Coffee Cups and Letter Folds: A Day in the Life of an Intern

Internships were built for a certain kind of person: privileged enough, dependable enough, stupid enough. I, fortunately and unfortunately, fit that bill. I can afford–both in time and money, though both are also tight right now–to give up one day a week to sit in an office and run various errands, perform various tasks, pick up various forgotten duties. I chose a theatre company that I adore, which makes the work easy and means I get added benefits, like being able to attend rehearsals, work events, etc. However, internships spell a certain kind of death for me: it’s the worst of all worlds possible.

The money/time issue is obviously the heart of the conflict for anyone performing an internship, and with all the coverage in the news lately, it’s a little surprising that more change hasn’t occurred. Interns are rarely paid–I’m certainly not–so there’s one count of a loss of money; interns are also expected to give up their time, yet another loss of money (depending on how you view currency). So we double our financial loss for what should be an equal trade-off in experience, connections, or potential. There are, of course, interns who don’t need any kind of financial support, and I wonder what interning must be like for them. If I didn’t need money to pay my rent, I’d be happy to work for free for the rest of my life. That is obviously not the case. So no matter how much I love this company, no matter what amazing opportunities they can offer me, at the end of the day, a very quiet voice constantly rings in my head, “How long will you be able to do this if they never pay you?”

Then there’s the balance of the trade-off, yet another double-edged sword. If this company were smaller, I’d have way more duties, way more responsibilities, way more opportunities. I also probably wouldn’t have heard of them, and they probably would be much more selective about interns, needing to rely on them more. As it stands, I intern for a mid-level theatre company–not making Broadway shows but not far from it–that has a slew of interns and more applications coming in all the time. This means my duties are primarily grunt office work, answering phones, photocopying, stocking supplies. I’m lucky enough to be more than competent and interested in other things, so I get thrown a lot of special projects. But I nevertheless do my share of coffee runs and “internet research” about where to laminate an enormous poster. (Spoiler alert: I usually end up taking that poster to get it laminated.)

In the fall, when I had more time thanks to having more money saved up, I was going to as many rehearsals as I could get my hands on, helping out at any event they brought to my attention, showing up when I didn’t have to and asking when I could show up again. Now that my savings have dwindled, I’m left holding down one day a week in the office–with difficulty, I might add–and looking at a rehearsal schedule or event date that conflicts with my rent-paying job, or my rehearsals, or my DMV trip that I couldn’t manage to cover over the course of the week.

This, of course, begins to beg the question: why stick around?

To be honest, I’m beginning to lose sight of that answer myself. Experience–well, I’ve got office skills out the wazoo, but even in the office world, I don’t have the training or the long-term experience to get an office job, not that I’d want one of those in the first place. Connections, yes, I got those interning here–but in the world of interning, they like me today, they have a new Me tomorrow. There is no downside to having made the connections I’ve made here–they can only help me in the future, given that I’ve made them into positive connections, which I have–but this brings me to the last point. The potential is what I find so maddening about internships.

A lot of internships work this way: you intern, they like you, you keep interning, they keep liking you, they maybe hire you for something, you begin to work your way up. A lot of internships fairly transparently have potential to lead into a job. In the arts world, this is not necessarily the case, especially not if you’re like me and more interested in the arts part of it than the management part. I can’t intern my way directly into an acting role with this company, because I’m not an acting intern; though I can answer the phone like nobody’s business, this doesn’t necessarily mean I’m cut out to play the next ingenue role with them (or any “ingenue” role ever, but that’s a different post). I’m lucky enough that this company likes to work with people they know, so answering the phones does give me a slight chance of making it into a rehearsal room with them as a paid actor one day, which I desperately hope it does, but there’s no guarantee on that potential.

Hence, the madness. The allure of potential is so great that it could have me breaking my back to keep a paltry day in the office until I simply cannot anymore. Hope, that addictive, has me clinging to this post with every shred of my fingernails, hoping, hoping, hoping that giving up my time and money and more money will eventually pay off. My rational brain has the continual urge to punch myself in my face, because there’s nothing rational about hope (rationality–not a thing with feathers). I am a rational person, sometimes debilitatingly so–but the flipside of that is: I’m also the world’s biggest hopeful.

Rationality asks, “Why stick around?” Hope doesn’t answer necessarily: it just avoids the question.

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