Fetching coffee. Filing. Making photocopies. For a lot of us, internships are synonymous with drudge work, useful mostly for how they look on your resume after they’re finished. But the Internship Program at Center Theatre Group is an entirely different beast—one that changes the lives and career paths of undergraduate and graduate students, and might even be changing the face of the Los Angeles theatre and arts community.
Former Center Theatre Group interns work in nearly every department within the company, and are scattered across Southern California theatre companies and nonprofits. Whether they’re in production or management, development or education, many share a similar story of getting one foot in the door—and finding themselves pulled into a deep, lasting relationship with the organization.
While getting her master’s in theatre arts management at California State University Long Beach, Center Theatre Group Artistic Development Program Manager Patricia Garza interned in the Education Department in fall 2007, then transitioned into Interim Company Manager at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (first as a graduate fellow then a paid employee), got hired by the Education Department, and moved to Artistic Development six years later. “My internship unlocked that I could do administrative, behind-the-scenes work and still play a big role in day-to-day operations of a theatre company,” she said. “That was a big a-ha moment for me.” Garza got her hand in a lot of different departmental pots as an intern, and today she advises her own interns to do the same thing. “It’s an opportunity to create your own path, just as I did when I was an intern,” she said. “Doors are open for you that are very hard to open from the outside.”
Doors are open for you that are very hard to open from the outside.
Manuel Prieto took her advice seriously during his 2011 internship. Prieto was on the path to becoming a designer when he landed a position in the Education Department with Garza. Besides developing skills like budgeting, grant writing, and writing lesson plans, the internship “activated the notion of being an artist, administrator, and also educator,” said Prieto. Today, he continues to do design work and works as a teaching artist but is also—while still in his 20s—the executive director of Los Angeles Music and Art School, an arts education nonprofit that has offered classes to East L.A. children and adults for over a half century. “I get to pick and choose my design gigs but also make an impact so that hundreds of students can have daily access to arts education,” he said. He currently has four former Center Theatre Group interns working for him.
Many former interns acknowledged the important role played by their individual supervisors. “I’m very appreciative to my supervisors for treating me like I was part of the team,” said Prop Assistant Eric Babb, who interned in the Props Department in spring 2013. “My internship supervisor created projects that were within my skill set but at the same time challenged me to expand on what I knew.”
While Babb and other interns got hired in the departments they interned with, a number of former Center Theatre Group interns discovered career paths they hadn’t realized existed in theatre. In fall 2014, Jazmine Jones interned in the Human Resources Department. “I was able to meet pretty much everybody within the company, so that helped me see what everybody’s role was and get some insight that way,” she said. As part of the career development aspect of the internship, every intern participates in a mock interview with a Center Theatre Group supervisor from a different department. Jones chose Development, and after working as a Temporary Assistant in Human Resources and Accounting, Jones moved to the Development Department, where she worked in a number of different capacities before becoming Donor Relations Coordinator last year.
I’m very appreciative to my supervisors for treating me like I was part of the team.
Interns are finding success beyond Center Theatre Group’s doors as well. Last year, Ana Rose O’Halloran became Executive Director of North Hollywood-based Antaeus Theatre Company. As an intern in the Development Department in 2008, “I got to put some of the things I learned in graduate school into practice,” she said. Her studies had focused on the intersection of marketing and development; helping put together the Center Theatre Group Annual Report dovetailed nicely. “It was one of my first big communications projects outside of school,” she said. O’Halloran became a Development Department employee, then moved on to become Director of Development for a pediatric nonprofit. “Without that base from Center Theatre Group, I wouldn’t be where I am right now,” she said.
Tiffany Moon, the new Managing Director of the Ojai Playwrights Conference, originally came to Center Theatre Group for the Sherwood Internship, which “is designed to expose you to L.A. theatre on the whole,” said Moon, and provides for mentorships in a number of different departments. She got to see plays all over Los Angeles, review applications for the Sherwood Award for Emerging Theatre Artists, assist with a Development event, work on social media for the Radar L.A. festival, and participate in the Writers’ Workshop. She ultimately got hired by the Management Department before accepting her position at the Ojai Playwrights Conference.
Without that base from Center Theatre Group, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.
Center Theatre Group has hosted interns since the 1970s in different configurations, but in 2012, the program was formalized and expanded to bring in about 50 students per year in departments across the company. “It’s competitive,” said Center Theatre Group Next Generation Initiatives Program Manager Camille Schenkkan, who supervises the selection process and runs the program. “We look for people who need an internship to achieve a career goal. Someone with the highest-level skills may not get an internship; we want people who will grow the most.” Schenkkan is also proud of the fact that many Center Theatre Group interns have no theatre background, and move on to take jobs in a variety of different sectors. But regardless of the career path they end up taking, most of them come away with a real affinity for the art form.
Choosing interns with different backgrounds, giving unusual candidates an opportunity they might not find elsewhere, and creating a diverse class each semester has long-term benefits, too. “A couple of years down the road, you and your former interns are peers,” said Schenkkan. “It’s a nice way to shape the colleagues you want to work with for the next 30 years.”
Center Theatre Group’s internship program receives support from Bank of America and the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation.