Westport Country Playhouse: 75 years of interns
Published 3:30 pm, Saturday, August 13, 2016
WESTPORT — Year in and year out, for 75 years, the Westport Country Playhouse’s Woodward Internship Program has been churning out top theatrical talent.
Started in 1941, the summer program is named after Artistic Director Emeritus Joanne Woodward and consists of a 12-week intensive work experience for select college students who are passionate about theater and have demonstrated such an interest.
The internship program boasts an alumni network of 1,093, many of whom have yielded great success in the arts. Prolific composer Stephen Sondheim was an intern in 1950, actress Tammy Grimes worked there in 1954 and actor Cary Elwes interned in 1981, just to name a few. Aline O’Connor, Charlie Nork and Martha Stout, all former interns, are employed as full-time staff members at the playhouse.
According to David Dreyfoos, the playhouse’s director of production, who also oversees the internship program with General Manager Beth Huisking, the 2016 summer class has been consistent with the level of production the program is accustomed to.
“They take responsibility,” Dreyfoos said. “We hire them because they are capable of handling projects, so they all get a project and it’s a working, really good, ongoing program that we try to maintain at the same level that we maintain for our artistry on stage and our staff.”
Internship positions include general production, stage management, development, marketing, company management and front of house work. Interns work closely with senior staffers in their designated disciplines on a daily basis. In an effort to educate the students across the entire scope of the business, interns also attend seminars, where speakers or staff members educate the class about the wider picture of the theater business.
“It’s great for everybody to understand the wider, bigger picture of theater so that they get a well-rounded education of what that is. And it’s really important that they know how their job is interconnected to all the other positions and jobs,” Dreyfoos said.
Stage management intern Paula Escobar, a student at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, said working on “Buyer and Cellar” and “What the Butler Saw” has given her great insight into how the productions are constructed.
“I’ve gotten to see from the start how they put on shows, and I have been able to be backstage and see how they run things, as well as experience each department and just kind of see what they do,” Escobar said.
Production Stage Manager Megan Smith, who works with Escobar every day, has had a profound influence on Escobar’s summer.
“She gives us different tasks that we can do to help her out, and then she also teaches us along the way what she would do differently or what she likes that were doing. And then we get to see how she works with everyone, as well, which is what I would need to know in the future,” Escobar said.
Lindsay Fuori, the scenic painting and props intern, who studies at Boston University, has enjoyed gaining experience in both fields.
“I’ve been balancing the role of scenic painting and props, so it’s been very busy in a good way. The two kind of inform each other,” Fuori said. “Because I’ve been in both departments, I get to do a lot of work with the designers, which is great for me as someone studying scenic design and the directors.”
“We generate specific content for each show. So a lot of it has to do with designing content using Photoshop or Illustrator to market the show to specific audiences and designing things that fit with the shows’ themes,” Crittenden said.
During the time of the program, the interns live together in a house in Fairfield. Living and working in such close proximity has given the group a familial feel.
“We immediately became really close friends. … We bonded really quickly and became a family, and it’s one of the best things about this,” Crittenden said.