Theatre Pre Grad Intern Rohan Mirchandani
The experience one has in a structured classroom course typically varies, but is almost always limited to what the required textbook can provide. I have taken many amazing classes in my academic career that were focused on traditional book learning, but my experience in the IE Pre-Graduate Internship program was entirely different. I was able to learn in a new way that no class has ever let me learn in before. There were no PowerPoint presentations, busy work assignments, or passionless lectures. Instead, there were practical, hands-on experiences and personalized projects. The internship was a helpful balance of both academic enrichment and real world experiences, ultimately leaving me knowledgeable and more equipped for professional work.
I interned under Hannah Wolf, a Master of Fine Arts candidate in directing. Unlike many of the internships that are undertaken in the IE program, directing is an artistic area, which made our semester slightly different. Research or graduate school test preparations are not apart of directing. When structuring our semester, we thought about my artistic goals, and how to best reach them. We then designed our syllabus collaboratively, tailored around the answers. While we set up a variety of projects for the internship, most of the work was focused on understanding and analyzing literature, in order to further understand the role of a director in the production process.
Hannah had many directing projects for her graduate school curriculum during the time we were working together. In order for me to get a better idea of the productions that are happening and to be exposed to the higher-level work of a graduate student, we thought it would be beneficial for me to complete many of her assignments, alongside her. After, we would discuss how she approached the assignments. That way, I could see and learn from another perspective. I was even able to sit in on a few of her classes to formally watch graduate school instruction.
One of the larger projects that Hannah had during the semester, that I was also involved with, was the curation and development of the UT New Theatre Festival (UTNT). The festival featured four plays, written by the playwrights in the graduate playwriting program. Part of Hannah’s job was to help the authors develop their work through the workshopping process, offering feedback, and giving a director’s take. The works were developed throughout the semester and performed at the festival in Mid-April. Scripts in the middle of the writing process are never in the public domain, but because I was involved in the workshops, I was able to read, listen, and help advise on their development.
Being in the room while a director and playwright work is a truly unique experience. The plays are read aloud by a team of actors, while the director and playwright scrutinize and analyze the characterization, rhythm, plot, structure, and purpose of the show. These early experiences typically shape the outcome of the final script. I was able to witness the process, and learn more about the role of a director in these situations. I had never been exposed to this component of directing, which is a actually an important facet of the job. I’m very fortunate to have had these experiences, especially so early in my career. I now better understand how to handle the workshop environment. In addition, they helped me look at and understand literature better in general. The intense and fine-tooth comb that we used to analyze the scripts is something I can carry with me in the future as I look at both works of drama, as well as any other kind of literature.
During the festival itself, I watched the plays finally being performed on stage. Afterwards, Hannah and I discussed the directorial workings of each of them. Critiquing is a great learning tool. By looking at the work of another, you can learn how to better your own personal work. You can examine another’s ideas, determining what worked to benefit the production and what hindered it. The more work one sees, the more one can learn.
Another unique aspect of our work was advanced design work. Directors are often responsible for the staging, costuming, and lighting for a show. While design might appear to be a series of aesthetic choices, it is far more complicated. The design is what creates the world in which a play lives, and thus, constitutes an essential portion of a show. The design work we did for her class was very detailed, and included staging every lighting shift and blocking every movement for an entire show. This process involves dozens of detailed sketches, and many more during revision.
I practiced my design work on a show called “Elephant’s Graveyard,” which follows the performers of a circus and their prized animals. The play takes place in 1930’s rural America. Because the time period plays such an essential part of the plot, ensuring the set and costumes were authentic was very important. Details as slight as the shade of burlap, or shape of a bowtie could destroy the allusion of the correct era. Intense theatrical and historical research, called dramaturgy, was completed in order to make sure all artistic decisions reflected the time period, to the exact year. The set design was equally weighty. The building materials needed to convey the damaged and timeworn nature of the circus. After witnessing the master’s students’ design briefs being reviewed by their professors, my appreciation for the craft was further elevated. The level of detail in which needs to be perfected was beyond my wildest expectation. Now, I have a greater understanding of what this process is truly like, and can see first-hand the consequences of inadequate research and preparation. I saw the shortcomings of my own work, but was enlightened with ideas for improvement.
I had several more amazing experiences during the internship that helped me to further my artistic vision. I am leaving the semester, full of new ideas to approach theatre with. I have been exposed to so many parts of the industry I did not even know of prior. Even my resume has benefited through the productions I have been able to involve myself with.
The program, and my talented mentor Hannah, provided me with countless opportunities to learn about the field I am so passionate about. Directing is something I have been involved in for years, but I have learned more in the past few months than I ever knew I could. I am so appreciative of all the remarkable individuals who helped make this semester such an exhilarating, daunting, and productive one.