August 06, 2012
Alyssa Gill has spent the summer working at Victory Gardens Theater in Chicago, Illinois, as "Kemper arts management intern." It is one of the opportunities she has received through the James S. Kemper Foundation, which selected her as a Kemper Scholar during her first year at Knox College. For her Victory Gardens internship, which just ended, she rotated among the group's different departments: marketing, development and administration, and the box office. Her responsibilities included setting up photo shoots for posters, updating databases, developing spreadsheets, and selling tickets at the box office. A junior from Berkeley, California, Alyssa is majoring in theatre with a minor in business and management.
Describe your day-to-day experiences.
I rarely had a "usual" day-to-day experience because I always rotated between departments. I was often asked to help out my co-workers with small projects, even if I wasn't working in their department that day. Most of the time when there wasn't a big project, I would help out with filing or getting into contact with people we were working with, and the smaller tasks such as taking notes at meetings.
Usually, I would have a bigger project that I was working on -- such as organizing press clippings for current and past shows, or researching a lobby display for the first play of the season, and I would take breaks from my research or work to help out with anything that needed help right then. It seemed like every day I had an update to make on the database that Victory Gardens uses, or some survey data to enter, and those were the kinds of smaller things that I would do. In the box office, I also ended up making a lot of phone calls to subscribers and getting them to re-subscribe. I even got to read scripts from past seasons and for the upcoming season.
It was great because I really feel as though I was able to experience the way this theater runs from all angles, and I'm happy that they chose to put me into so many different jobs.
How did you learn about this opportunity? Did anyone from Knox play a role?
Last year, I was chosen as one of two Kemper Scholars (at Knox), and part of the program is having an internship in a non-profit organization in Chicago for the summer between your second and third year. Kemper scholars attend a conference in August for three summers, during which we hear presentations made by other Kemper scholars from previous years. The Kemper scholar who worked at Victory Gardens last year absolutely loved his internship.
Though I got the internship itself through the Kemper Foundation, I also met with Knox Professor and Chair of Theatre Liz Metz to ask about different theater companies in Chicago that I could potentially pursue an internship with.
Of course, without Knox, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to be a part of the Kemper Foundation at all. It is because of Knox's values and commitments to learning and general excellence that I was even able to be a part of this program.
Can you cite an example of how your in-classroom and/or out-of-the classroom experiences at Knox have benefited you in the internship?
I've done a lot of character work in my various acting classes at Knox, which came in handy when the producer of Victory Gardens' IGNITION festival asked me to write character descriptions for each of the five plays being produced. In addition, my job as the Theater Advisory Board house manager prepared me well for volunteering as an usher during special events and shows that VG had, because I knew exactly what was expected of me and what I needed to do to help the house manager -- especially when it got a little chaotic.
How do you think this internship will benefit you in terms of your education, future career plans, personal development, etc.?
Working a 9 to 5 (or in my case, 10 to 6) job for the first time was eye-opening for me. It is very different from the college experience and very difficult to adjust to. I'm glad I have had this opportunity to experience it -- and that I will know what to expect the next time I work eight hours in a row. This internship did give me a lot of ways to explore the different departments within the administrative side of the theater, and it is inspiring me to look further into those separate departments.
I particularly enjoyed my time with marketing and am thinking about looking more into PR (public relations) and advertising in the future. In addition, this internship has made me think a lot about where I am in my career right now. I'm still in a period where I'm learning so much -- which is why I think internships are so important. I got to see how a theater operates. I already know from my experience in classes and shows how the artistic side works, but the administrative side is a whole other story. (Photo below right: Alyssa Gill, second from right, with other staff members at a donor party to kick off the IGNITION festival.)
What inspired you to pursue the internship?
I love theater, and I would love to be able to do almost anything involving it as a career. There are so many opportunities to work in theater beyond just acting or anything artistic, so I've gotten into the idea of doing administrative work. I had an internship with Prairie Players Civic Theatre (in Galesburg, Illinois) last summer and wanted to continue getting similar internships. I found it interesting at my internship that most of my co-workers seemed to do their jobs because they loved theater, no matter what they had studied in college.
What has been the coolest part of your internship?
The coolest part of my internship was getting to work on the photo shoots for the upcoming season posters. Though I ran into many difficulties, especially in finding an authentic 1920s women's swimsuit (we had to improvise on this one, and we also ended up hiring a costume designer when the issue came up for a second time), it was great to actually get to experience what a professional photo shoot is like.
I think the most memorable part of my internship was attempting to find a giant sandwich for a photo shoot. I called all over town to different prop rental places, and they only seemed to have giant hamburgers, which just weren't going to work. The story ends with me buying a three-foot-long sub sandwich from an Italian deli in Lincoln Park and taking it on the bus to the photo studio. It was so long that at the photo shoot we had to attach it to a piece of wood with rubber bands to keep it from falling apart.
What did you expect to learn from this internship experience?
The only thing I expected from this internship was that I would learn something. I didn't come in thinking I would learn any specific things; I just wanted to see how the administrative side of a theater company works. I got a glimpse last year with my internship at Prairie Players, but I found this internship to be a lot different.
Among the many things I've learned, the biggest lesson that I've learned is about patience and working with others. At Knox, I'm used to people helping each other out with whatever they need, and it shouldn't have been surprising to me that the theater community in Chicago is the same way.