Unsure how to kickstart a career in the arts and culture fields? Emma, a final year Drama and English student, recently enjoyed a four-week paid internship at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Below she reflects on her experiences and talks about how her time will help build her career after graduation.
Hi there! My name is Emma and I study Drama and English here at Birmingham. Through the Careers Network at the University of Birmingham, I was able to experience a month-long summer internship with the fantastic Birmingham REP Theatre. This blog will give you a rundown of my time with the REP, the application process and all the things I experienced during my time and how this time has helped to prepare me for a career in the arts.
I decided to apply for an internship all because of an email. The Careers Network at the university is extremely present within student life, and the most common way you will interact with them is via their emailed communications. For every student, opportunities are placed on your doorstep, but there is always availability to get more actively involved in their career development through workshops, application support and internship opportunities such as the one I went on. This email was notifying me of the Experiences Arts Internship Scheme. This is something that the Careers Network runs every year for students, and there are a variety of roles for a variety of lengths of time available. I applied for internships at the Birmingham Hippodrome theatre too, but I remember seeing opportunities for museum curation, marketing and more! This is just one of several schemes that the Careers Network run, and the number of opportunities blew me away!
I remember reading the email and feeling incredibly excited about the opportunity the Birmingham REP were offering. Its official title was ‘Summer School Associate’, and the description promised work with the Creative Learning department to deliver children’s summer schools. As well as that, this position (like every position on the Experience Arts Scheme) was paid, so any financial worries I had about undertaking it were put to rest immediately. My dream job is a theatrical director, but I’ve always been interested in the facilitation of workshops, partly for my own artistic development, partly because they’re super fun. The Performance industry, like so many others, is highly competitive, so adding more strings to my bow means that in the future I have more options to work within the sector and network with the right people. Applying was a no-brainer.
All I had to do was fill in an application form, submit my CV and then attend an interview with the company. Being dyslexic, I find application forms a bit tricky, but the Careers network were incredibly supportive of me both for the application and interview. As you might expect from a prospective theatre director, I am much more comfortable with verbal communication, so I needed the most help with my written style for the application form and CV. Somehow, I still managed to feel like I’d waffled, but I think I accurately displayed my passion for the arts sector! Once I found out I’d got the role, I had a zoom meeting hosted by the Careers Network to give me some top tips for getting the most out of my internship. It was an incredibly smooth transition, and I knew exactly what I had to do and the deadline to do it by.
Before my internship started, I had a zoom meeting with my supervisor, and I was allocated a different weekly lead who would look after me. Due to the ephemeral nature of the some of the projects, this shifted a touch before I began, but I was able to make myself useful for the entirety of the month I was with the REP. I guess this is probably my biggest tip for others applying for internships – you are treated like an extension of the workforce, so ask to do more if you want to do more. Ask to try something new if you want to expand your experience. Take initiative, and be as useful as you can be, within the limits of your working hours. Yes, internships can open so many new doors career-wise, but this should never come at the cost of your physical or mental health. The REP was incredibly mindful of this during my time there, so I felt stretched whilst at work, but also that I had enough time to rest.
Week one began with the July heatwave and moving into my new house in Birmingham, so I was almost glad that I was scheduled to work at home! I spent my time planning and preparing for the first summer school I would be working, Spy School. Spy School is an immersive summer school experience run for local children. They play themed drama games in the morning, then go on undercover adventures in the evening. There’s always a twist in the tale, a surprise and so for everything to work smoothly, it needs meticulous planning. Sweltering in the heat that week, I managed to put my organisational skills to good use creating all the materials and props we would need to deliver the story. I even did a touch of voice acting, as I recorded the voice clips for the main villain of the week, an evil AI called Zellen. I got my first taste of the REP’s schools outreach programme, as I visited Braidwood Trust School for the Deaf to assist Bhavik Parmar (Head of Education at the REP) in some workshops. I had no experience of working with the Deaf community, not least for theatrical pursuits. It was an eye-opening experience to see how Bhav facilitated the workshop for the group. It inspired me to learn British Sign Language, which is something I’m just starting to do.
Week two I was in observation mode on site at the REP with the For/With/By Festival of European Theatre. This was the first week I was able to commute into the city, which was both cheap and quick! The REP runs the festival every two years, and youth theatre companies came to Birmingham to perform their own works and participate in workshops. I observed some of these workshops, ranging from puppetry to movement, voice to children’s theatre. It was fascinating to watch the workshop leaders teach their specialist subject to the group. I learnt what I liked, and didn’t like, about each of their delivery styles. I also got to observe the technical rehearsals and the performances of two shows performed by the Young REP companies. I haven’t been back in a theatre building since lockdown in March 2020, so walking back into these spaces was incredible. I can’t quite put into words the feeling of hearing a Deputy Stage Manager call a show after over a year of not being near anything like this.
My final two weeks were spent delivering summer schools for kids aged 7 to 12. First up was Spy School, and I felt incredibly prepared considering as I’d spent a week putting together the content plan. The week saw us break codes, follow a suspect, find treasure hidden around the building, confront a double agent and save the world. I was given the opportunity to lead some of the activities myself. It was headfirst into the deep end, but I hugely enjoyed it. I’ve worked with this age group before, but I had a lot to learn! After each day, Bhav gave me some useful feedback about my facilitation style that I could not have got elsewhere. It was onwards and upwards!
Also in the final week was A Play In A Week for the same age group. I think this might have been my favourite week in terms of my artistic development as a facilitator. I’m not denying it was hard – there were tears, cliques, upsets, the lot. But each child that threw a tantrum taught me something new about how to deal with things. Eventually, we made a heist/murder mystery play to show to REP staff and the kids in another summer school the REP ran. An exhausting month for sure, but one I’ll never forget.
And that is pretty much my internship! I have gained so many vital skills in communication, facilitation, leadership, and organisation from my time at the REP, and a whole host of new contacts within the organisation. Although my future is still a touch uncertain, I know I can continue to talk to the Careers Network about my next steps, and continue forging my relationship with the REP. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the building, particularly the Creative Learning and Stage Door staff who made me feel so welcome throughout my time.
So, what would I say to you, dear reader, about internships at UoB? First up, go for it. You’re never going to know what it will be like unless you try. Apply for as many things as interest you; each application is good practice. Grab yourself a notebook, a new google drive sheet, or just anything you have to hand to write down what you’re learning. Make yourself useful, ask for things to do, suggest things, do them when you have time. Say yes within reason. Do cool things at the weekend to unwind. Have the best time and be vocal if it isn’t the best time. Check out Careers Network for opportunities. Best of luck with all you have in your future, I’m sure it’s going to be bright!