Internship program teaches theater, life skills
Published 5:00 pm, Thursday, July 28, 2016
NEW CANAAN — Throughout July, theater lovers have attended the Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s 2016 productions. They have been swept away by the 11-piece orchestra in “West Side Story,” wowed by “Cinderella” and laughed over “James and the Giant Peach.” But what the audience doesn’t know is that an intern sold them their tickets; it’s an intern making them laugh with his antics as the Earthworm in “James” and it’s an intern making the orchestra sound like it is next to them when it is in another tent. Even the set was built by interns.
Skeptics may say you can’t get a job in theater, but STONC is doing its best to make its interns ready and hire-able when it comes to the cutthroat theatrical world.
One way STONC preps its interns is by giving them the responsibility of staff members, not just student employees.
“We don’t necessarily have a large full-time staff, so we have supervisors in each department and a big chunk of our staff is made up of interns. We couldn’t do what we do without our internship program,” said Ali Tesluk, the theater’s intern coordinator. “You get great training because of that. People find out really quickly if this is something they like to do for a hobby.”
This program is not for the casual performer. The internship runs 11 weeks and interns spend six days a week helping put together three shows alongside the professionals the company hires for the summer. They also help with STONC’s summer drama camps for students.
The 18 interns specialize in everything from acting to directing to costumes, but STONC isn’t training one-trick ponies. Interns spend a portion of their time working on projects outside their concentration. Actors help build sets and carpenters help with the sound to make them more versatile and experienced in various aspects of their field.
“I tell my other friends, one of the best things you can do is not be stupid in tech. The more you know about things that aren’t your field, the more valuable you are to a production company and a show,” said JP Misciagna, a technical theater intern with a concentration in audio.
Misciagna, a junior design tech major at Western Connecticut State University, said he is a carpenter by trade, but tries to do anything he can to get experience and put his name out there. This summer, the Ridgefield resident helped with everything from putting together sets to miking performers before shows.
“I like to stay versatile. I’m not that picky when it comes to the job I’m doing. I do a little bit of a lot of things,” he said, referring to his carpentry, lighting, audio and sewing skills that come in handy when working backstage.
It is this sort of down-to-Earth attitude STONC sets to install in all of its interns, as well as a sense of respect for what others are doing to make a show come together.
“I think (respect) is lacking in some performers,” said Jose Plaza, a performing intern and senior musical theater major at the University of Hartford. “They think they’re the star and it’s all about them, but there’s a team behind them and it takes a lot of effort from a lot of people to make one person look good. The biggest thing is being respectful of other people and appreciating their work. (JP) puts on my mic all the time. I could be like ‘Just put on my mic’ and not ask him about his day or how he’s doing, but you have to treat everybody like you would like to be treated.”
It is these skills that go beyond the field of theater. Emily Clark, an administrative intern and sophomore performing arts and management major at Providence College, said she learned basic, real-world skills that could apply to any job.
“I do everything from creating the programs to working in the box office and selling tickets and picking up phone calls. Anything that needs to be done in the office, I do,” the Weston resident said. “I’ve become a lot more comfortable talking on the phone. I’m no longer scared of the phone and that’s something I couldn’t say before I came here.”
Summer in the theater, however, is not all hard work. The interns said they have had fun working on the shows, particularly “James and the Giant Peach” and “Cinderella,” both aimed at children.
“This is the first time I’ve done meet-and-greet in full costume,” said Plaza, who played the Earthworm in “James and the Giant Peach.” “One kid was asking me once why was I wearing an overall and I said, ‘Because I have to keep moist because I’m an earthworm.’ It’s funny to see the reactions.”
It is this joy that motivates the interns to keep working at this field.
“It was a long path for me to take, but my mom always said, ‘You’re never too old to learn,’” said Plaza, who is from Puerto Rico. “I think age is not a thing when it comes to learning. I just can’t see myself sitting at a desk and doing something I hate forever.”
These interns are not only preparing for their future, they have it well planned. Clark would like to go on to become a producer and own her own theater company; Plaza wants to book a cruise or a tour when he is done with school; and Misciagna is just content trying to get his name out there in whatever way he can, while continuing to work at regional theaters.
And their plans may just pan out. Tesluk started out as a box office intern and assistant director at STONC five years ago. She said the lessons she learned there have helped her throughout her career.
“When I was assistant directing, my job was basically to just take notes. I would sit in on all the meetings after each rehearsal, and I realized that every single person is an artist, that goes from the sound designer, the lighting designer, the music director, the choreographer, the scenic designer. Everyone is an artist and wants to have their vision shine on stage,” Tesluk said.
“They’re all working toward a common goal, but they also want their own artistic vision to shine onstage. I think because we’re so small, as an intern you might be able to learn more and do more than you would at a larger company. You get a lot of hands-on experience, which can be trying, testing and exhausting, but I think if this is what you love, it’s wonderful.”