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Center Theatre Group Launches Apprenticeship Program

Training and Mentorship for Emerging Technical Production and Artistic Professionals

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The fall 2018 Apprentices.

Let’s say you’ve fallen in love with theatre. You think you might want to make a career out of working behind the scenes. You may have some experience with university theatre productions; you may have some experience in a different kind of work setting. But you don’t know anyone who’s done a job like the one you think you want to do. What’s next?

We wanted to find a way to help people at this key point in their work lives figure that out, so this fall—with support from SoCalGas, a member of our Corporate Circle—we launched the Center Theatre Group Apprenticeship Program. It’s a paid opportunity for people with no background in professional theatre to get hands-on training in technical production and artistic careers. Our first four Apprentices joined us for the World premiere of Quack at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (onstage October 21 – November 18, 2018) to shadow staff members, sit in on the production process, and learn and practice the skills necessary to work in their chosen fields over 100 hours.

There are a lot of opportunities available for people who are already in graduate school or already have more experience, but we’re trying to get people in the door earlier, said Center Theatre Group Next Generation Initiatives Director Camille Schenkkan. It’s really about where they are in their careers and where they’re going.

Our four Quack Apprentices fell in love with the art in different places, at different times in their lives, and come from very different backgrounds and perspectives, yet they all share a desire to take the next step into the world of professional theatre.

Technical Direction Apprentice Rex Harrison is a Marine Corps veteran who was introduced to working in theatre over the summer, with Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles’ production of Henry IV. I really liked doing theatre work and really liked the people I was working around. I didn’t know I’d have interest in working behind the scenes, he said. As an Apprentice, I’ve been looking more into what stage managers and assistant stage managers do, and I really enjoy that aspect of it. And I’ve enjoyed doing all the technical production as well, building the sets and designing stuff and solving problems, which I’ve always been kind of good at. But what he’s appreciated most has been getting to be a part of a group of really good people, he said. You become like a family and work closely together for this production, and you build really good relationships.

Relationships have also been a key part of the experience for Directing Apprentice Annie Barker. What I love about this program and working on Quack is that I’m learning from [the director,] Neel [Keller], [the playwright,] Eliza [Clark], from stage management, and from the actors. The actors have all been amazing, she said, explaining that they’ve sat down with her individually to offer their insights. I’m getting a chance to understand the role of director in all its capacities. She’s also grateful for the opportunity to work on her craft while moving her career path forward. I’m a young career director. There’s not a lot of concrete things to do. Unlike being an actor, where auditioning is your job, there is not that same task at hand for young directors to get into it, she explained.

An important component of the program is a diversity requirement: apprenticeships are intended for people who self-identify as a member of a group currently underrepresented in theatre production and artistic careers. Applicants had to think deeply about why they were underrepresented in their field, said Schenkkan. Considering everything from gender and age to experience and background opened up the possibilities for applicants instead of narrowing it, she added.

Production Management Apprentice Crystal Hui grew up in Hong Kong and graduated from college in May with a theatre degree. The experience opened my mind as to what American professional theatre is and how the work gets done, she said. She learned a great deal about the importance of time management. And she was impressed with the attitude and demeanor of her mentors when she witnessed a set piece malfunction during technical rehearsals. I could see how the production team fixed the problem and managed to keep things going on but not make them any worse, she said. That was a really great reminder to myself to stay calm and move forward in the chaos.

Staff members also appreciated the opportunity to take a step back from their day to day. For me to work with someone at the very beginning of their career and try to teach them makes me think of the art of what I do again, said Production Manager Christopher Reardon. I have to explain what I do and why I’m making the choices I’m making.

Assistant Production Manager Katie Chen added, I get excited about mentoring someone else because I’ve learned a lot just by doing it.

The Apprentices have also received individualized professional development opportunities, including resume and cover letter assistance and the chance to make connections with local mentors outside the company. We want them to enter the world of professional Los Angeles theatre with both experience and confidence—which will benefit not just them but the theatres where they work. This is one reason why this program aligns with SoCalGas’ charitable giving in the community. SoCalGas has provided clean, reliable, and affordable energy to Southern California for more than 150 years, said Sharon Tomkins, Vice President of Customer Solutions and Strategy at SoCalGas. We are also a long-time partner of Center Theatre Group and are proud to support education and workforce development programs, such as the Production Apprentice Program, that provide members of underrepresented groups with opportunities in STEM fields and various trades.

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