By Rachel Cromidas
Photo by Beth Rooney

Building on his theater experience in this year’s Summer Incubator program could help second-year William Bishop land his summer dream job next year at Scotland’s largest theater festival, Fringe.

Bishop is one of five College students who got a two-week crash course in theater management and production during this summer’s Theater and Performance Studies/University Theater residency program. It provides select students with hands-on theater experience, while sharing University resources with local emerging theater and dance companies.

Students acquire skills that can lead to future opportunities, said Heidi Coleman, Director of University Theater. “Students help with drafts, they hang lights, they do everything,” said Coleman. “We’ve built destructible pianos and chairs that are really trampolines,” she added.

Bishop now has a growing repertoire of theater skills—building stages and sets, working on lights and sound, and being a general go-to man. He often spent his days hanging lights and cleaning UT’s three theater spaces in the Reynolds Club and Bartlett Dining Commons, but in the evenings, Bishop would work with the directors and actors, supplying them with anything from a half-dozen sofas to an elaborate banquet of fake food.

In total, six Chicago-based companies inhabited the University’s theater spaces, workshopping their latest pieces with the help of UT senior staff and student interns. This year, Summer Incubator welcomed Teatro Americano, Vintage Theater Collective, Caffeine Theatre, Cabaret Vagabond, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre.

A ‘Place to Create, Perform, & Brainstorm’

Bishop said Summer Incubator is all about giving local artists a place to create, perform, and brainstorm to further develop their ideas.

“They’re using the same theater spaces where we put on UT shows, and that’s what makes it so exciting. The night is the most exciting part for me because that’s when the actual theater goes on,” Bishop said. “I get to see the dynamics of how professional theater works. Now I know that I want to go into theater professionally.”

And thanks to Summer Incubator, Bishop believes he has a good chance of getting that coveted position at the Fringe festival next summer.

“Summer Inc is a good introduction into the ABCs of being a theater tech, from opening and closing a show to knowing the lighting and creative aspects of producing one,” added Alicia Graf, a third-year in the College and a program staff member.

Alumna Evelyn DeHais (AB’09) agreed. DeHais was an intern in 2008, and said the Summer Incubator experience informed her acting and directing as a member of TAPS/UT this year.

Director 101: Learning How Things Work

“A lot of people who are in the arts and want to be directors or actors don’t necessarily know how things work,” she said. Through Summer Incubator, “I basically came to really understand the spaces I wanted to do my art in, and understand their limits.”

DeHais has directed several shows for TAPS/UT, including the quirky “rock opera,” Prozak and the Platypus. “I directed two very big shows that had to be lit very strangely, and I was able to speak intelligently to my designers about what I wanted. I knew my technical details, and that’s unusual for a director.”

Another student intern Ben Schapiro also has been called upon to set up lighting for a photo-shoot and work a soundboard. But he particularly values the chance to watch the theater groups rehearse.

“The scene was five people in an apartment after a funeral,” Schapiro said, describing one rehearsal that stands out in his mind. As the actors ran through their lines, which described their relationship with a recently deceased friend, he paid attention to the director’s notes. “The director would say, ‘why did you do this?’ And the actors would say, ‘well, my character really wants to do this.’ They speak in terms you don’t really hear college students use. It was a great way to learn how director’s think.”

Schapiro, a College third-year, has orchestrated lighting and sound for various TAPS/UT productions and even gave a tap-dancing performance during his first-year. Like his co-interns, Schapiro embodies the diversity of personas UT students must take on when they create a production.

And Coleman knows the learning process won’t end with Summer Incubator: “After college, a lot of people think, ‘I’ve got these friends—let’s start a theater group.’ [Summer Inc] is demonstrating the logistics behind the romance of that. For students, the program fits into the whole of the year.”

Originally published on October 26, 2009.