Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lensic Performing Arts Intern Program

The Lensic Intern Program was started in 2002 in order to offer the high school students in Santa Fe the opportunity to learn what goes into working back stage in a theater.  The current head of that program is Matt Sanford who joined as a student in its second year.  At the time he was in his junior year of high school, majoring in theater with the goal of becoming an actor. This program began to lure him away from the front of the stage to the back.  Every child must dream at one point or another of becoming an actor.  It looks so easy, and the fantasy is always attractive even after we grow up and call it dreaming!

Matt has now been working back stage for over 16 years.  At the Lensic he was recently promoted from Master Electrician to Stage Manager, all the while being director of the Intern Program.  He was kind enough to let me interview him and sit in on one of his classes.  He explained that he reaches out to all high schools within the Santa Fe school system, public, private and charter. He often has over 30 applications but only accepts somewhere between 8 and 12 students. This makes for a teachable class size, particularly when working in smaller spaces and in potentially dangerous situations.

The students come to the Lensic after school once a week at about 4:30 pm and stay until about 6:30. They do not get class credit.  Obviously, the course will look good on their CV and application for college and it is not something you would apply for if you did not think you were interested in the subject.  Sometimes, however, a student will find out the program is not what he or she thought it was and drop out.  For one thing, as I learned, it is not easy, mentally or physically. 

 The amount they learn is incredible.  In the syllabus that Matt sent me he introduced each subject with the words “Basic training/understanding”.  The meaning being that you should not expect to be expert and able to do everything after 2 hours training.  At the beginning of the program they are issued a pair of thick gloves, a multi-purpose tool and a lanyard on which to hang it.  Matt runs a tight ship and explains why, which is so much better than the teacher who says, “because I told you so”. Each class starts in front of a white board with an explanation of what will be reviewed.

The session I sat in on was about the fly rail high above the stage from where one works the Fly System. Ropes must be weighted and balanced to make back-drops, screens and the curtain go up and down. Matt was very careful to stress how dangerous it can be when one is not paying attention.  Each person manning these ropes needs to not only make sure nothing drops, but announce clearly to those below what they are doing.  This is particularly true when visiting troupes come through that are not acquainted with the Lensic stage.  When Matt showed his students damage done by a falling “brick” the weights that hold the rigs up, that made an impression!

At another session the students study the lighting board including proper installation, application of light fixtures and lighting design for different types of programing such as theater, dance and orchestra.  I quipped that if one mastered that ,one could probably maneuver a 747 plane.  The sound console is another piece of complicated equipment.  The students need to learn about microphones, cabling and speakers.  To learn all this there needs to be a basic understanding of electricity, which can also be very dangerous so they are taught safety procedures.

The students also get the opportunity to follow professional crew members for the larger shows.  If they stick with the program they can apply for a paid summer internship where they will actually assist on a show under the supervision of a professional.  A few come back for a second year.  I met one young woman, a second year student, who came in to reset the marquee for coming programs, a process that is still done manually.   Since the Lensic is a 1930’s land marked movie theater it seemed appropriate.

I asked Matt if he tracks the interns after they leave and he said he does.  He has their phone numbers and emails and, though Face Book is not his favorite place to spend his time, he does interact there as well.  In fact the Intern Program has its own Facebook page.

One of his students that he is particularly proud of has had his lighting design accepted at Carnegie Hall in New York as well as a number of Off Broadway shows.

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