Kenan interns gain invaluable experience, exposure at Spoleto

Priceless.

That’s the word Mariah Pepper Berkowitz uses to describe her five-week stint this summer as a Kenan Intern at Spoleto Festival USA, one of the premier performing arts festivals in the country.

“For the first week, I said to myself, ‘What am I doing? This isn’t what I signed up for!’ ” she recalls with a chuckle. “Turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had — that’s just how good it was.”

The Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts provides internships at Spoleto for emerging artists from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts seeking practical experience in design and production. The Kenan Internships at Spoleto are part of the Institute’s Career Pathways Initiative to broaden opportunities for sustainable careers in the arts. In addition to learning valuable skills, interns make important connections with highly respected production directors, festival staff and other professionals in the industry.

Interns like Berkowitz, a recent graduate of UNCSA with a degree in Stage Management, and Liam Lewis-Marlow, a senior majoring in Lighting Technology, work alongside some of the most respected and experienced production crew members in the country. In fact, several full-time staffers at Spoleto are UNCSA alums who got their first exposure to the festival through Kenan apprenticeships.

Berkowitz graduated from the School of Design and Production on Saturday, May 7. The following Monday, at 8 a.m. sharp, she reported to work as assistant to the stage manager for the 17-day festival in historic Charleston, S.C. Her job: preparing the master schedules for all of the shows, organized by venue and production.

Spoleto has been doing this for 40 years, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Mariah Berkowitz, UNCSA alumna

With so many productions unfolding at once, and schedules changing daily, it turned out to be a high-pressure job that required a heap of patience. “I had never done something that fast or that encompassing or that big — it was a wonderful learning experience,” Berkowitz says.

“Spoleto has been doing this for 40 years, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. If I had to do that, it would have been actually impossible — I’m not even kidding,” she adds. “It’s just making sure that you catch all the balls that are up in the air and try to problem-solve those little things you don’t expect.”

Berkowitz also enjoyed dabbling in some hands-on stage management for a few one-night events, working with the likes of Latin jazz great Arturo O’Farrill and Americana musician Brandi Carlile.

Lewis-Marlow, who worked as an electrician at Spoleto after her freshman year at UNCSA, was excited to return this summer. But she, too, felt a little uneasy when she learned of her job assignment: orchestra operations.

“It was something I had never done before,” she explains. “Turns out it is basically setting up all the orchestra equipment in all the venues. There were a lot of stands and chairs, percussion equipment and different things we would move from venue to venue. It was really cool. I learned a lot about music in general and the specific instruments.”

And Lewis-Marlow discovered that many of the skills she developed as a theatrical electrician translated well to orchestra operations.

Theatre does a really good job of giving people good base skills, such as a get-it-done mindset that lends itself to success in a lot of areas.

Liam Lewis-Marlow, Fourth-Year Lighting Student 

“Theatre does a really good job of giving people good base skills, such as a get-it-done mindset that lends itself to success in a lot of areas,” she says. “You develop an ability to roll with the punches and problem-solve and think on your feet.”

It didn’t take long for coworkers to notice that Lewis-Marlow could pack a truck like few others, for example. “I ended up doing a lot of truck packs because I had experience doing that with lighting equipment — how you should strap and stack things.”

Jamie Call Blankinship, a Stage Management instructor at UNCSA, knows first-hand the importance of such opportunities: She got her start as a Spoleto intern years ago when she attended UNCSA.

“I returned there to stage manage for four years after that,” she recalls. “It was because of the people I worked with at Spoleto that my career was launched and I received an offer to stage manage at the Kennedy Center for the Washington Opera.”

The sheer scope of the international festival and the high level of artistry challenge interns in new and unexpected ways, Blankinship says. “Spoleto is fast and furious, and that kind of intensity is an amazing opportunity for their training.”

This fall Berkowitz plans to move to New York City, where she hopes to snag work in theatre and other live events.

“Experiences from Spoleto I can now put in my pocket,” she says. “They are priceless and, hopefully, will take me where I want to go.”

October 7, 2016