Confessions of a Summer Intern: Learning about Culture and Office Work

This is the second post from Erin Quist, who is interning abroad with Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre company in London, England. In case you missed it, “meet” Erin in her first post.

During the middle of my internship, the sightseeing really cut down and it was work time.

Almost everyday follows the routine of arriving at 10am/noon, making tea, doing some general maintenance work around the theatre, then around 2 or 3pm making a lunch run for sandwiches. Once lunch is over, I finish any maintenance work and start on office work, usually mailings, make more tea around 4pm, and prepare a light dinner at 5pm. Pre-show prep work – ironing, setting the stage, checking to make sure the lights are all still working, making tea – is next, then usher, do the show, make more tea at the interval (intermission),  post-show, turn off all the lights, start the laundry, clean the place where the audience sits, and leave the theatre around 10:30pm. Then it’s an hour to get home with one bus and two underground trains.

The underground station near my house where I catch the Tube to work everyday.
Heather's Underground Stop

Summer theatre is often one of the most grueling theatre experiences. Often it involves changing from one show to the next in two days or less, including setting up the set, making the lights and sound for the space, and hopefully getting the actors out there once. Upstairs at the Gatehouse functions in the summer much like many theatres do during the rest of the year: run a show, take it down, clean the theatre, set up the new show, and rehearse it in a week or more. It’s much more calm for most of the people involved. But for Charlotte, the office assistant, John, the owner, and me there is still always so much to be done. It is a constant go-go-go during the day.

The stage from up in the booth where I work during the shows.
Heather's View from the Theatre Booth[

I am learning quite a bit, though. Culturally, I have learned that the English really do drink as much tea as you think they do. Americans say ‘thank you’ when they are interacting with people and, when the occasion arises, the English will say ‘cheers’ instead. I’ve started using this one. Polish jokes don’t exist in England. The show we are doing now contains adult themes and I would not recommend it for anyone under 15. Parents bring their children and no one has a problem with it or even bats an eye to see a party of 7 year olds enter the theatre.

One of the main things I have learned about is office work. Never before have I done any sort of office work. Yes, I send letters and I type things up for classes, but here the work is often so tedious I am anxious for the next chance I get to go make tea. Mailing is the worst. I really have a new appreciation for those who can sit around for hours just putting the postage stamps on hundreds of envelopes. Sometimes John will write something up for a magazine and I have to type it up as best I can for him – his handwriting is as bad as a doctor’s. Another thing that is my duty in the office is answering the telephone. Mostly people want to order tickets but sometimes they have questions. There are a few little scripts on the desk for when they ask about directions, the content of the play, run time, or the next few shows Upstairs at the Gatehouse is hosting.

The box office and desk area where I do my office work during the day.
Heather's Desk

All of the office work isn’t terrible, but it’s not the same as when I am set to a project pertaining to the stage and surrounding areas. A step was broken recently and no one was quite sure how to fix it, so they set me on it. With a u-bolt and a thin strip of wood, I was able to get the step fixed. The lights operate on dimmers and I’m not exactly sure how all it works. I just know that when I move certain sliders on the light board, certain lights should come up. Yesterday, there were eight lights that would not come up. It is a normal occurrence for a light to burn out, but eight at once signals a problem. The workload on the dimmer wasn’t enough and another light was necessary to correct the situation. I had no clue about any of this, but John knows a little about lights and together we were able to get everything working in time for the show.

I just have a few more weeks left and I cannot believe how time has flown. The show only has another week left and then we’ve got a magic show, a children’s music school performance, and The Diary of Anne Frank. It will be exciting to see what new challenges these will bring.