By Denee Stewart Freeman
Growing up as a theatre kid in town, Nashville Children’s Theatre was an integral part of my childhood. Whether it was seeing the theatre’s production of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse or performing “Stone Soup” onstage during a summer camp, my family and I always felt the love of children and arts at the dragon guarded theatre.
This summer it’s been my joy to experience that love in a new way - no longer as a camper or audience member, but as a part of NCT’s internship program: a ten week opportunity for college students to gain experience either as a media intern, teaching intern, or production intern.
NCT is a stronghold for the arts and education, intertwined with both Nashville as a city and the larger Theatre for Young Audience (TYA) Community, so it only makes sense that many of us interns found this summer internship through those connections. Many had memories of direct experience with NCT or knew someone who worked as an intern or teaching artist, brought into the NCT family in an individualized way.
NCT is a place focused on people, and our bosses made that abundantly clear from the moment training started, where Alicia Fuss, Colin Peterson, and Jackie Komos worked to make sure we were equipped with the tools to teach kids, manage conflict, and take care of ourselves.
As one second year summer intern, Haleigh Johnson, said: “It’s such an amazing work environment. Our three bosses are all so amazing and supportive… always making sure we are ok and listening to any problems we have. They are so loving and willing to help us.”
That care is obvious in the many support systems built into the program and everyday moments. It’s the surprise of cupcakes in the green room on National Intern Day. It’s in the Wednesday Intern Summits, where all summer camp interns come together to check in and learn from one another. It’s the time they spent with me to review the Parent Photo Blog, teaching me how to gear content towards a specific audience like a parent who wants to know their child is having meaningful fun. “They care as much about what you are learning, as the work that you are doing,” reiterates intern, Megan Huggins.
And the internship is work. It’s challenging work that forces you to grow as person, educator, theatre artist, creator of media, and more.
For summer camp interns, each week brings something new: a new teaching artist with a new teaching style, a new age group, a new story to tell onstage, or different creative drama play to engage in. The teaching artists work with the intern’s strengths and encourage them to practice in areas where they feel less confident, whether it be leading warm ups, theatre games, crafts, dramatizing a story book, or staging a piece. NCT is a safe space to learn the important skill of facilitation, because there’s always a “safety net.”
And of course, there are Friday Sharings, where camps of ages 6-18 perform the piece they’ve worked on all week for their friends and family on the main NCT stage. “There’s that moment of relief and happiness and joy that the campers have for themselves after they’ve accomplished their show,” said Haleigh. Though some weeks can be draining, all interns agree the reward of Sharing is well worth it. “Anything that happened, everything kind of get revitalized when I see the kids go up,” Lexi Bresnan emphasized. Each week there is at least one of us out in the house crying or almost crying.
As a media intern, the experience has been about independence and balance. Unable to be in eight places at once, I learned time management in how to best tell and photograph the story of each camp’s day.
Whether by writing the captions or, for me, the photography, the internship stretches you into a more well rounded media developer. Any additional project idea I had was met with excitement and support from Colin and the marketing staff at NCT. On Fridays with no blog, there was a freedom of “What am I interested in adding?”
For Jhonna King, the media internship provided the opportunity to gain filming experience outside of school with children as the unique subject. In that subject she found a focus that defied structure. Capturing those beautiful, candid moments challenged her by removing the option of simply staging the clips.
Though we weren’t assigned to a single class, Jhonna and I were constantly with kids. In a way it was the best of both worlds; “Video and editing is my passion, but kids are my unconditional love,” Jhonna said. Between lunch and time in the classroom, you do form relationships. There’s an important balance of immersing yourself in order to truly be able to convey the magic that is happening in the classroom.
On the production side, there are the stage management and costuming internships. Both work on the Summer Drama School productions day in and out, whether at rehearsals or traveling between fittings and the costume shop.
Besides the friendships and professional connections with NCT staff, being able to work with high schoolers planning to study theatre at college, like themselves, was a really valued piece. Emma Cox expressed being so grateful to bond with a generation of artists joining the theatre community across the country. Not to mention, the learning experience that hands on work gave them to master essential skills from calling cues to aiding quick changes.
Truly though, the meaning of our summer as interns at NCT was growth. Whether it was a non-theatre intern putting themselves out there during theatre games or being changed as a person by the kids, we’re all moving on bettered from this summer.
The most meaningful part of the experience has been “investigating and exploring the ways that storytelling impacts people,” says Megan. “…getting to watch and be hands on with kids who are learning what it is to tell stories and how to do it well, who are learning what theatre can do and teach, has been really affirming for me as someone who wants to tell stories for as long as possible.”
I’m confident that the story of this summer, the stories each intern has about each week, class, and sharing, will continue to be told and continue to bring others in the family we’re grateful to have been so wholly welcomed into this summer.