Dear GRSF: Have you ever considered paying interns?

Dear GRSF: Have you ever considered paying interns?

“Dear GRSF” is a new series for our newsletters where staff and company members at Great River Shakespeare Festival answer your questions about the “whys” and “hows” of our company. To submit a question, click here.

Recently, a GRSF patron asked our leadership team, “Have you ever considered paying interns? What would it cost?”

Answer by: Aaron Young, GRSF Managing Director

Great River Shakespeare Festival provides a number of educational opportunities for early career artists and technicians. Among those is our internship program. Each year, we welcome between 20 and 25 college students who spend the summer with us learning professional applications to their field of study (costuming, stage management, scenery & prop construction, lighting, sound, education, and artistic administration).

In addition to the education benefit, interns receive free housing and an allowance of $175/week. In total, the festival invests approximately $55,000 (6 percent of its annual budget) in training these interns (including the cost of housing). Interns provide a valuable service as they work alongside professional employees in each department, but they are not employees. If the festival were to hire employees to do the work of interns, it would cost approximately $140,000 at Minnesota’s minimum wage plus payroll taxes.

Intern positions at GRSF are competitive and highly sought after. GRSF has been working for several years to add classes and mentorship opportunities to ensure that the internship program is a real educational opportunity and not merely cheap labor for the company. We seek interns who are at the beginning of their careers and offer them the chance to work in a professional setting, an opportunity that would likely not be available to them as regular employees because they lack experience. Many interns and apprentices go on to professional careers at GRSF and theaters across the country.

Programs like this are common in the theater industry, but we have to acknowledge that it is a flawed system. While it works for individuals who have the resources to spend a summer not earning a regular paycheck, it limits entry to the theater profession to those with independent financial support. Our Apprentice Actor Training Program presents an even greater challenge because early career actors in this program pay tuition to train with us.

Theater is already a low paying and unstable career. When the first step in that career is an internship or apprenticeship, it is difficult to achieve economic diversity in the industry as a whole. When we do not have a full range of voices in the room, our art is diminished. GRSF is part of this flawed system because it is not currently economically feasible to offer higher allowances to interns or to compensate those in the Apprentice Program. As the company’s financial resources grow, we will change this. To read more about the internship opportunities at GRSF, please visit http://grsf.org/education/intern/