It’s one thing to witness or view true art, it’s another to be one of the contributing factors of working to make this art come alive. I experienced this every day while working as an intern at Maine State Music Theatre in the summer of 2016. My job title was Summer Marketing Intern, but my true job description went far beyond that. I spent the final weeks of spring preparing for days in an office planted in front of a desk creating countless social media posts and promotional material, engaging in very little communication. I had never been proven so wrong before.
Not Your Average Intern
When you close your eyes and picture an intern, what’s the first thing to pop into your head? An inexperienced college student, doing simple tasks such as fetching coffee and making copies of documents for their boss? That’s what I expected too. In a theatre though, that is never the case for anyone in any type of position.
Not only did I have to work in communicating with every actor, from ensemble to main character, I had to make speeches to the community by introducing myself and others when we conducted talk backs and Q&As. I had to meet and get to know local business owners and convince them to support and sponsor our nonprofit theatre by convincing them to help us make videos to promote the company and possibly host after-parties as well. I ended up working six days a week, about 10 hours a day to help improve our theatre and promote upcoming shows. Even with all of the long hours of working as a marketing intern, these weren’t my only tasks. This internship went above and beyond the region of sales and marketing promotion.
As an intern at Maine State Music Theatre, you are expected to complete more than the average, typical intern would expect to work. At MSMT, there are four shows per summer season, plus two shows put on solely by the summer interns.
How Does It All Work In A Theatre?
The night of a closing performance, the workers in the theatre are immediately expected to complete what is known in the theatre world as "changeover." This includes taking apart a set so a new one can be replaced for the next upcoming show, which would be performed in a matter of a few days.
When thinking about what a changeover would entail, one would expect that simply the set would be taken down, the stage would be cleaned up, and a new set would be moved in its place. Many people assume this process would take a few hours and then the crew is finished and can continue on with their personal lives, followed by catching a long night’s sleep to be rested for the next day of hefty work. The reality is the complete opposite. There is so much more that goes into the changeover of a show than I ever even imagined. A writer from Broadway World wrote a more detailed explanation about my time there from a spectator’s point of view.
I had worked at two college theatres prior to coming to Maine State. What I was beginning to learn during even the first week was professional theatre was an entirely new ball game and I felt like a total rookie.
Let’s Get Technical
In a set changeover, many things must be completed, such as breaking down every single light hanging on top of the stage, removing the specific gels from the lighting fixtures, mapping out where exactly the lights would be placed for the upcoming show, placing brand new gels into the light fixtures, returning the lights back to their specific spots above the stage, and double checking that these lights were in the correct spots. A very large majority of the time the lights turned out to be in the wrong places, so the process would start all over again. I had absolutely no experience in lighting. I barely knew what a gel was. Before this internship, the confidence levels of my knowing how to use a wrench were very negative, I never really had a reason to use one before. Throughout the internship, the wrench tool and I developed an all too close relationship, as I learned how to take apart lights and hang them across the stage in a proper manner.
Sleep Is For The Weak
When attending a Maine State Music Theatre opening night performance, it’s very easy for guests to gawk at the stage and say “What? Only a day or two ago, this stage was filled with a completely different set. How did this happen, it was like magic.”
While art in its pure form is definitely enchanting, the experience of helping create a whole new story on the stage was not a magic trick. When changeovers took place, many departments had specific shifts they worked to avoid crashing into other departments who were working on a different section of the stage.
For example, the lighting and set construction and de-construction crew wouldn’t want to be in the process of taking apart the set and taking down the lights at the same time, because both of those tasks require some portion of the stage, so it would be easy for them to both collide with each other. One department, such as the props department, would work a certain amount of hours, 6am to 6pm, while a different department would work another separate shift. The shifts I was usually lucky enough to work on were the 6pm to 6am shifts. We would work at 6pm, return back to our apartments at 6am, and sleep until we had to work that same shift again the next day.
Covering All The Bases
During one of our final shows, I had to tackle a whole new base I had never covered in the ball game, and that was running spotlight. I was incredibly terrified because I had never operated anything close to this contraption.
As I was learning the ropes and getting the hang of everything, I gazed down at the performance below me and thought to myself, “This show is beautiful. I helped create this.” With every late night, every new tool I had to struggle to learn to use, I realized it was all work put toward creating an art and masterpiece for others to see. After this opportunity, I quickly realized no other experience in my life could grant me the same feeling I received that summer as a theatrical intern.