This week in the Elliott School studio, we sat down with Blake Grimsley, a freshman Wichita theater design and engineering major, to discuss their experience as an intern with Music Theater Wichita. The Wichita Musical Theater is a regional theater set in Century II.
Below is a Q&A between The Sunflower and Grimsley. This podcast episode can be listened to here.
Sunflower: Tell us a little about yourself and a little more about your directions.
Grimsley: I’m a design and technical theater major with a focus on stage management, but I do a little bit of everything. I do a lot of lighting design, sound design, running the boards for each show, things like that. I have a lot of experience in all departments in the theater. I’m kind of from a few different places, but most recently from Houston; I spent about 15 years there.
SF: How did you get into theater, more specifically, with design and the technical side of art?
G: I wish I could say something like, “I’ve always wanted to do this.” This is not true. I took my first design and technology theater class (in) my sophomore year of high school because I had to.
In Texas, you are required to earn a fine arts credit in order to graduate. So I was like, you know what? I’ll take technical theater because it won’t be too much work. It will be easy. I can just sit there and do nothing. Yes, it’s not like that.
I was (procrastinated) doing their Texas Fall music. Theaters receive a lot of funding from the state, especially at the high school level. And we were doing The Little Mermaid. And this is a big stage, maybe about 60 meters wide. And so for that show I did a lot of carpentry, but also for the running of the shows I ran one of the spotlights. There were two operators in the spotlight.
But yeah, that’s how I got into it. And then I just stuck, and now I’m pursuing it as a career.
SF: Still, this is a great story. How did you hear about the internship at Music Theater Wichita?
G: So when I moved here to go to school, I heard from a lot of different people about the Wichita Musical Theater, but I really didn’t hear anything about it in detail until I talked to Melissa Penkava Koza; she is the costume shop manager at Wichita State. She is also the costume shop supervisor for Music Theater Wichita. So just talking to him, hearing about the company, what they do. And then she put me in touch with Michael Cole, who is the production director.
SF: So as an intern with Music Theater Wichita, what did you do?
G: I was somehow the person caught. I did a lot of everything… I focused on stage management, so I was working in the rehearsal room while rehearsals are going on, running the show management aspect.
So for every show it was a little different. I was there for four of the five shows. “Cats,” I couldn’t do it because there was too much overlap with the fall semester. I’ve done Rock of Ages, Red, White, and Broadway, Beauty and the Beast, and Ragtime, which are very strong shows in their own right…
So for each show, I did something a little different. For two of the shows, I ran one of the props desks and that’s more communication with the first assistant stage manager who is in charge of the props. That person would create all the program sheets, create the list of all the props for the show, what’s in which scene. And then I would take it, and then I would back up; I will distribute props to the performers, capturing props from the performers. Sometimes they have to drop a prop and literally run to the other side of the stage to re-enter. So it’s very stressful, but it’s always a fun time. I keep doing it because I love this job.
But yes, and then for Beauty and the Beast, I was responsible for children and teenagers. We had about 30 kids and teenagers, and then we had the role of Chip, which was double. So on any given day, I’m working with 32 kids and teenagers, making sure their parents drop them off on time, pick them up on time, go to our lunch break, the whole this. And then, at the end of the day, communicating with parents or guardians when they’re going to be called next, things like that. I didn’t realize there were children and teenagers involved in this.
SF: This is so cool. So what did you learn from the internship overall? And is there any advice you’d like to give to anyone who’s interested?
G: I learned a lot. This is the first time I have worked with such a large company. The main thing I learned and will take with me is all the rules of equality. So the Actors Equity Association is … a union that works with these theaters to make sure that the performers and the stage management are treated equally and that everybody gets fair fees, fair wages, all of that and that let us not be overwhelmed.
And that’s something I eventually want to do. I want to continue to be a capital stage manager and work with this syndicate. And so just being able to go in and learn what the rules are, all these things are incredible, especially right after my sophomore year of college.
To learn more about Wichita Musical Theater and to apply for an internship, go to mtwichita.org.