Behind the scenes, UMass Lowell theatre students learn the ropes
Theatre arts major Alexander Wedge loves performing on stage, especially in musicals.
But he had no idea how much behind-the-scenes work went into every production until he got a paid internship in stage management with the Theatre Arts Program.
This fall, Wedge worked with faculty, student actors and guest professionals – the director and the set, costume, sound and lighting designers – on “Macbeth,” the Theatre Arts Program’s fall play. He oversaw the production calendar, cued actors who forgot their lines, wrote a report on each rehearsal and called the light and sound cues during shows.
“As an actor, you’re always in front of the audience. But now I’m learning the importance of tech, how important every single part of the process is,” Wedge said. “It’s also a great opportunity to interact with professional theater artists.”
Wedge is one of four students with paid internships who work on the Theatre Arts Program’s faculty-supervised fall and spring plays, says Assoc. Prof. Shelley Barish. The internships give them experience and professional connections that can lead to outside internships and careers. They are funded by the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
“These interns get to work with guest artists in a more in-depth way, gaining connections and experience toward a career in theater,” Barish says.
For example, Michaila Cowie ’18 interned as a stage manager on the UML spring 2017 production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” and then was invited by the show’s guest director, Jennie Israel, to intern on an Actors’ Shakespeare Project production in Boston, Barish says. Cowie’s work with guest director David E. Shane on the spring 2018 play “P.O.V.” helped her get a full-time job as event manager for StageSource, a nonprofit that serves the Boston-area theater community, after graduation.
Currently, Barish mentors Wedge and Rachael Bergeron, a technical intern. Students Hayley Jasmin and Nicholas Abourizk are interning in publicity and marketing under Assoc. Prof. Nancy Selleck, a Shakespeare scholar and director of the Theatre Arts Program. All of the students work about 10 hours a week – more when a show is underway, less in the lulls between plays.
Bergeron, a senior, plans to become a set designer. She says she has learned a tremendous amount from Barish, an accomplished scenic designer who creates many of the sets for the official Theatre Arts Program productions, including how a design is translated into a “drafting” (a kind of blueprint) and how the drafting becomes a realized set.
On “Macbeth,” Bergeron also got to work closely with Kathleen Chadwick, the guest set designer and part-time technical director for the program this year. Bergeron supervised other students while helping to build the set. She also hung lights, assisted with sound and ran the box office. During technical rehearsals, she made detailed notes so that she could fix anything that went wrong during a performance.
“I had to know what the designers set up in case they weren’t there, so I could change a lightbulb, fix a costume or plug something back in,” she said.
Bergeron began the internship in the spring of her sophomore year, after taking the Play Production class for the first time (students can take it up to three times). She’s now a senior and looking for outside internships, too.
Jasmin, a junior theatre arts major, began at UMass Lowell with plans to pursue acting. She sings and acts with Voices of Hope Boston, which performs musicals to raise money for cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital. A strong writer, she also worked as an editor on “P.O.V.,” which was both created and performed by theatre arts students.
As part of her minor in digital media, Jasmin completed a service-learning class that paired her with a Lowell nonprofit, working on its website and videos. She now has a part-time job in digital marketing for Thrive, a nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities and their families.
That made the publicity and marketing internship a great fit. Jasmin has learned how to design posters, write news releases, set up and manage a Facebook event page, work with other campus organizations, put together a playbill and promote the Theatre Arts Program itself.
More important, the internship has inspired her to pursue a career in marketing and publicity for a theater company.
“It’s close to my heart, and this internship is what made me want to do it as a career,” she says. “Nancy (Selleck) has a very good idea what people want to see and what to promote – and because I have a good understanding of social media, we work hand in hand.”
Nicholas Abourizk, a senior theatre arts major with a minor in biology, played the title role in “Macbeth” while interning in publicity and marketing alongside Jasmin. He says he still plans on an acting career, but he now knows how much work goes into getting an audience in the door. He also learned a lot about time management and working collaboratively, he says.
“We have deadlines we have to meet for each project, because other people have to review it,” he says. “I was very much into organizing, coordinating and recruiting the people we needed, like the graphic artist who worked on the poster and the playbill.”
Wedge, like the others, says the breadth of the Theatre Arts Program, coupled with the stage management internship, has given him a much greater appreciation for all of the people and jobs behind the scenes that contribute to any production’s success.
And there’s an added bonus for him:
“I learned how not to make my stage manager’s job a living hell when I’m acting,” he says. “Show up on time, prepared and ready to go, so they don’t have to hunt you down.”