As you will know if you’ve been around for a while, I spent 12 weeks this summer interning with Fuel Theatre in London, UK. (If you’re new, firstly, welcome! Secondly, if you want the more detailed posts about what I did day to day, you can find them here: Week 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.) I’ve repeatedly said what a wonderful experience it was, and that I learned a lot from it. It’s true: it was, and I did. These are some of the things that I thought were really valuable in helping me get the most of the experience, and some of the things I wish I’d realised earlier, which I hope will be useful to you, either in internships directly related to theatre if that is what you want to do, or more broadly. (Also, a quick reminder that I wrote a post with tips on how to get a producing internship, which is one of the most popular posts on this website, and which might also be useful to you, either directly for producing or more broadly to get internships in the arts or even beyond.)
When you get an internship, you are looking to get several things out of it; experience, contacts… It feels like (or it did for me) you need to present yourself perfectly, and learn absolutely everything as soon as possible. Spoiler/ tldr if you don’t want to read the whole post: this is false. You have as long as your internship is to learn, and, if you’re getting as much out of the experience as possible, you will be learning the whole time. As for self presentation – if you’re polite and hardworking (which is really a bare minimum for life, so shouldn’t be too difficult) that’s really all that matters.
The Executive Director at Fuel, Ed, gave me the best piece of advice about interning on my very first day, and while I mentioned it then, it needs to be said again: ask questions. Ask questions to clarify what you’re doing, but also ask questions about what other people are doing (within reason, obviously don’t interrupt someone with a deadline in an hour, who is evidently stressed), ask questions about what the company is doing, and what they want to do in the future, and ask for advice from as many people as possible. My experience was that people want to help, and will answer your questions to the best of their ability, which will give you a lot of insight and advice which you are likely to find useful!
If I were to do my summer again, one of the few things I would do differently is have a clearer idea of things that I would want to know more about, so as to have more and better questions to ask. In my case it worked out fine, because I had 12 weeks to think about more questions, many if which grew out of what I was learning, but, especially if you have an internship which is shorter than mine was, planning some questions in advance would be a useful thing to do. This is also something people recommend doing for interviews, so it’s clear that you’ve thought about the job you’re applying for and how it would work for you?
The other biggest tip I can give, and this is something I feel I did quite well, although of course you can always do more, is make the most of the extra opportunities made available to you.
This is obviously a broad concept. It includes listening to the discussion going on in the office around you, to pick up on what sorts of issues can come up in the development process of a production and/or find out about other people in the industry and what is happening in other places. It includes going to as many of the events you are invited to as you possibly can, because going to see work you are invited to is networking, as well as getting to see incredible theatre (which you should strive to see as much of as possible, when interning and when not interning). Essentially, even if something feels a little bit difficult, or like you are putting yourself out there more than feels comfortable (and believe me, I know how that feels!) you should try to do as much as you can, without actually damaging your mental health, which would obviously be counter-productive. Remember that you are only interning for a short amount of time, so even if it feels like you are pushing yourself well beyond your comfort zone, you will hopefully have time afterwards, whatever you may be doing afterwards, to take extra care of yourself in compensation. In my case, that meant I let myself off a couple of evenings at university where I might have enjoyed going out, but I kind of just wanted to stay in and watch a film or something, and so I didn’t go out and I didn’t let myself feel guilty or worry myself with FOMO, I just chilled out at home. (For more advice on how to handle pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone without damaging your mental health, see my post on how to network in the arts as an introvert.)
There are lots of other little things that you can do to make the most of an internship, like focusing on what you’re doing and not worrying too much about how you’re dressed (beyond being comfortable in your appearance, ie. wearing clothes which are literally comfortable to wear and which enable you to feel comfortable, for instance by feeling dressed appropriately/on a similar level to those around you). In terms of clothes, for what it’s worth, in my experience, in the arts, there is less of a need for “business attire”, although I found I felt more confident in myself if I was smartly dressed.
In fact, not worrying about the little things is a good way to make the most of an internship! Tackle the big things, like learning about the company and career advice and options for development (either within the company you’re working for or in general) and don’t sweat the small stuff, like what to wear and does it matter what you have for lunch, or where you did your degree, or whether you use jargonistic words or simple ones… The odds are, if you don’t know if it matters – it doesn’t matter very much. Sure, things might be easier for you if you’re always “perfectly dressed” (whatever that means) and you always express yourself perfectly, but honestly, it isn’t the big deal you’re worrying it into being, I promise.
Basically, if you focus on learning as much as you can, and not about how you present yourself (beyond, you know, simple politeness, but, frankly, that should go without saying) you will present yourself in the best light, because that’s what an internship is for – learning – and on top of that, you’ll make the most of it by learning as much as you can! Win win.
Thanks as always for reading and I hope that was useful to you! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions, or any tips you think I should add!