props person why she was SO detailed with EXACTLY how she set every prop, down to the inch if possible on a table. Eventually, I began to get how angles of cup handles made a difference, and if someone had to step up onto the table from a chair, how the preset made a difference. I still may not be QUITE so consistent as she was, but I certainly gained an appreciation for consistency.
From the stage managers themselves, of course I got to hear how someone else called a show, a new version of almost every piece of paperwork, and the understanding of what it was to immerse yourself in one show (and not all the homework, etc. of daily life – other than my thesis). You can talk stage management all you want, but until you do it for real, it’s all theory.”
Erin has fond memories of improving her skills during her internship. She also went to a college that didn’t really have a setup for internships (back when she attended, which has been a few years), so she was a trailblazer in the area. If your school doesn’t encourage internships, there’s no reason you can’t be the first to do one too.
Becky fell into her internship thanks to some connections from alumni at her school and wound up returning to the same theater for a second summer.
“It was my first experience with professional theatre and my first experience with Equity, so I was able to actually see how the things I had learned applied in the real world, but also how different it was. It was also a good way to show my parents that people actually did this as a career.”
Are you sold on internships now? I have to warn you, not everyone loved their internships. Here are a few common red flags people reported back on about internships that didn’t rank high for them:
- Not being included.
- Being asked to do things (like prop designing) that weren’t agreed on in advance.
- Doing the functions of a normally paid position for free.
- Only fetching coffee.**
- Unpaid internships that cost living expenses that don’t teach you anything. **This is apparently a high and common crime.
Remember Jessica from the positive stories above? Well she’s also a lesson in perseverance. Her first internship wasn’t so hot, but her later experiences were great.
“I knew I wanted to stay at home for this summer and work at my part time job from high school, so I chose a [general] internship nearby. It was a terrible experience. They didn’t know what they were doing with me, so I was given very menial tasks, and wasn’t really included. Then, at the end of the summer, they asked me to be the props designer for a show that I had never read, and it was never mentioned in my interview originally. I found this on my own.”
Important things to look at are whether it’s a paid or unpaid internship. If it’s unpaid, you don’t have to rule it out immediately, but you should take some time to really consider if the cost is worth it – and to properly calculate some cost of living numbers for wherever you need to be.
Unpaid internships with housing may actually be cheaper than a low paid internship in a big city where you have to find your own housing.
Places to look for internships include:
You also might already know where you’d like to internship. You can check a theater’s website to see if they have internships listed. If not, you can reach out through the contact emails on the theater’s website to inquire if they have an internship available.
Published in Collaboration with brokeGIRLrich