One of my two shop interns has asked me the same question a number of different ways the past two weeks: "what is expected of me?" It seems like a simple question with an obvious answer--to those of us who've been working for a while. For the newcomer, the expectations and parameters can be blurry and intimidating. And, knowing what is expected of you is kind of fundamental to knowing how to perform.

So, without further introduction, and as a courtesy to all the new and soon-to-be-new interns out there, I present,

Rich's 5 Steps to Being a Great Intern

1. Work hard

This is a pretty obvious one, but probably the most important. Summer theatre is fun: you meet lots of new people; shared housing has an intense, summer-camp-like feel; late getting-to-know-each-other nights abound. But it's also hard work: most summer theatres walk a thin line of trying to do great art with no money and no time--which means work hours are going to be busy and intense. When you're an intern, it can seem like things are moving really fast (they are--it's fast for those of who've been doing it for a while, too!). Every hour in the shop is an essential one, so make sure your efforts count--keep working, keep pushing, and keep your energy up until the last dust pile is swept and the last trash can is emptied. Every task during the work day is an important one when you're doing as much as we try to do--so give each task, however minor or dull, your 100%.

2. Have a good attitude

We're going to do some great things. We're going to do some crappy things. We're going to do the same note 15 times, and never get it correct. We're going to repair scenery that gets chewed on and spit out at night. Door slams will break off slam strips; breaks will tear off of wagons--and we'll have to fix it. You may have to squiggle underneath a 1'-0" tall deck and play with the dust bunnies.

Yep--those jobs are all going to suck. They'll take time away from the other work we're doing, and you'll feel stressed, tired, overwhelmed; you'll want to be cranky at the actor that slams the door, at the assistant stage manager that locks the wagon, at the TD who's gotten a little too round-about-the-middle to squeeze under the deck himself. But don't be cranky: this is summer theatre! Recognize that these things are all part of the experience and part of the job, and though you don't have to like them, you have to accept them. And if you're going to have to do them anyway, isn't it more fun to do them with a smile, singing a cheesy song?

3. Learn something new every day

Your biggest job as an intern is to learn. You've taken your internship because it's an opportunity to experience a working-theatre, surrounded by experienced professionals, someplace different than your school. So many things to learn! So many new ways of doing things, new skills to pick up, new techniques to discover. Your teachers probably tell you that during your internship you should make a great impression, demonstrate your skills, show your boss why you should be hired back. All of those things are true (we'll talk more about that below); but you should worry less about showing off what you know and more about gaining a ridiculous amount of new knowledge that you can't get at your school. Make it a goal to learn at least one new thing every day, and be specific about it: write your Mom, or your cousin, or your professor, every day, and tell them what you learned. Or keep a journal. Whatever works.

4. Make connections

Most people get jobs because of who they know. Hard work, a great resume, a good degree--these are all good things; without them, however you get a job, you likely won't keep it. But getting that job is as much about who you know and who knows you than anything else.

It's hard to make connections at school. Your faculty are great networking opportunities, as are guest artists, but you'll work with the same people--or mostly, anyway--for four years. Your internship is a great opportunity to meet new people, make new connections. So introduce yourself to the set designer; find a good opportunity--not when you're working, or they're finishing notes, for example--to have a coffee with the costume designer; ask the lighting designer if they'd be willing to tell you how they got into theatre, what they love about it, what advice they have for a young professional. You'd be surprised how far a short conversation over lunch can take you.

5. Relax

Don't try so hard! Yes, work hard. Yes, learn new things, make connections, have a great attitude. But also, remember that we do this because we love it. There's a good chance that if you're giving up your summer to get paid next to nothing to work long days, it's because you are passionate about theatre. The same is true for the rest of us. So remember that: remember why you do theatre, what you love about your chosen career, and relish that. Remember that this is supposed to be fun!

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Comment by KEN BERNSTEIN on August 5, 2013 at 3:15pm


This is a really good post that all perspective interns should read.  But  I would add #6 Learn the 5 things above and follow them every day of your career.  I have been doing this for over 4 decades and I still try to learn something new every day.  And some times it is an intern I learn from.

Comment by Rich Dionne on June 26, 2013 at 4:44pm

Of course, Michael! Good luck with your volunteers!

Comment by Michael on June 26, 2013 at 3:59pm

This is great!!

Rich, I'm starting as TD at a local theatre here next month, and part of my responsibilities involves managing what the theatre calls The Guild. It's just a fancy word for volunteers, but I thought this post would be a great addition to the welcome packet I'm creating. May I have your permission to reproduce it for such a thing?

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