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Arnold shares experience of summer theatre internship

May 23, 2011
By cnp
Posted in Theatre

For Rebecca Arnold, her internship last summer at the Crown Uptown Theatre in Wichita, Kansas, was a little like going home.

“Both of my parents acted at the Crown during the Eighties,” Rebecca said. “I had actually been there before, when I was younger, and my dad did a show there the summer before I was there. I heard about the theatre through them, so it was interesting to be able to work there myself. So I went and talked to them and auditioned for the children’s show last spring. I mainly wanted to get professional experience, plus it’s part of the requirements for the theatre degree to get an internship. There’s a real family atmosphere at the Crown among all the servers, performers, and office workers.”

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Rebecca Arnold spent the summer of 2010 doing an internship at the Crown Uptown Theatre in Wichita, Kansas.

Established in 1977, the Crown is located in an historic 1928 vaudeville theatre and is a member of the National Dinner Theatre Association.  Rebecca received room and partial board for her work – “After all, it is a dinner theatre,” she said with a laugh.

Rebecca’s duties during her internship, which lasted from June 1 through August 16, included a wide range of tasks. “I got Mondays and Tuesdays off, unless we were rehearsing a show,” she said. But the rest of her week was pretty much non-stop.

“I would work during the day on Wednesdays, taking reservations and helping with the sets or whatever needed done for the shows, then I would come in late afternoon before the shows on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and then Sunday it was an earlier show, so I was in earlier. I was also production assistant for the evening shows, so I would do that during the day while we were in rehearsals. Then when the show opened, I would be backstage during the show’s run and help strike and set up for the next performance, after I clocked out of the box office. On Friday and Saturday I was performing in the kid’s show, so I was there during the morning and afternoon and then would go to the box office.”

“I worked in the box office throughout my entire internship," Rebecca said.  “While I was in the box office, I took reservations, made copies, typical office work. But when we were going through rehearsals, I would be there at about 9 in the morning, and we would get lunch and dinner breaks, but we would be there until about 9 at night. I didn’t help with the costumes, but some days I would help building or painting the set, make copies, write down any notes the stage manager or director needed, and get water for the cast.

“During the rehearsals, I would be on book – which meant I would make sure that they were saying their lines right or if they forgot them filling them in – and when the shows started, I would come in about 10 or 11, eat, get in my makeup and costume, perform, meet with the kids – it seemed like there were always about 400 of them! Then I’d go home to shower and change, come back to work in the box office, eat from the dinner theatre buffet, then go backstage for the evening show, help clean up backstage and preset the children’s show, and then go home.” 

Rebecca was also assistant production manager for the evening show, “Midlife the Crisis Musical.” She said her job consisted of doing whatever needed to be done. This included standing in for the musical numbers so the choreographer could see how everything looked. “Plus I made copies,” she said, “and was responsible for helping them with their lines, helping with the set, and putting up the marquee outside as well as a lobby display for the show. Just wherever they needed me to be. I was the show’s assistant. The only experience I’ve had here that really was close to that was my directing class, because I was in charge of schedules and arranging whatever needed to be done for my show.

“The production manager is responsible for coordinating the various sub-disciplines of the show – scenic, wardrobe, lighting, sound, things like that,” Rebecca explained.  She added that in most professional theatres the production manager is the highest ranking person on the production staff and answers directing to the general manager and or/artistic director.

She was also the stage manager for two of those evening performances. “The stage manager acts as an assistant to the director in rehearsal,” she said,  “recording the blocking and seeing that cast members stay on script, have all the necessary props, and follow the blocking.”  Blocking is the process of planning where, when, and how actors will move about the stage during a performance.

“Once the house opens, the stage manager basically takes control,” she said, “calling the cues for all transitions, as well as acting as communications hub for the cast and crew.”

That was a little difficult in this case, Rebecca said. The theatre had been a vaudeville house in the old days, and she was set up behind the curtains watching everything on monitors – “I was the interim stage manager, because the stage manager for the show was going to be gone during 3 of the performances. So I had to run all the sound and light cues during the show, as well as do a voiceover part during one of the scenes. It was kind of tough doing what I needed to do when I couldn’t actually see the live performers. But I did it! I was in charge of setting up pre-show, making sure all the props were in place, all the actors were on time, setting up the piano player’s station by turning on all his equipment and setting his music. Then after the show I would shut everything down and help set the stage for the children’s show the next day. It was a lot of pressure, I had never done it before, but was basically just thrown into the situation and expected to handle it all. It was interesting, being in charge of an older cast who’s had a lot of experience, but they were all super supportive and had no doubt that I could handle the responsibility, which was probably one of the reasons I was able to pull it off!”

Rebecca also acted in “Jack and the Beanstalk” as the giant’s housekeeper when one actress had to pull out and the parts got shifted around. She had to learn her new lines in only two days. “The Crown has a children’s theatre that they put on during the day while there is an evening show at night. ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ was the show running during the summer months that I was there, and we had performances twice a week and would then have a meet and greet with the kids afterwards. Actually, I was originally cast as The Singing Harp and had learned my lines and song and had started rehearsals. But about two days before we opened, the girl who was supposed to have the main female part as Hazel, the Giant’s Housekeeper, was stuck in another state, so they moved me to her part and called in a favor from another actress to cover the Harp’s role. We only had about a week of rehearsal to begin with, working during the day, and then I had two days to learn an entirely new part, with more lines, who was in practically the entire show. But because it’s a professional job, you’re expected to have learned the skills needed to cope with a situation like that, and luckily my education here has really prepared me for anything.”

When not working she stayed at the Actor’s House. “The Actor’s House is a house owned by the theatre that provides housing for out-of-town actors or technicians to stay while they are working for the theatre,” she said. “Because I was the only one for the current shows who wasn’t local, I was the only one who needed to use the house, which is just a block from the theatre. It was nice, and gave me time to reflect and just have some down time to myself when I wasn’t at work.”

Rebecca said the best part of her summer internship was working with all the people she met and seeing how different people approach theatre. “In a way it’s like any job,” she said. “The main difference between theatre in the real world and theatre in school is that out there, you’re just expected to know what you’re doing and do it, whereas here we’re learning the tools of our profession. I enjoyed acting the most, because that’s really the career that I want to do in the future. I love enveloping a character and having each performance be completely different than the one before or after. And being able to do children’s theatre, I was able to experience a much broader and more exaggerated acting style than traditional theatre, as well as being able to interact with all the kids.”

“My theatre training at Ozarks gave me all the ground-level tools that in a professional setting I was just expected to know,” she added. “I was able to help with the set, jump in to stage managing, and understood how to take initiative with different tasks. Also it helped having the acting training that I’ve gotten, because everything is done in less time [in that atmosphere], so it was vital to have taken the time to get the techniques and character development down at college.”

“I learned a lot over the summer,” she concluded, “but I think the most important thing I did was make connections with other theatre professionals. In theatre, connections are absolutely vital. From my internship I learned how precious time is and how really important it is to take be able to take the time now to learn the skills we need to be successful in a professional setting. Professional experience can only be achieved by having a solid foundation of education. There is no way that I or any of the other theatre majors would have survived these internships if we hadn’t had the knowledge and experience that Ozarks provided us.”