Friday, November 24, 2017

Advice for Education Directors looking to Grow Your Internship Empire!

From a very humble beginning (I started as a summer intern at the Omaha Theater Company back in 1995 because they offered no money, but free housing).  I now rule over  my own intern empire with 20 annual interns!   Mwaaa!  Haaa!  Haa!  Haa!   How did I do it?  How did I expand my power so much over the last 18 years?

Well actually, it is not about power or control.  I am passionate about theater education and working with young teaching artists to become better teachers.  I think a strong internship program can be an asset to the field, to your company and to the young teaching artists.   I also have learned a LOT after many mistakes.

How do you grow your program?

Executive Directors love internship programs because it is a very cost effective way to add more staff and increase programming.  So as an Education Director, our job is to protect the interns and provide them with a quality educational experience, while also improving the quality of the programming we provide to our community.   Our internship program at the Omaha Theater Company slowly grew over the years to include more interns, free housing, and now the teaching artist fellowship.  We were continually assessing the program internally and with the graduating interns to improve the program and make sure we can support the program.

The Rose Performing Arts Center for Young People and Families in Omaha, NE

The Rose Performing Arts Center for Young People and Families in Omaha, NE

How do you recruit the best applicants?

  • -Cast a wide net for intern applicants.  By advertising nationally, you can get a more diverse group of applications (which can feed your teaching artist pool and increase the diversity of your contract teachers).
  • -Developing a long range partnership with a regional university with a strong TYA company can help both programs.
  • -Connect to the TYA field to look for job opportunities for young teaching artists.  If your company can’t provide jobs for graduates of your internship program, it is very useful to know of other entry level positions so the young teaching artists can continue their path.  Graduates of the program are great ambassadors for recruiting new applicants.

How much work do you expect from the interns?

Another key element of a successful internship program, is to be upfront and clear with the interns about what is expected.

  • -How many hours will they be expected to work?
  • -Can they get a second job?
  • -What are their responsibilities (administratively and educationally)?

Before we offered free housing and increased our stipends, our internships were part time.  But now all of our internships are full time (40-45 hours a week).  How much teaching they lead is based on the experience of the internship.

How do you keep the interns from quitting?

I’m not always able to keep them all from quitting, but I work hard to make sure the internship program is good fit for the applicants.  I feel strongly that for an internship program to be successful, the intern applicants have to know what they want to get out of the program AND the program can provide the opportunities, training, and feedback for the interns to gain that experience.

  • -What opportunities do the interns have to try their skills?
  • -What opportunities do they have to work with experienced teaching artists?
  • -What opportunities do they have to get specific feedback on their work?
  • -What time is set aside for the interns/fellows to reflect on the work?
  • -What time is set aside to teach the interns/fellows?

Interns and fellows work long hours for the company for little money.  If we provide a strong educational experience with clear expectations (on both sides), it can be a successful experience for both the company and the interns.  Hopefully, if we have strong communication, there will be no surprises when the interns and fellows arrive.

We also make sure we offer opportunities for the interns to explore Omaha (like inviting them to the amazing Vala’s Pumpkin Patch) and socialize with each other (like at our annual themed Tony Party).  We also assign the teaching artist fellows a specific staff member to be their mentor, who meets with them once a month to keep checking in on how the intern is doing.

Themed Tony Party

Themed Tony Party

The Omaha Theater Company hires 7 summer theater education interns (deadline Feb 1st) and 4 school year teaching artist interns (priority given to applicants who apply by Feb 15).  Click here for more info.

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