Some cast members in Oregon Shakespeare Festival plays are not company actors but interns from Southern Oregon University's theater program.
Years ago, I had an internship at a small publishing house after college. When I think of internships, I think of my experience as the coffee-and-doughnut lackey, or the time my boss invited me to her home and told me to baby-sit her angry shar-pei. In short, I think, "ick."
Then I spoke with Darek Riley and Joe Wegner about their acting internships at OSF.
"This internship has been one of the best, most welcoming learning experiences I've ever had," says Riley, who plays the Duke of Bedford in OSF's "Henry V" and has an understudy role in "Troilus & Cressida."
Wegner appears in two plays at OSF, as Peter in "Romeo and Juliet," and as Pistol in "The Very Merry Wives of Windsor, Iowa." He's also understudying the role of Tybalt and Benvolio for "Romeo and Juliet."
"It's been hectic, juggling two shows and trying to finish up school at the same time," Wegner says. "But it was worth it to have gotten the opportunity to work at one of the best regional theaters in the country."
Riley and Wegner are two of 12 acting interns selected from more than 100 theater students at SOU who auditioned for the festival's internship program. OSF offers acting internships only to students enrolled in SOU's Performing Arts Department. While the internships are unpaid, students who land understudy roles receive a weekly stipend.
The goal of the program, according to the festival's website, is to promote an exchange of knowledge, skills and ideas between experienced professionals and the next generation of actors and crew members.
The festival has done more than foster an exchange of knowledge for Riley, he says. It has offered him support and friendship.
"I get to work with the amazing actors in 'Henry V,' " he says. "And Joe Haz, who directs 'Henry,' is an amazing coach and friend. We were never treated as anything but cast members. It never felt like an internship."
Riley and his fellow interns learned much about the art and craft of acting and the work involved in staging a festival production. The biggest benefit of the experience, he says, is the support and encouragement he has received during what can be a difficult career path.
"OSF is the reason I came to SOU in the first place," Riley says. "It's an incredible learning environment."
As OSF's 2012 season nears its end, Riley and Wegner say they feel excitement about their futures. Wegner is invited back for OSF's 2013 season. "I feel so lucky," he says. "I'll be playing the roles of Curtis in 'Taming of the Shrew' and Lysander in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' "
Riley will complete his final semester at SOU this fall.
"If I were to give anyone advice, I'd tell SOU students to work really hard, apply for an OSF internship and audition. Take a chance. This has been wonderful to take the education I received in college and put it to use in an extremely professional environment," Riley says.
For information about acting and other internships at OSF, see www.osfashland.org/about/fair.