In the world of arts “on-the-job” experience is as important (if not, sometimes, more important) than a degree in the field when one is being considered for a job. The catch is how to get experience if you need it to get a job in the first place? Henley Street Theatre Company helps young people solve this problem by offering an internship program for high school students. “It is our responsibility to nurture and educate the next generation of arts supporters,” explains Managing Director, Jacquie O’Connor. “We believe that by offering programs such as these, we will not only generate interest in what the Richmond theatre community has to offer, but also stimulate learning about the power of theatre.”
The program sponsored by the Moses D. Nunnally, Jr. Charitable Trust allows high schoolers to explore career options in live theatre. “Henley Street really believes that live theatre is a wonderful way to excite young and old minds alike! Getting a taste for the “realities’ of theatre (which are not as glamorous as one might think, but joyful beyond measure) really helps students decide if this is the path they want to take,” says O’Connor. Students can apply for internship positions in acting, stage management, costumes, set design and construction, lighting, sound and properties. As a bonus a $100.00 stipend for their time – which might cover the cost of gas going to and from the theatre on most week nights and weekend days for the four to eight weeks required depending on the choice of internship.
“By working on a theatrical production students are learning how to work as a team and how to look at a task and problem solve how it gets done- really important life skills in addition to specific job skills,” says O’Connor. Some of the interns come with professional goals in mind while others just want to learn more about how professional theatre works. Ben Fox, a 16 year old tenth grader who attends the Steward School is enjoying an acting internship for Henley Street’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar. He is playing Brutus’ servant, Lucius and is part of the ensemble. “ I love Shakespeare, and I have always had positive experiences watching and working on Henley Street shows,” he says. “ I am gaining connections to fantastic Richmond area actors and learning from James how a professional show is put together.”
Sixteen year old, Kennedy Lorenzen, a tenth grader at Deep Run High who interned on The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe has returned to the program to work with costume designer, Margarette Joyner. Though she plans to be a restauranteur later in life, she believes that interning has given her a different perspective on how live theater happens. She says, “I can now admire everything in a show.” Her return costume intern friend, Charlotte Adams, a 16 year old junior at Collegiate, who aspires to be an actress/costumer hopes the internship will help with her career. “I want to be an actress, but I also have a passion for clothes, so I would love to pursue a career in both of those,” she says. “I was a costume intern at Henley Street Theatre last year for their production of Lord of the Flies and really enjoyed it, so when I saw that they were offering costume internships again this year, I jumped at it. This year I am gaining experience in the organization and production of costumes for a period show.”
“I wanted to try doing a Shakespeare show because it looked like a lot of fun,” says Diego Salinas, a 17 year old junior from Atlee High School who is playing Trebonius in Julius Caesar. “I am learning a lot about acting from this internship. I’ve seen characters portrayed in a very realistic way in this show and it has given me a new perspective on acting and interacting.”
But the life lessons learned are not always about theatre or team work. Lorenzen recalls a “running with scissors” moment behind scenes. “The other day I was helping with costumes, and I decided to work and watch the cast perform. Right when I finished, I picked up the seven long shirts, grabbed my scissors, and the pins. As soon as I started to walk up the marble stairs, I began to fall. I threw the scissors across the hallway and the two actors who were Julius Caesar and Brutus were right there and helped me get up. I was so embarrassed.”
Regardless of the types of lessons learned, their work with Henley Street is an important stepping stone for their futures. Says Fox of his ambitions for acting, “My next steps are to continue working on plays and making connections with people who will help me experience the art of stage performance to its fullest.” But the interns are not the only people gaining from the internship experience. “The most rewarding thing that we gain from the interns, something I hear from every mentor that works with them, is that these kids come to the table with fresh, bold, unaffected ideas. They remind us that its OK to be daring and take a leap of faith in our work. They keep us young.”
And that is what makes good theatre.