Imagine yourself a young college student pursuing a degree in theatre. You’ve given everything you’ve got in the audition room. A week later you walk to the MSU Denver callboard with hopes of being one of the few chosen to intern as an educational theatre touring artist. The cast list is up. You focus your eyes on the list of names. You! You’ve been chosen to tell the stories, do the work, and change the world. What does that mean exactly? Is it that you learn your lines, show up to rehearsal and learn your blocking? Or is it something else entirely? What does it mean to be a successful actor intern touring educational theatre?
Through my work with our educational theatre internship program (ETI), I have had an incredible vantage point as each actor intern experiences the art of discovery. For the last seven years, we have offered an internship program in partnership with the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Theatre Department. In that time, I have worked with nearly 30 young actors who were pushed, pulled and challenged for an entire academic year as they discovered themselves as artists and as people in general. We aren’t just molding actors but the kind of people you want in the room; at the table.
It’s my belief many people assume acting is easy and educational theatre is even easier. My philosophy is “if you can engage an audience of school age children and convince them in 45 minutes or less to think about or care for themselves and others in more meaningful ways, you can perform ANY text on ANY stage.” This is no cake walk. Only the strongest survive and even fewer can make this a career. If you interview previous interns they will tell you it was more challenging than they could have ever imagined and most will say it was the most rewarding experience they have ever had.
Throughout their process, we explore and apply 3 main skills with the goal of strengthening their work as actors:
In my 15 years of working as an educational theatre artist, I have learned the aforementioned skills are the magic ingredients to every strong, honest and authentic performance. Whether it be a dramatic monologue or educating a young person on the benefits of eating five fruits and veggies a day, an actor is lost without understanding these three skills. For their work, it is even more important to weave these skills into their personal and professional journey. Oh how beautiful it is when a person can listen fully, exist vulnerably and live authentically. Don’t you agree?
Throughout my experience leading ETI, I have witnessed many layers of growth and success of our interns. As each intern walks into our rehearsal space, I am certain they are unaware of the depth of the journey they are about to embark on. These people not only learn how to extract given circumstances from a scene but gratitude for the opportunity. They walk away thankful for the work and the chance to be a beacon of light for their young audiences. They learn how to show up in the work but more importantly for their fellow cast mates. They develop a deep care and concern for their community and the power they have to make it better, safer and healthier. They learn how to sustain their energy and keep their performance fresh even when retelling the same story more than 50 times. They begin to see how each show and audience is just as important as the first one, each student deserving the gift of their very best. The art of discovery is an exhausting one; a marathon even, so I frequently ask my interns “Do you still love it?”
On many days this work isn’t glamorous but challenging both physically (we are our own roadies) and emotionally. They push through. We push through. The story that exemplifies the success of this process is that of an intern I had a few years ago. This particular intern made some decisions the preceding summer that put them at a disadvantage from day one of the internship. In most cases, this kind of obstacle would debilitate the average young actor, potentially changing the course of their life. Instead, this particular young intern chose to show up and listen fully. To fully hear the disappointment and doubt their choices had created. They then chose to vulnerably stand in front of that disappointment and doubt and become absolutely and completely open and vulnerable to the process and mentorship. From then on, I saw this young actor grow roots of authenticity that were strong and deep; not only on stage but in their communication with me and their peers. With tenacity, this intern repaired trust which led to excelling their work as an intern. This young actor has taken advantage of the grace given and the tools they acquired and continues to climb higher and higher to this day. Upon the completion of the internship, I was given a card from this intern which read, “This past year touring has been truly life changing. You had faith in me when no one else did. Thank you so much for everything you have taught me, from being a better artist to being a better human.” I am so proud to be a part of that.
This internship, this art, this kind of discovery isn’t for the weak of heart or spirit. You don’t always feel successful. It’s not always a masterpiece. The journey for an educational theatre artist whether it be an intern or seasoned veteran is as beautiful as it is personal. It’s an art all its own.
– Laura Slack, AIR Project Coordinator