May 27 2019

Getting In On The Act

By Carol Antman for The Island Eye News

2013 Spoleto productions included Mese Mariano and Le Villi, an operatic double-bill directed by Stefano Viziolo and performed at the Sottile Theater. (Photo by Julia Lynn Photography, courtesy of Spoleto Festival USA).

The pay is low and the hours are long but apprentices at Spoleto love the experience. They rave about seeing their first opera, getting to personally know the performers, watching the festival ignite the city and being part of that magic.

Meanwhile, they’re getting a reality check on their career paths.

Gabriella Plyler is an arts management major at the College of Charleston and an apprentice this year in media relations where she hopes to get, “insight into a world renowned arts festival beyond the classroom and online,” and “to learn more about how a festival is curated, what it is like behind the scenes of a performance.”

The Apprenticeship Program is a big part of what makes the festival run so smoothly.

It offers short, hands-on experiences under the guidance of professional arts administrators and technicians in the areas of artist services, box office, development, accounting, media relations, orchestra management, production or operations. For college students, it’s a clarifying experience. 

Olivia Anderson apprenticed at Spoleto a few years ago.  At the time she was a music education major and learned that, “I wanted to be more involved in the performing arts/arts administration world versus the music education/teaching

world.” She went on to complete three more apprenticeships and is now the festival’s assistant box office manager.

Apprenticeships also provide skills for the real work world. Nick Bragin apprenticed in 2013 in Box Office Operations while a grad student. “Spoleto utilizes Tessitura software that is designed for ticketing, customer relationship management, development and marketing. Tessitura is an industry standard and my time at Spoleto afforded me the opportunity to learn the ropes,” said Bragin.

Working under impressive leadership, he also acquired a perspective on effective management, lessons he brought to his current job as the fulltime guest services manager at a large venue in Indiana where he manages 40 people.

As it did for Nick, working at Spoleto enhances resumes and often leads to permanent jobs. When Allison RossSpang applied to be an apprentice she was graduating from the College of Charleston and, “wondering what my next step would be.” Selling tickets, working will-call and troubleshooting occasional problems taught her a great deal about customer service. “I think working in the box office helped make me a better employee and pushed me to work harder,” she said. Ross-Spang is now a department manager in Artist Services.

Rubbing shoulders with dedicated professionals teaches work habits too. Caroline Hagood was an apprentice in 2013 in Artists Services. “I learned a lot about organization skills and time management… especially how to be open-minded to adapting to changes in plans and how to have a flexible schedule,” said Hagood. She has found these skills invaluable as she continues college. 

Applicants are forewarned that the long hours include evenings and weekends and that the pay is minimal.

Depending on the department assignment, duties range from hospitality and transportation for artists to moving orchestra equipment and instruments.

Production assistants may build sets or assist electrical work. Accounting personnel help with payroll and purchase orders. Photo shoots and press releases often keep Media Relations apprentices busy.  Most positions take place during the festival   except production assistants who begin in April. Compensation includes a small living allowance and housing plus $50 in travel expenses for out of town applicants. If they’re lucky and not too exhausted, they get to see some shows.

The applications, available each winter, ask applicants for their experience in a wide range of capacities including carpentry, craft work, sewing, tailoring, stage management, audio mixing, lighting and running shows. Telephone interviews are required as well as letters of recommendation. Media relations applicants have to submit writing samples.

It’s a very competitive process that requires ambition and passion, the kind that Gabriella Plyler displayed when she said, “I promised myself that I will always try my best to work in a place that represents the arts in any form…and have always wanted to work within this type of environment and organization.” But those who have completed the experience encourage others to apply.

 Allison Ross-Spang says, “…seeing the festival come together and being able to say I helped gave me a lot of confidence that I was in the right field.”

Carolina Hagood echoes that sentiment saying, “I would definitely recommend this apprenticeship opportunity to applicants. It is a phenomenal cultural experience and a window into how large scale, professional arts festivals function.” 

Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hour’s drive of Charleston, SC as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see PeaksAndPotholes.blogspot.com

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