starting for free

a debate, if you can talk about a debate that is happening on Twitter, has ragged about internships and volunteers working on professional productions. As with all things i think this is more complex than a black and white issue. I have not seen tweets of moral indignation about the volunteers working on the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Quiet the reverse. They have been lauded. Let me be clear. I completely understand that a culture of unpaid internships will mean that only those with independent means or family support are going to take up those opportunities and that we will narrow the range of people entering the industry… and that will be self defeating. We do occasionally offer up internship opportunities and they are always paid – usually attached to a major project because these moments can offer a variety of opportunities,


hand on heart nearly all of the internships we have offered have gone to graduates – and, strangely, rarely to people who have studied drama.  (We have managed three long term placements closer to apprenticeships and at least one of these has been particularly successful.) So we are already drawing talent from a narrow pool. Whilst we do pay – £1000 a month – it is the training, support, advice and experience that is valued most. Every intern is encouraged to undertake a training course (often with ITC or TMA) which we pay for. We also help them with their CV, introduce them to potential employers, register them with the range of job sites etc. I should also say that all the interns we have worked with in the past three years are working in the arts.

Recently we sought an intern to work with the theatre team. We don’t always take on the most capable – there are times when we have met serial interns who are clearly ready for work. on this occasion there were are at least two people who brought skills, enthusiasm and a desire to discover more. We offered the opportunity to one and agreed to meet the other to see if there were ways we could support her. She asked, and we agreed, that she could spend some days with us finding out more about the range of roles in the arts that there are – she trained in fine arts.And so many Thursdays she comes in, unpaid, and works in each department.

There are other ways in beside the graduate root into the industry. We have had work experience, apprenticeships even community service placements and they have taken time, energy and care.

This whole blog started with a conversation about volunteer performers – especially in Theatrebumbumtrain. A show in which the cast don’t rehearse in which performing is closer to being part of the audience (for free). I don’t have a problem with this. indeed i delight in the ideas and questions it asks. And – judging from the tweets – there is much delight to be had from being in the show. I mentioned the Olympics earlier. A colleague of mine spent upwards of 15 days shlepping over to East London to rehearse for the closing ceremony, at her own cost and for no pay. As it happens she trained as an actor, although i don’t think she did it for her CV.  She did it because she wanted to, on terms she understood and she enjoyed it.

I am all for opening up the industry, for broadening the ways into theatre. but I am no gate keeper. I am as interested in young people redefining what theatre might look like. And every young theatre company is investing huge amounts of their own time and resources to make their work.

I could go on but i wont. I just think that, as with all things, it a more complex solution than just making sure all internships are paid.



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