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'And thereby hangs a tale' of interns at Shakespeare Festival

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 15, 2011 - When Shakespeare Festival Executive Director Rick Dildine interviews prospective interns, he asks applicants to tell him what they want to learn from the program.

"I'm looking for someone who can articulate what they want to learn," Dildine said. "Because when you have someone who walks in the door and says these three things are the things I want to know more about, then I can craft an experience for them."

Dildine describes his approach as a reverse internship because he believes the experience should be a two-way learning process. He looks for interns who know what they're looking for, but he also looks for students from whom his staff might be able to learn from as well.

Nuts and Bolts

This summer, five interns work full-time for the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis. They come from a variety of schools, including Saint Louis University and Webster University. But not all of the interns are from the area or go to local schools. Their majors vary, too. Some work on the business side of the production and others on the artistic.

Prospective interns apply within the broad areas of arts administration, education, marketing and PR, arts and social media. The arts category includes students interested in acting, directing or other stage craft. Past interns have gone on to work with the festival.

Dildine often allows the interns to head major projects. Dildine said Adrianne Smith, a PR intern and recent St. Louis University graduate in communications, has taken a major lead in handling the press. Administrative assistant intern Carl Schneider was the assistant producer of Shake 38, a citywide, 38-hour Shakespeare marathon promoting the opening of the festival. Schneider is also a recent graduate from Saint Louis University with a degree he created himself, theatre administration.

"We do all of Shakespeare's plays, hour-by-hour in those 38 hours," Schneider said. "It was really exciting coming in as an intern because he basically handed that project completely over to me."

Of all the interns, Smith has worked with the festival the longest, starting in September 2007. She keeps track of media mentions about the festival, drafts news releases, helps with opening night and arranges media interviews. As a part of the social media team, she helps to update the Shakespeare Festival blog, and at the festival she works at the info tent.

She said she expected the job to be mostly administrative office work, but it has turned out to be more involved.

"It's been really hands-on, which I've been very appreciative of," Smith said. "[The staff] make you feel like you're a part of the team, your input matters, they ask your opinion, they take your questions into consideration. We get so much done here with such a small staff that it's amazing, but everyone is really laid back at the same time."

Behind the Curtains

Dildine said interns in a few areas need to have a background in theater. The arts administration, education and festival areas should be familiar with the theater, but that's not necessary for the social media and PR areas.

With a theater background that dates back to her middle school years, stage management intern Natasha Nelson was prepared to work with the festival when she started four years ago. Outside of the festival, she was an intern at Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas last semester. She just graduated from Webster University with a degree in stage management and said her ideal job would be to continue working with the Shakespeare Festival. After this show, she will return home to Houston where she will work as an intern for the Houston Shakespeare Festival.

"As a stage management intern your first year, you're in the rehearsal process and you're part of the stage management team, but obviously it's their show and they're going to do it. So they're going to give you whatever responsibilities they think you can handle. It starts off pretty basic and you're very much observing, but you're there and if you can do it, they let you do it. Whereas now, since this is my fourth year doing it, I have a lot more responsibilities now," Nelson said

Along with others on the stage management team, Nelson helps with scheduling, working with the actor and the design team to make to make sure everything is coming together so the production runs smoothly.

On the business side, Stephen Hayes is a social media intern. A graduate from George Washington University with a degree in business administration, he works full-time at Truman Bank. His job is to manage the Festival's Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and YouTube accounts. With Hayes' help, Shakespeare Festival St. Louis is now ranked third in social media interaction among the city's arts groups.

"I Tweet a couple times in the morning to try to stay on and see if people are talking about coming to see the show, and then I Tweet more during the evening when the show is actually going on and try to engage with people who mention 'Shakespeare,' 'Shakespeare Festival,' or 'Shrew,'" Hayes said.

Jacks and Jills of All Trades

Dildine looks for a sense of humor in the interns he hires.

"We're a small not-for-profit theatre, no one is above any job we do, so it is all hands on deck," Dildine said. "You want to have someone who can embrace the fact that one minute they're scheduling board members for a major fund-raising event and the next minute they're asked to help clean a table up after someone's had a big meal."

Schneider agrees. While he was working on Shake 38, he was also taking 18 hours of classes at St. Louis University and double-cast in two plays.

"It really is a great thing about the Shakespeare Festival that they give their interns legitimate work and we're not just picking up dry cleaning or coffee," said Schneider. "But on that note I remember one week when I needed to email every single person participating in Shake 38 and I walked into Rick's office, and we had done an office move and he asked me to unpack every box. I was like, 'OK,' but I managed to get it all done."

Intern Alec Sydlow may have the most variable job. A sophomore at Truman State University, he began as a marketing intern two weeks before the festival began. His job was to contact politicians and other VIPs to invite them to the play. Now, his primary responsibility is coordinating volunteers, but his job responsibilities may change every night -- and that that's all right with him.

"I think the benefit of an internship is that you get to deal with something you're not expecting everyday," Sydlow said. "That's what real life is about, learning and adapting to what comes to you."

Abby Spudich, a student at the University of Missouri Columbia, is a summer intern at the Beacon.

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