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Gaining Hands-On Experience Through the Intern Program

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“The callback list goes up around 1:30?” asks an anxious parent in the early January morning light.

Helen Taynton (far left), director of the intern program, poses with all of Juilliard's interns for the 2008-09 academic year.

(Photo by James Gregg)

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“Yes, and in the meantime, you’re welcome to wait here in the lobby or our new multipurpose room,” I reply—loudly enough to carry through the sea of families and friends of auditioning students sitting or milling around us in the School’s main lobby.

“Thanks. So… what year are you?” inquires the parent.

“Actually, I’m not a student at Juilliard; I’m an intern.”

“Really! I didn’t know Juilliard had interns. How exciting.”

“Oh, yes, it certainly is …”

This exchange is typical of conversations I had with an assortment of parents, guardians, siblings, and friends of applicants to Juilliard’s Drama Division several months ago. Roughly 930 applicants applied to the drama program for next September; as the arts administration intern for the division, I’d say I probably met about 500 and talked over the phone and e-mailed with many more. It certainly felt that way!

Beyond working with prospective students and their families, my duties include participating in the daily operations of the division. This can mean anything from scheduling appointments for our administrative director, maintaining correspondence, shepherding a playwright around the city, and ordering clown noses to helping to arrange play readings, managing ticket reservations, inventorying character masks, and giving out ice packs for the occasional sprain. Furthering people’s education and making art possible is incredibly exciting and rewarding for me. For many young performing artists, Juilliard is the place where they want to train to make their dreams come true.

But Juilliard is not just about bringing the dreams of pianists, actors, dancers, and bassoonists to life. With its Professional Internship Program, Juilliard also fosters theater technicians and arts administrators.

The internships run from late August to May, providing an opportunity for young people to work directly with technicians, artists, and administrators in their fields. The program provides a stipend of $295 per week and basic medical insurance, as well as an entry into New York City and the performing-arts scene. Throughout the year, alumni of the program return to speak with current interns about their experiences since leaving Juilliard and to share career pointers.

The internship program began in 1977 as an inexpensive way to enlarge the production staff while providing young people with professional experience and a platform from which to launch their careers. Helen Taynton, the program’s director since 1984, says she is pleased that the interns are as diverse as the students—some coming from college, others changing careers, even former military members. Earlier, the internships were more technically oriented; now they are offered in technical and administrative areas, including stage management, electrics, costumes, props, painting, wigs and make-up, and arts administration in drama and music.

This year also marks the start of a new internship position at Juilliard: production management. This position’s responsibilities include coordinating production meetings and overseeing production budgets and timelines, as well as creating technical calendars and attending technical and dress rehearsals.

Meryl Ballew is the inaugural production management intern, working closely with production manager J.B. Barricklo. Production management covers dance, drama, and opera performances as well as any music performances that take place in the Peter Jay Sharp Theater—so there is a lot of scope for another person on the team. At first it was a little difficult (“J.B. hadn’t had to delegate before,” explains Ballew), but soon the two developed a working rapport. “We’ve figured out who handles what tasks now; I provide a lot of organizational support,” says Ballew, her arms full of load-in schedules and notes from design meetings. Ballew has a high level of contact with all the divisions, as well as fellow interns. She cites Barricklo’s support as helpful in enabling her to develop good relationships with the various shops and departments, something she’s certain will be useful to her in the future.

The program not only hones interns’ skills but can provide a stronger sense of direction for them. This past fall, Jahana Azodi discovered how much she enjoyed working “as a part of a stage management team, whether my role is the stage manager, an assistant stage manager, or if I am only working on a project for a week or two. After this experience I will have a difficult time working as a solo stage manager again.” As for her future endeavors, Azodi says, “I learned I enjoy stage management projects that involve live music over straight drama.” Her Juilliard experience “has paved the path for my future career. I will now be pursuing work in opera and musical theater.”

Lisa Gavaletz, a stage management intern from 1990-91, found her experiences similarly enlightening, and her work at Juilliard fed directly into her career path. “I learned from each of the professional stage managers I had the chance to assist, including what I liked (and sometimes didn’t like) about the way that he or she worked,” say Gavaletz, who synthesized the different techniques she learned, creating her own style. She now works largely on Off-Broadway shows and has also returned to Juilliard to work, stage managing two productions for the Drama Division this past year.

For costume intern Jessica Reiner, the hands-on work “has given me the confidence to take on costuming and assisting jobs on a professional level. All of my previous jobs have been me shopping and bringing items back to a rehearsal hall, with no interaction with costume shops at all.”

Kathy Hood, once a stage management intern and now administrative director of the Drama Division, says her internship “opened up other thoughts and possibilities” as she saw how the experiences and abilities she gained could be “parlayed into other positions,” such as company management. Making the most of Juilliard, and making the most of yourself—that’s what the program is all about.

 

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