Planting Seeds and Learning Patience

by Amy Harris

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

Post image for Planting Seeds and Learning Patience

(MTC Assistant Education Director Amy Harris in a mock interview with Bowie State University student. Photo: Professor Renee Charlow.)

Manhattan Theatre Club’s Education Department has been working to remedy a lack of diversity within our internship program for several years.  At the onset of the A-Ha! grant, the department assessed the efforts we’d previously undertaken, as well as strategies we’d considered but couldn’t execute because of lack of time and/or money, and outlined our desired outcomes for the grant period.

Prior to the grant, our initial approach to introducing more young men and woman of color to the Paul A. Kaplan Theatre Management Program was to partner with branches of the City University of New York (CUNY) that had strong theatre programs. We provided free tickets to raise awareness about the company and facilitated seminars, both on campus and at our administrative office, delineating best practices for the creation of résumés and cover letters, and providing tips on successful interview techniques.  While these offerings were well received, there was little correlation between students who attended these events and applicants to the Kaplan internship program. When we spoke with both students and professors about the disparity, two key issues arose.  The first was a lack of interest – the number of college-aged students who aspire to work on the administrative side of theatre is dwarfed by the number that wish to be involved in a creative role either as an actor, director, or playwright.  The second was a combination of time and finances – the hours required for MTC’s internship were prohibitive given the students’ schedules, which included not only school obligations (both academic and theatre-related) but also part-time jobs and family commitments.

This winter, we focused our attention on two of our key goals for the A-Ha! grant:

1.) Local Recruitment – We didn’t want to exclude New York City students from our process simply because past efforts had met with limited success.

2.) National Recruitment – A hypothesis we wished to explore was that a significant percentage of students who attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) may have families that could help support their choice to intern with MTC for a semester or a season.

Towards the goal of local recruitment, MTC partnered for the second year with Disney Theatrical Productions and Roundabout Theatre Company to host a 2 ½ hour training on résumé writing and interview techniques for local college students interested in arts administration. This year’s program saw an increase in participation which we partly attribute to our ability to provide dinner and a free ticket to an MTC production, thanks to the A-ha! grant. Additionally, every participant that attended was informed of the event by a professor with a direct relationship with MTC’s Education Department -relationships we’d developed through on-campus recruitment events and free tickets offers to students, both underwritten by the A-Ha! grant.

With regards to the second goal, I embarked on two recruitment trips. In February, I went to Washington, D.C., where I visited Howard University and Bowie State University, and participated in a panel about Education and Inclusion at the Black Theatre Symposium at the University of Maryland, College Park. In March I went to Philadelphia to visit Temple University. These trips allowed me to speak directly to students and professors about the benefits of an administrative internship in general and one at Manhattan Theatre Club specifically. (A note of gratitude goes to our consultant Marcia Pendelton of Walk Tall Girls Production for making the introductions to key personnel at these universities.)

Tri-theatre Recruitment Event

(Attendees assess a sample résumé at a professional development workshop for New York City college students. Photo: Victoria Barclay.)

Assessing these visits, I realized that I encountered a road block that also hampered local students – the desire to be an artist first and an administrator second (or third or fourth) on a list of aspirations.  What I came to realize was that our efforts to foster an interest in arts administration must align with the students’ current interests and their academic structure.  Here are two of the key takeaways from my research so far:

  1. Highlight the benefits of administrative experience for an artist: When speaking directly with students my pitch regarding the Kaplan program started by addressing the virtues of an administrative internship, but I also explained that administrative experience would benefit individuals who were interested in starting their own company (an artist also needs to know how to sell tickets and raise funds for their production) or wanted a day job that was still connected to theatre.  These sentiments really resonated with students.  Additionally, while encouraging students to pursue their dreams, I also suggested that a Plan B which includes arts administration should be considered and that an internship could act as a bridge to future full-time employment.
  2. Emphasize the importance of gaining this experience now: In order for students to gain an internship at MTC (and I would assume the other mid-size and larger non-profit theatres that provide sizable stipends) they will need to have at least one previous administrative internship/job on their résumé. For students with concerns about gaining this type of experience while carrying an academic course load, I encouraged a work study assignment as an usher, a house manager, a box office assistant, or as a departmental assistant; all positions that provide transferable skills.  Additionally, I suggested they explore the option of an internship for credit.  This would allow for real-world experience and the acquisition of a reference while working toward a degree.  These suggestions were particularly well received by students with financial concerns.

I Heart HU Theatre

While I’d hoped both the local and national recruitment events would yield a sizeable and immediate increase in applications, I’ve come to realize that this process will have multiple steps and may require two or three years before underclassmen are in a position to apply to the Kaplan program.  In short, a combination of action, patience and persistence are necessary to achieve change.

Harris 5.18.15Amy 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.

Photo Descriptions:

1) MTC Assistant Education Director Amy Harris in a mock interview with Bowie State University student

(credit: Professor Renee Charlow)

2) Attendees assess a sample résumé at a professional development workshop for New York City college students

(credit: Victoria Barclay)

3) Howard University’s Theatre Department was the first to host MTC during a February recruitment trip

(credit: Amy Harris)