Arts & Culture

Theater department gives artists of color professional opportunities

Gabriel Benson, Copy Editor

For college students, experiences such as unpaid internships can often be unfairly skewed towards those who can afford to work for free. This problem can be exacerbated in the arts, a field infamous for its low pay and hard, thankless work. This issue is further magnified for students of color as unpaid internships are shown to unfairly favor wealthy (often white) people who can afford to work for the purpose of networking opportunities and experience as opposed to money.

    At Augsburg, different departments in the arts have made it possible for students to receive scholarship money for actively taking part in music, film, forensics (speech), visual arts, or theater at Augsburg through the Fine Arts Scholarship. While this scholarship can give students extra financial stability on campus, it can still be hard for students to be able to make money while working for little or no money off campus in the arts.

   In the theater department, however, there is an opportunity for students of color to maintain financial stability while taking part in career-building opportunities (both on and off campus) that will enhance their ability to work in professional theater.

   According to Michael Burden, Associate Professor of Theater, the Theater Production Fellowship is a program designed for students of color in theater to bridge the gap between university theater and professional opportunities and internships. Currently in its fourth year, the Fellowship, according to Burden, was started because “students who had available time to devote to their craft in the theater regularly graduated with more refined employable skills, whereas students who were unable to devote their time due to a variety of off campus jobs outside of their field could not develop the skills they needed to transition successfully. I wanted students to be able to have meaningful work on campus in theater while connecting to professional theater companies.”

      The three-year program has the students work on theater department projects and productions during their first year. In their second year, the students secure a mentor that they can shadow off campus while still working on productions on campus. In their third year each student serves as a project designer or manager and will also be a theater intern in the spring with a professional company.

   “Two missions of the program are to provide meaningful work on campus and to help prepare young designers and technicians of color to transition into the professional workplace. There are very few stage managers and technicians of color, and it’s a recognized issue in the industry. This program hopes to contribute to positive change” said Burden.

   One of the four students currently in the program is senior Martin Ware. During his time in the fellowship, Martin has mentored, shadowed and interned at The Children’s Theatre Company in the Public Relations Office, mentored high school students as part of a partnership between Augsburg and The Performing Institute of Minnesota (PiM), oversaw two Give to the Max and Krispy Kreme fundraisers and has trained in the theater scene shop working on eight plays for the theater department.

   Theater professor and founder of Sod House Theater Darcy Engen said, “Most theater departments are pretty eurocentric, but I’m really proud of the work we’ve done. We have a very diverse group of students, and that isn’t mirrored in the professional world. What’s so beautiful about this is that it provides a clear pathway into significant professional experiences for our students who are upcoming in our field in a way that really focuses on them getting the experiences and opportunities and that’s what our larger professional field wants.”

This article was originally published in the Jan. 25, 2019 issue.