Putting a Face on Theatre
We're deep into the load-in of our first show at Dorset Theatre Festival (a production of Theresa Rebeck's The Scene). As is often is the case, it's a bit of a push to make it to focus and tech, and I find myself a little tense, a little anxious, and expecting way to much of myself and my staff in too little time.
I've got a fantastic staff: my ATD, Aaron, is level-headed, talented, and hard-working. The staff carpenter, Amanda, is also very skilled, and both have great attitudes. In addition to these two staff members, I have two (and a half) interns in the shop, Bill, Ian, and Glenn. (I say Glenn is a half-intern because he's is a combination sound/carpentry intern, so sometimes we lose him to audio business.) They also have great attitudes and work hard. All of them have pulled figurative rabbits out of their hats as we've completed the first set in a mere 8 days or so of construction. (It's hard to believe our first day of actual work was last Wednesday!) I couldn't be happier with my shop this summer.
I had a moment yesterday, though, that I'm not entirely proud of: two of the interns were completing a task on stage--something I had assumed would happen pretty quickly--and it was taking them longer than I wanted. I snapped a bit at Amanda that I need things to be done quickly and done correctly. Which, of course, is true. But also a bit unfair. Why? Well, after all: Bill and Ian and Glenn are interns. They aren't staff. And as much as they perform like staff much of the time, I have to remember that they aren't--they are here to learn, to experience the fun of summer theatre, and to grow.
The Fair Labor Standards Act--the law which provides for a minimum wage and for overtime for certain categories of workers--has a specific definition for "intern" (a category not subject to minimum wage and overtime, as it is an educational opportunity, not employment). According to the U.S. Department of Labor website, that definition is as follows:
All six of these conditions must be met in order for the position to qualify as an internship.
It can be easy, in the crush of priorities, to want things to happen quickly; to feel the pressure to complete the job, and to be confounded by the speed at which a crew works. Interns complicate this situation, because we almost always want them to function like lesser-paid--sometimes "free"--labor. But they can't, and they shouldn't.
On days like yesterday, I have to remind myself of that fact: of the fact that interns are here for their benefit more than they are here for mine. It helps to remember, especially, the fourth condition of the definition of internship: "the employer...derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded." I try, during the crazy times, to almost repeat it as a mantra: "they're supposed to make it harder; they're supposed to make it harder..."
It's the intern paradox: we've got all these working bodies! They should be making it faster, better, easier! But that's faulty thinking: if I'm doing my job correctly--if I'm providing training opportunities for these interns--then they really should be making my job harder and slower. And that can be frustrating to be sure. But that's the way it should be.