To complete our research on the need and viability for a graduate theatre management program, we spent time talking with local theatres about what they need or want from an intern. With the help of L.A. Stage Alliance, we structured two focus groups of Los Angeles Theatre leaders to gain perspectives from a range of opportunities and experiences. The first afternoon was spent with 8 smaller sized ensemble based theatre companies and the second group of 9 was mostly mid-sized theatres.
Here are some highlights:
• Match Passion to Passion: Most organizations feel very adamant that they want interns who are excited and passionate about that particular organization’s mission and work. If a student is more interested in large presenting organizations, it may not be the best fit for them to intern with a smaller ensemble based theatre. The staffs in these theatres typically have been there since the inception of the company and have extreme pride for their work. They were clear in wanting an intern that is going to match their enthusiasm.
• Recruitment is a Time Suck: Our theatre colleagues agreed that searching for qualified interns is an endless challenge. It takes a lot of time and energy to locate viable intern candidates and the majority of the theatres would like more help in this regard.
• Best Learning Opportunities Happen During the Season: Not only is summer too short, but most of the "juicy" projects that interns crave fall during the season. (There was a suggestion that maybe summer could serve as a training period and then the student could fully immerse themselves into the real work when the season begins.) The amount of time that it takes to train and invest in an intern is significant, and if these students want a deep, rich experience they also need to invest the time in getting oriented, and being available and flexible with their schedules.
• Is it an Internship We are Talking About?: The term “internship” came up for debate in both groups. Some argued that students may want more of an "observership" so they can learn and be in the room for lots of various discussions. Some argued that placements would be more of a peer to peer collaboration, especially at the graduate level.
• Pass the Cream, Please: Organizations agreed that we want the cream of the crop of emerging professionals to join our working ranks. We want the best of the best students who are committed to our art form and our city. Many of these organizations are short staffed and need people that are going to actually provide quality help to them. In return, the intern will get real life experience that they can apply to future job offerings or maybe even turn into a job offer there at that particular organization.
• Ask Not What Theatre Can Do for You...: Theatres want to see tangible results. If they trust interns with vital work for the organization to thrive then the product needs to be useful and viable for that organization to implement.
• Connect Theatre Classroom with Theatre Community: Perhaps most importantly, the theatre professionals in our focus groups want interns to see theatre and expose themselves to the art that their management deals with on a day to day basis. Get in the field! They lamented that university curriculum does not necessarily align with what theatre employers are looking for in terms of field experience and knowledge of the art form itself. Students should go see theatre if they are getting a degree in theatre management!
A big special thanks to the following theatres for taking the time from their very full schedules to come and spend an afternoon with us:
24th Street Theatre, Colony Theatre Company, Deaf West Theatre, East West Players, Fountain Theatre, LA Theatre Center, Theatre @ Boston Court, Little Fish Theatre/Shakespeare by the Sea, Blank Theatre Company, Ebony Repertory Theatre, Elephant Theatre Company, Ghost Road Company, Long Beach Playhouse, Los Angeles Theatre Ensemble (LATE), Theatre West, Pacific Resident Theatre, Son of Semele Ensemble