October 20, 2016
A typical summer job is hot, sweaty, backbreaking work.
That was certainly the case for Brook Barrett, a theater major from Lubbock. She worked 12-hour days setting up tents, hauling landscaping materials, unloading trucks and taking down tents. And she did it in New York City’s legendary wet heat.
Of course, she also waved hello and occasionally chatted with Daniel Radcliffe. Her first day included an introduction to Rachel Dratch. In her off time, she met Jane Krakowski. A work party once included Meryl Streep. Don’t even ask about the 10 weeks’ worth of LinkedIn connections she accumulated.
Maybe Barrett’s summer job wasn’t that typical after all.
Barrett spent her summer as an intern at The Public Theater in New York City. The Public, home to the debut of “Hamilton” and Shakespeare in the Park, hires eight general production interns from hundreds of applicants throughout the country each summer. The interns work basically sunrise to sunset (or longer on performance days) six days a week. For the most part it was unglamorous physical labor; Barrett got a workout every day she was there. But, she said, she made connections throughout her chosen industry, she gained experience in the inner workings of a major and groundbreaking theater and, given that theater is her life, she saw 40 plays in two and a half months – not bad for a summer internship.
Barrett with Jane Krakowski
“The best part of the internship was meeting so many people who I know I’ll stay in contact with,” she said. “I met some wonderful connections, and that’s a fantastic thing to have, especially when everything is so up in the air in this career.”
The trick to theater production is no one in the audience knowing anything about production. That means nothing went wrong.
It’s also a production in and of itself, because a lot can go wrong, especially at a place like The Public, which prides itself on being nontraditional.
“It’s had a really good, really, really rich history of huge successes that changed the landscape of theater,” said Barry Stagg, assistant production manager and intern coordinator at The Public and a 2007 Texas Tech graduate. “There’s no better place to be than here.”
The Public Theater organization has two venues: The Public, which has five actual theaters and a mission to push the edge of traditional theater, debuting shows like “Hamilton” and “Fun Home;” and the Delacorte, a theater in Central Park where the organization puts on Shakespeare in the Park with a professional cast and crew but little in the way of a typical stage, since it’s in the park. It’s also free to anyone who can get a ticket.
Umbrella-holder to Michael Cerveris for the Public Theatre Gala.
“It’s become a New York staple,” Barrett said. “They sell out every show because it’s a loved thing. It’s really, really good.”
Most of her work was at the Delacorte, helping with “Troilus and Cressida” and an all-female production of “The Taming of the Shrew.” Her tasks were many and varied; interns unloaded trucks, built ramps, erected tents, painted sets and held umbrellas over actors when it rained.
“She tried to cozy up to the different stars to hold the umbrellas,” Stagg said. “It was just funny watching her sort of angle in.”
Interns require a unique set of skills as well as a certain level of grace and maturity, Stagg said, since on any given day they could be escorting famous actors around the theater before lunch and landscaping in knee-deep mud after lunch. They work six days a week, starting at 9 a.m. and ending after dark.
Barrett got her fill of hard labor, including filling bags with mulch to help recreate a war scene in “Troilus and Cressida,” basically building the stage at the outdoor theater and moving items at The Public, which has five theaters, four of which are in use at any given time while the fifth acts as storage.
Seeing the hard work and guts that go into a production, and being the one to supply that hard work, isn’t always what interns who want to be actors sign up for. That didn’t sway the budding actress from Texas Tech at all.
“What’s great about Brook is she’s still just the biggest fan of theater,” Stagg said. “She’d start getting tired, and she kept this perspective that this is great, I’m working in New York City at one of the best theaters, I get to do this. She’d boost the morale of others around her.”
It helped that, in between the physical labor, Barrett got other assignments. She helped out during a filming of “Mozart in the Jungle” with Bernadette Peters and she struck up a work friendship of sorts with Radcliffe, the “Harry Potter” star who now is in “Privacy.” She was one of two interns selected to help test some material for the show, which turned into what she called a fake date. He would say hello and ask how she was doing throughout the rest of the summer.
“What did I not do? Production is a very broad spectrum, so you never really know what you’re doing until that day happens,” Barrett said. “Anything that needed to be done we did, and it was from getting someone coffee to building a podium.”
Plus, the interns attended The Public’s gala and got to see all the shows at both the Delacorte and The Public. They also attended a naturalization ceremony in which 19 people from 15 countries became American citizens.
Barrett with Zachary Levi
In her first week, Barrett found herself in the same space as both Radcliffe and Dratch.
“They were the two that I cared about, and I made a fool of myself the first day because I didn’t know how to handle anything,” Barrett said. “I went up to Rachel Dratch and basically thanked her for making people laugh, which is the dumbest thing I could have possibly said ever, but I did because she was there and I was there and I was like, ‘I’m going to talk to her if she’s there,’ so I did. And I regret that moment very much.”
The good news is, that was the last time she felt foolish around celebrities. Much of that was because her work required employees to essentially leave the famous actors and actresses alone – no asking for autographs, no taking pictures, no fan-girling. For the most part Barrett handled this without too much angst.
There was one time, though.
“At one point during The Public’s gala, Meryl Streep was about three steps away from me, just sitting on the steps eating some food,” she said. “You have no idea how badly I want to sit down with her and be like, ‘What’s up? How are you?’ Just create some kind of mediocre conversation and I would have cried.”
“That was one of the coolest meet-and-greets I’ve ever been to,” Barrett said. “Zachary Levi literally pulled out a boombox and danced as he took pictures and signed autographs.”
She did not get to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda or see him rapping onstage as Alexander Hamilton in the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. Barrett hoped the connection – “Hamilton” made its world debut at The Public – would enable her to get a ticket. It didn’t, but she and the other interns did get a backstage tour.
As for how she spent her rare downtime – Barrett averaged one day off a week – she paused, got a sorry-not-sorry look on her face and confessed something of which she wasn’t at all ashamed.
“I saw almost every show on Broadway, if we’re going to be real,” Barrett said. “That was pretty cool.”
She’s been to New York a couple of times before, so she’d seen most of the tourist spots already. In fact, Barrett found herself sliding into native New Yorker mode – walking an extra block so she could not walk through Times Square, rolling her eyes at tourists, avoiding the typical touristy areas. When she wasn’t in a theater, either working or seeing a show, she did laundry, went grocery shopping and slept.
Besides the theater offerings, though, New York wasn’t her favorite. She lived in a residence hall designed for students doing internships in the city, so it was affordable and close to work, but it offered the standard square footage and privacy of a dorm room. And she had two roommates. Central Park became as much a place to get away from her tiny room as it did her office.
Plus, the city wasn’t what she was used to. Barrett grew up in Lubbock, and while she has no plans to stay after college, it’s still where she’s comfortable.
“At first New York was scary. I got there and was very overwhelmed – complete culture shock,” she said. “Then things got better, but I never quite fell in love with the city like I had just visiting it.
“But if you want to see Broadway, if you want to be on Broadway, you have to put up with the city.”
And Barrett wants to be on Broadway – a very specific person on Broadway, in fact.
“Elphaba in ‘Wicked,’” Barrett replied before the question was finished. “Elphaba in ‘Wicked’ is totally my dream role.”
And she’s done some impressively thorough research on this role.
“It’s an amazing show. I’ve seen it 13 times myself,” Barrett said.
The next question – “Did you see it this summer?” – almost didn’t need to be asked.
“You bet I did. On my birthday, that’s the show I saw,” she said. “Whenever I play that role I’ll be like, ‘Well, y’all are just repaying me for all the times I saw it.’”
That was on the highlight reel for Stagg as well. He knew somebody who knew somebody – one of the perks of working in theater in New York City – and they arranged for Barrett to go backstage before a showing of “Wicked.”
“Yeah,” he said, preceding it with a laugh. “She was very proud of herself that she didn’t cry, even though she welled up with tears walking in.”
Stagg emailed Beth Scheckel, an adviser for the School of Theatre & Dance, about the internship. He couldn’t promise anything except to make sure applicants from Texas Tech got a second glance.
Barrett was part of the cast of Texas Tech University's School of Theatre and Dance performance of "Heathers the Musical."
“I just made sure we looked hard at her,” Stagg said. “Other people pulled her up to the top. I wasn’t at her interview, but the other people on the team liked her. It was the other people at The Public who fell in love with her.”
Acting professor Dean Nolen, who has worked on Broadway and throughout the world, and theatre and dance Chairman Mark Charney encouraged Barrett to apply. She did, then waited weeks to learn she got an interview. She found out near the end of the spring semester that she’d been selected. Although her plan is to act, she wanted both the experience of stage production and the connections that would come from working at theater like The Public.
“This annual internship at The Public Theater is a highly sought after opportunity for theater students from all around the world,” Nolen said. “While I’m not at all surprised Brook landed this position, it must be said the level of competition was intense. Brook distinguished herself among the applicants and made a tremendously positive impression for herself and Texas Tech.”
Barrett will continue performing at Texas Tech – she was part of the cast of “Heathers the Musical,” which just concluded its run – and wants experience in directing and stage managing before she graduates as well. Barrett graduates in two years, and her plans are already in place: move to Chicago, earn an equity card, then work her way around to Broadway. An equity card, for the uninitiated, is akin to union membership, which is required on Broadway and in most of the theaters in New York and Chicago. To get into the actor’s union, she’ll have to do a certain number of non-equity shows, usually at regional theaters.
She won’t be at The Public next summer; Barrett will be part of Texas Tech’s WildWind Performance Lab, a six-week, nontraditional theater experience. Both she and Stagg encouraged students to apply to The Public’s internship, though Barrett added a caveat.
“Make sure you’re ready to work if you go,” she said. “Make sure you’re driven, you’re a go-getter. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do twice. I’m from Texas Tech and I like Texas Tech, and if you’re going to represent Texas Tech you need to do well.”
Stagg said many students may not think they have a chance at the internship; apply anyway, he said. The Public is all about making theater accessible, and that includes its interns. The staff pay less attention to what’s on an applicant’s resume than they do to the person who’s applying.
“Theater just belongs to everybody,” he said.
The J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts at Texas Tech offers a diverse array of programs and courses in art, music, theatre and dance.
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