Learning Where to Start

by Amy Harris

in MetLife/TCG A-ha! Think It Do It

Post image for Learning Where to Start

(The Fall 2005 intern class meets with Stanley and Rita Kaplan who endowed the MTC internship program in memory of their son Paul. Photo credit: Andrea Gorzell Hickey. This post is part of the MetLife/TCG A-Ha! Program.)

I’ve overseen the internship program at Manhattan Theatre Club for almost a decade.  I’m proud to have worked with tremendously talented individuals who’ve spent a semester, or a season, learning about best practices and using that knowledge to catapult into a full-time job. But I’ve also grown frustrated by the homogeny of the applicant pool.  The Paul A. Kaplan Theatre Management Program affords college students and early career professionals a dynamic, hands-on opportunity to learn about arts administration and bring those skills back to their communities, but I feel that only a fraction of the young people who would benefit from the program know about it.  The Think It! grant will allow MTC’s Education Department to explore means to recruit a more diverse pool of applicants, a step in the company’s overall diversity plan.

Over the decades since its founding in 1970, MTC has nurtured the careers of innumerable playwrights, actors, directors, and designers; the same is true for a vast number of theatre administrators as well.  MTC’s Executive Producer Barry Grove likes to say that MTC is akin to a teaching hospital.  Through our internship program, with its emphasis on project-based learning and mentorship, past participants have gone on to populate artistic and administrative offices in New York City and throughout the country.  For example, the executive directors at Second Stage Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, and St. Ann’s Warehouse all participated in the Kaplan program.  Equally telling is the number of former interns who have been hired to work at Manhattan Theatre Club.  Currently, the majority of departments here are staffed with at least one former MTC intern.

Spring 2011 MTC Interns

(Spring 2011 interns celebrate the opening of “Good People” with playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Photo credit: Amanda Cordell.)

Just as MTC is committed to presenting works that represent the myriad voices resonating throughout New York City and our country, so do we desire that our staff represent a cross section of our community.  Given the strong pipeline from intern to staff, it would seem that a step toward reaching this goal would be to hire more diverse intern classes; however, I’ve found this to be a challenge.  Over ten years, I’ve watched the number of applications grow and shrink in direct proportion to the health of our nation’s economy, but certain facts remain consistent.  One is that a large percentage of candidates hear about the program by word of mouth, quite often from a friend who participated in the program or from a college professor.  Another is that, despite my best efforts, the majority of the applications come from a limited demographic.  I’ve been uncertain as to how to educate young people about the Kaplan program, the benefits of an internship at MTC, and the satisfaction received from working behind the scenes in arts administration.

The Think It! grant affords the Education Department an opportunity to learn best practices to reach beyond our current promotional methods, to meet with educators at colleges and universities to introduce them to the Kaplan program, and to hear what draws students to various administrative opportunities.  To that end, we have already used money from the grant to hire Marcia Pendelton of Walk Tall Girl Productions to advise us on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with strong theatre and arts administration programs, to broker introductions at these academic institutions, and to familiarize us with other service organizations for professionals of color.  On-campus visits with staff and students will allow us to both educate people about our program but also to listen to their concerns and desires regarding an internship experience.  We will also be able to meet with theatres near the universities in order to glean best practices from those who have a robust internship programs.

As a theatre company, MTC strives to produce plays that elucidate our commonalities, educate us about our differences, and remind us who we are as a people and as a community.  An effort to include new points of view in our administrative office through our internship program and our staff can only strengthen our mission and help us tell the stories we feel need to be told.

Patricia Leonard and MTC Intern Joanne Schwartzberg(Spring 2013 intern Joanne Schwartzberg receives feedback on a grant applicant from her supervisor Director of Institutional Giving Patricia Leonard. Photo credit: Amy Harris.)

Amy Harris has been the Assistant Education Director and Coordinator of the Paul A. Kaplan Theatre Management Program since February, 2005.  Ms. Harris is a Co-Chair for the New York City Arts-In-Education Roundtable’s annual Face to Face Conference and has served on the Conference Committee since 2002. Prior to moving to New York, Ms. Harris worked in the Pacific Northwest as a teaching artist and administrator at Seattle Children’s Theatre, Book-It Repertory Theatre, and Youth Theatre Northwest. She has acted as both a panelist and moderator discussing best practices for internship programs for A.R.T./New York, the American Theatre Wing, New York University, and at the Face to Face Conference. Ms. Harris holds a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and an MA in Theatre Education from New York University.

The intent of the MetLife/TCG A-Ha! Program is to enable theatres to dare to try new approaches to problem-solving artistic, managerial, production and/or technological challenges–to try things the organization doesn’t and couldn’t normally do. To learn more about the program, click here.