A Personal Note About Internships



Internships can be a great way to get some real-world experience without risking your early professional reputation. By definition, an internship is for learning. However, over the years, many theatres and companies have taken advantage of the internship idea, as well as the usual eagerness and lack of experience of their interns. This has resulted in a sizable segment of theatres using their interns and internship "programs" as a de facto source of low paid or unpaid labor. It has gotten bad enough that there is now a trade group, Lift The Curtain, specifically about ending such practices. While I am not affiliated with them, I encourage you to check them out at www.liftthecurtain.co .

Internships are intended primarily for learning, and for the primary benefit of the intern. An intern's work is supposed to complement, but not displace or replace, the work of paid employees while providing significant educational benefits to the intern.

That said, you may find internship listings on this, and other sites, that appear to be asking to fill internships that act as much of, or the majority of the crew for a show or theatre. I ask that you carefully scrutinize such listings.

Things to keep in mind:

An internship is primarily for learning, not to be responsible for performing a specific job consistantly. Be wary of internships that list a specific position of responsiblity: you're supposed to be learning from others, otherwise they should being hiring you as a regular employee.

An internship with a company, by default and by law, does not consitute a promise of future work with the company, or a "leg up" when appyling for a regular job with the company.

The less an internship pays, the shorter the commitment/timeframe it should have. In my personal opinion, you should only consider an unpaid internship if all of the following are true:
- You are still in college,
- You can get college credit for it,
- It is for the specific thing you are interested in (don't bother interning with a lighting department if you are really interested in stage management),
- It is for a short period of time,
- And it is either in your current local area or in one you can easily get to/stay in.

Generally, all paid internships should pay at least the equivalent of the local prevailing Minimum Wage. This is no lower than the Federal Minimum Wage, which as of this writing was $7.25 an hour. At this wage, every 10 hours is equal to $72.50. A 40 hour week would be only $290.00 at that rate. Be sure to check the prevailing Minimum Wage for the area(s) the internship will be done. For example, Chicago's Minimum Wage is currently $13.50 to $14.00 an hour, depending on the number of employees an employer has.

Many internship listings will have a low pay rate, but include housing. Please note that many of these companies consider the housing as part of the pay. However, you should have some understanding of the expected weekly hours, and the approximate value of the housing. Please note this may not be feasible for rural locations where the company basically has to provide housing for all staff, as there aren't other options in the area.

Do not accept an internship you cannot afford to take.

Avoid internship "programs" that require you to pay to participate in the program.

Do not take multiple internships. If you are trying to find work, find work. The work is there (at least, when a pandemic isn't stopping it). An actual job always looks better on a resume than an internship.

The sobering truth of entering the "real-world" of professional theatre, is that no one cares "where" you went to college. College provides the opportunity for learning. Employers only care if you actually learned anything, and that can only be demostrated from working. Similarly, your internship will, in reality, only provide you a chance to learn in the "real world." It is for your personal benefit. Employers generally do not care where or if you interned.

Again, an internship is only supposed to be for the benefit of the intern. You should not feel pressured to take one. It is not a requirement for employment, and most employers will not care where or even if you interned.


Patrick Hudson
Founder, OffStageJobs.com

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