Playhouse interns get backstage view of business
According to Shakespeare, all the world's a stage. At least it must feel that way for the 11 young people participating in this year's Woodward Internship Program at the Westport Country Playhouse. Named after the Playhouse's artistic director emeritus, Joanne Woodward, the program provides hands-on experience in all aspects of operating, producing and performing at the esteemed regional theater.
Although they have each been assigned to a specific department within the theater, and work daily under the supervision of experienced department heads, anyone even remotely familiar with "putting on a show" understands that everyone pitches in wherever he or she is needed. Interns, as well as any of the Playhouse's staff members, could be found pouring wine for guests at a preview party on the courtyard outside or helping crowds make their way from the box office to their seats.
"The interns jump right in and do whatever is needed," said Angela Marroy Boerger, the Playhouse's Education and Community Program Coordinator.
Each year Boerger combs through resumes sent from all over the country as she selects college students who wish to augment their studies by participating in a summer internship. At the Westport Country Playhouse, students work with theater professionals in the areas of finance, marketing, company management and development.
Interns also receive technical experience in production, wardrobe, scenic design and stage management. Additionally, one person is chosen to work alongside the director.
Boerger said that when she is reviewing the applicants, she prefers to find young people who already have "a commitment to their chosen field."
"Also, of course, we want them to have a real demonstrated interest and passion for regional theater," she added, with a smile.
In keeping with the communal feel that seems to be inherent in theater, Boerger is also on the alert for someone who is a team player.
The Westport Country Playhouse has sponsored an internship and apprentice program since 1946. Some of the more infamous alums of the Playhouse internship programs are Stephen Sondheim, Tammy Grimes and Mary Rodgers.
"I'm delighted that this year's intern class has been such an exemplary group because they're adding to this illustrious history," Boerger said. "They're all fantastically qualified and have already developed a wonderful fellowship, too."
Hailing from South Florida, intern Gwendolyn McKenzie has ties to the Westport Country Playhouse that go back for three generations. Her grandfather, the late James B. McKenzie, served at the Playhouse's executive producer for 41 seasons. Before she was born, her father Kevin, also a theater professional, worked as the Playhouse's Master Electrician for a couple of summers, she said.
With the smell of the greasepaint clearly in her blood, Gwendolyn will enter her second year of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and major in technical theater, with a focus on stage managing and set design.
She is one of two interns working as assistant stage managers this summer.
However, although she's only 19, Gwendolyn has already accrued a professional credit as a stage manager. This spring she was asked by one of her professors to work as assistant stage manager at an off-Broadway theater where he was working as the show's lighting designer.
Gwendolyn likes stage managing because it affords her the opportunity to be completely involved with each technical part of the production. "You have to know about every aspect of the show so that you could communicate with the designers," she explained. "It's also fun, though, because you get the chance to be in the rehearsal room, too."
As an assistant stage manager for Happy Days -- starring Dana Ivey and Jack Wetherall, and slated to open on Tuesday, July 6 -- Gwendolyn does everything from write down all of the blocking notes to sweeping the stage and presetting the props before each performance. When the curtain goes up, she will be "backstage on the head set," she said. This means that, as the production stage manager "calls" the show and makes sure that the technical crew knows all of its lighting, curtain and sound effect cues, Gwendolyn is the person with "the eyes on deck," she explained.
Gwendolyn has also recently enjoyed sitting outside, during a break in rehearsals, and "running lines" with the show's star, Dana Ivey. "She knows my name," Gwendolyn smiled.
In August, the Playhouse will stage the musical I Do! I Do! When rehearsals begin in July, Gwendolyn will be part of the Playhouse staff that will join the cast at rehearsal studios in Manhattan.
Although she doesn't have to travel far to her summer job, Caroline McDavid-Seidener, 20, of Westport, is also part of the Woodward Internship Program. Finance major at Salve Regina College, Seidener has been helping out in the Playhouse's management and finance department.
"I've always loved theater," Seidener said. A member of Staples High School's Class of 2008, Seidener added that her family frequently attends Broadway shows and her sister, Grace, 15, is a member of the Staples Players.
Seidener, though, enjoys working behind the scenes much more than in front of the curtain. This summer she is working with Managing Director Michael Ross and also assisting with bookkeeping duties in the Playhouse office.
So far, one of the more exciting aspects of the position has been in attending the recent meeting of the Playhouse's Board of Directors. Seidener said that it was interesting to see how a non-profit organization operates.
Regarding future career paths, Seidener might want to apply her aptitude for finance to the film, music and theater industries. "However, I am also open to being a trader," she added.
Interns for the Westport Country Playhouse receive housing, including paid utilities, in multi-family residences in Fairfield, Boerger said. This year one house is located close to the beach. They also receive a modest stipend.
"We try to make it a workable arrangement for college students," Boerger said.
The minimum age is 19 to participate in the Westport Country Playhouse's internship program. "I wanted to join last year but I was too young," Gwendolyn noted.