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Professional Experience Key Component in Department of Theatre Internships

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Nika Anschuetz





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cast of footloose on stage at dress rehearsal

Footloose, presented by give5 productions and Parker Arts. Photo credit: Underexposed Photography


In the depths of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, tucked away behind the Byron Theater, stands a 20-foot garage door. Behind it lies a unique classroom brimming with saws, drills and two-by-fours.

The workshop isn’t just for teaching. It mimics a real-world professional setting. The DU Tech Theater Internship Program offers students hands-on experience, building sets for companies around the Denver metro area.

Steven McDonald, associate professor and chair of the Department of Theatre, facilitates the internship program. It’s sustainable: The program not only pays for itself but also turns a profit, all of which goes back to the department.

“It gives us a reputation in town. It teaches our students stuff. It expands their brains and skill sets, it gives us more people to play with,” McDonald said.

During the 2022 spring quarter, the internship group worked on the Lamont School of Music’s opera and built the set for “Footloose” at the PACE Center in Parker, Colorado.

In between a busy class schedule and other extracurricular activities, theater students Ryan Thomas and Erin Kubat toiled away building sets. Comfortable working with their hands, they put their skills to good use – a paycheck.

It’s amazing to finally be able to do it for money,” Thomas said. “It feels nice. It makes me feel more confident that I’ll be able to make it.”

Thomas caught the theater bug while in high school. Since then, he’s relished the chance to pursue his passion. Thomas has immersed himself in every aspect of theater – acting, set building, costumes and lighting design. The holistic approach, he says, sets DU apart from other schools.

“We don’t just do one thing,” Thomas said. “We learn bits and pieces, then you start specializing. You can take more advanced classes. As you come along you do more specific things. There’s a lot of great opportunities to get work experience.”

When Kubat got involved in theater, she immediately saw green – a technical signup sheet for a middle school production of “Shrek Jr.” Like Thomas, Kubat was hooked. In high school, she started acting and continued with tech.

Now a sophomore at DU, Kubat knows her way around the shop. She’s been using her hands to create jewelry and sculptures for years. But for Kubat, there’s something empowering about working on bigger pieces.

“Learning how to build these massive sets that you can actually stand on is really cool,” Kubat said. “As a female in a predominantly male industry of the technical world, even beyond theater tech, to be able to not be underestimated because I’m a woman is really cool.”

The end of the internship, though, is often the crew members’ favorite part. After weeks of construction, the crew tore down the two-tiered “Footloose” set. They loaded it into a truck and reassembled it at the PACE Center. Finally, with time to relax, the crew put their feet up, let loose and marveled at their creation.