5 Reasons Why Working for Free (aka Interning) is Worth It

5 Reasons Why Working for Free (aka Interning) is Worth Itwill-work-for-freeInterning after graduation has become an expected norm and even a necessary factor for employment. This past April the New York Times reported that the current unemployment rate for 20-24 year-olds reached 13.2% (the highest rate since 1985). This means working for free while Doomsday Preppers prepare for economic fallout and your college loan bills start arriving in the mail along with Christmas cards. Needless to say, internships do not ignite financial confidence. So why do current graduates seek out these free 3-5 month opportunities? I have interned at several different theatres over the course of my undergraduate career and now after graduating in May, I am back for more as the directing/literary at Geva Theatre Center. Do I enjoy working for free? Not especially. Do I find internships to be a crucial starting point in my career? Absolutely. For those of you still conflicted about the importance of interning, I will share some personal interning experiences from my time here at Geva Theatre and the 5 things that make internships truly worth the time and no money

1.     Conversations That You Otherwise Wouldn’t Hear

“Oh, we’re not suppose to kick the sandcastle?”

In School (from pre-K to college) it is all about class contribution. Raise your hand, give an answer, work in groups, be the group leader, present your PowerPoint and make sure you participate more than your brown-noising neighbor. Internships provide you the great excuse to the sit back and let others do the talking. This is not the time to be Hermione Granger in potions class. This is the time to get out your notebook and write down any grain of conversation that you find helpful or worthwhile. These other people are professionals and what they say is based upon years of experience working in the field. I listened more in the last several months then I thought humanly possible. Of course I wanted to jump in and play with the other kids, but first I needed to learn how the game is played.

A well equipped intern

As the directing intern I observed Skip Greer, director of Freud’s Last Session, communicate with the actors and production staff during rehearsals and production meetings. After the first design meeting I realized this show was a big step up from any rehearsal process I had preciously experienced. This one would require me to observe and not take charge, which was the opposite of what I did as president of Harlequins Performing Arts Club. Keeping a notebook around at all times, I jotted down questions Skip would ask the actors, interesting discussions with the production staff and questions that I would later ask Skip. I discovered that good directing is not just about gesticulating all over the rehearsal room but instead allowing the other artists to do what they do best. Good directors also perform a balancing act of helping actors discover their character while maintaining the integrity of the script, finding the purpose of the play, sending a message to the audience and choosing which prop should go on which 1930’s end-table. In each of these cases Skip would listen first and then respond. It dawned on me that directors do a lot of listening. I noticed how Skip would often defer the actor’s questions back to them and then listen as they worked through an answer. This provided actors ownership of their responses instead of defaulting to the director.  Directors are masters of communication and therefore need to be proficient in both explaining their ideas and listening to others.Listening is a trained skill.  So make sure to listen and I mean actively listen to the working professionals that are giving you lessons in your desired field and not charging a dime for it.

TIP: Purchase 3-Subject notebook…and a folder.

2.      Anyone Can Be a Well of Knowledge

“Statics show that men look better in sweater vests…”

Unless you are a triple major with about 10 minors, it can be tough to communicate with other professionals outside of your intended field. Interns are given a free-pass to speaking with people in and outside their internship focus. There are highly intelligent people working around every corner. It would be foolish of you not to politely rap on their wall/desk/door and inquire about their career, especially if it is something that could potentially unlock a new interest. Do not be afraid to do this. Interning is your chance to blame any inquiring folly on “oh sorry I’m an intern” and slink away without as much as a verbal scratch.

Interning in directing and literary did not mean that I avoided eye-contact with other departments. I was lucky enough to be encouraged to seek out conversations with other theatre staff. During tech for Freud’s Last Session I asked the sound designer, Dan Roach, how he went about choosing the perfect ending song for a play. He told me that one violin tends to sound lonelier than a full orchestra and therefore the amount of musicians performing in a song can change the mood of the moment. Therefore, a marching band is probably not appropriate for the ending of The Cherry Orchard. Never before had I thought about the impact the number of musicians in a song can have on the mood of a scene. It seemed obvious and now I was better equipped in my understanding of sound design. During FONT (Festival of New Plays) I asked to come and watch with the actors as the visiting puppeteers gave a half-hour workshop on simple puppet movement for the staged reading of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Now I know the basics if I am ever needed for an impromptu puppet show. One morning, I even bothered Kelly Mahoney in Company Management. I asked her about the true definition of “Company Management.” Let me tell you, it is a lot more than buying plane tickets.

"This is the part where the cute fish leave no survivors"
“And this is the part where the cute fish leave no survivors”

All of these wonderful conversations helped in contributing to my knowledge and understanding of the complex artistic machine that is a theatre.

It is so incredibly important to ask questions and learn as much as possible. Who knows, maybe you will speak to someone who changes your whole career path. People expect and some want interns to ask them questions. They get to talk about their jobs and you get to learn. It’s a win win and as the late Francis Bacon said “Knowledge is power (baby)”.

Tip:No one wants to talk about the 2012 Election.

3.   The Importance of Copying (and other jobs)

Copy-Pro-OVR9000 even lightly toasts bread

The time comes in every intern’s life to take on tasks which so many other interns have completed with pride. Making copies. If you are lucky, the office will have a Copier-Pro-OVR9000 which allows you to copy papers, power through paper jams and make a delicious sandwich all while complimenting your fit physique. More likely, it will just be a normal copier used by every other employee on the floor. So get in, get your copy and get out.

Copying, hole-punching, setting up chairs/tables and the occasional coffee run are very important duties with which I was entrusted. If not for the completion of these duties the whole production could come to an inconvenient halt. These tasks did occasionally drive me nuts (copier paper jams!) but I realized that they were crucial in keeping operations running smoothly and without worry. During FONT I made multiple trips to the copier to print out updated scripts for rehearsal. These new editions would then have to be hole-punched and brought down to rehearsal room where the playwright would make more changes and I would be right back at the copier. Other activities included setting up chairs and brewing coffee.

A paper-jam beautifully captured using Instagram filter ‘Toaster’
A paper-jam beautifully captured using Instagram filter ‘Toaster’

These were even more vital to the success of a rehearsal. Chairs allow people to sit in order to discuss the qualities of plot development. A fresh cup-a-Joe is necessary for spurring the brain activity of late night artists. As you can see, making copies is not just about making copies, it is about helping other artists not fret over the smaller details so they can focus on bigger ones…like writing a play.

Everyone has a role to play and these particular jobs will remind of your intern status. There is a bright side to doing them without complaint. In exchange, you will get a resume builder and hopefully leave a nice impression on all the people whose lives you have made easier. Then as the circle of life spins, you can think back on your interning days and persuade the office to buy a copier that makes sandwiches.

Tip Always make sure to select the ‘collate’ option when printing scripts.

4.     Using That Academic Brain (smarty pants)

Rookie mistake

After spending a glorious amount of cash on higher education do not go and waste it by sitting on the skills which professors have engraved into your noggin for the past four years. Talk about a waste. Internships will ask you to call upon abilities such as writing clear complex sentences and reading articles with footnotes. Thus the time has come to use all of those critical thinking tactics and prove that you are ready to become an intelligent member of society. Use ‘lol’ and ‘meh’ on your own time.

Now that’s a professional.

The literary department is responsible for reading
scripts that are submitted to Geva and then writing script reports. These reports contain a synopsis, character development, dramatic structure and most importantly, deciding whether the script should be recommended for a second read or rejected. As the literary intern it became my responsibility to take part in this scrip version of Survivor. This task seemed intimidating for a multitude of reasons. What if my opinion was wrong? What if I rejected a good script? Will my play analysis be up to par? After reading my first play, a bizarre little romp about a talking Russian doll, I sat for several minutes debating on how to write a proper report. I felt I needed to impress the other literary members with my keen wit and insightful analysis. Before anxiety could full set in, the Literary Fellow Georgia Young reminded me that only literary staff would be reading these reports and therefore I should be honest with my responses but not worry. This small encouragement became a realization that they trusted my judgment of a well written script. In college I had written multiple script reports without so much as a second glance because I considered them practice, a grade, something I would be judged on but not personally judged. It was about time I started getting down to business because if I was unprepared to start making choices and sticking behind them, then I clearly needed another four years. Needless to say I have written multiple script reports since then. Ironically, the hardest part for me has become the synopsis.

Nothing will gratify and scare you more than knowing you will no longer be graded and that your opinion has started to matter. So use an internship as a means to build confidence that you are capable of completing professional work in the real world. No turning back now…except going graduate school.

Tip You will never, ever be too smart for proof-reading.

5.     Stop Pretending it’s Not ALL About Networking

“Don’t mind me over here in the corner”

Seriously, just own up. Everyone knows that internships are 1/4 gaining experience and 3/4 chatting up the people who are getting paid. These are the people who know people who know people who could maybe help you get employed. They are also people who have checked out the neighborhood and can tell you who takes out trash at 3 a.m. Take the time to talk with these people and get to know them. Now is not the time to be shy! It is very possible that you will meet them again and you do not want to be remembered as the sulking creeper intern. So let’s talk talking.


Networking is a bit difficult when it comes to giving an example. It’s more about continuing to be a genuinely nice person so people will remember you and want to work with you in the future. Within days I will be leaving the interning world and I plan to stay connected to the great people I have meet at Geva Theatre. Along with the random accumulation of items on my desk, I will take the great advice they have given me about networking:

“You do not have time to be shy in theatre” “Linked-In is a great way to stay connected. It is like Facebook but without all the embarrassing photos” “Why don’t you just go up and ask?” “Just pretend you are confident and smile” “No one is out to get you” “A simple ‘hello’ is all you need to start a connection” “Networking is the most important thing nowadays” “At first you might think you are shamefully selling yourself but really you are just marketing your talent and interest” “People want to work with nice people”. Not that tough right? I will keep these thoughts in mind as I finally begin my long journey towards a wonderful career in the arts.

Get out and interact in the world that you will be living in for the rest of your life. Chat up everybody, be nice and break out that award winning smile.

Tip Worst case scenario: the person doesn’t say hi back. Then move on.

In Closing…


Congratulations you are one of the lucky few who aquired an internship so don’t waste it!
Eventually, you will look back on the internship as wonderful days full of minimal responsibility, encouraging peers, inconsequential tasks, networking pathways, behind the scene tours and practice in real world responsibilities. And all of this for free! What a deal. Yes you will not be getting paid for a number of weeks but hey, your parents are probably footing the bills.


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