SOMERS — Walden High School junior Dylan Jensen hadn’t thought much about the theater when he walked into the University of Wisconsin-Parkside scene shop this summer.
But after a month-long internship through the university and the acclaimed Fireside Dinner Theatre in Fort Atkinson, the 16-year-old now has real appreciation for professional theater production.
“It definitely opened my eyes to what that world is all about. It was a lot of fun,” Jensen said. “Now I can use more tools, and be more useful with my hands.”
About the program
Called the UW-Parkside/Fireside Theatre Internship, the program has been around for 26 years and gives high school students across the region a chance to be a part of professional theater operation, giving them experience in carpentry, set construction and design.
Each summer from late June through late July, the university brings on four interns to build a set for an upcoming play at the Fireside. This past summer it was the “Church Basement Ladies.” The students get one college credit at the end of the internship as well as a $250 stipend. They work eight-hour days for the duration of the internship, arriving to the shop at 9 a.m., and clocking out at 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The internship is part of an ongoing relationship between the two institutions in which Fireside productions staff work with the university’s scene shop, students and interns to build all the sets for the Fireside, explained Nate Stamper, technical director for the Fireside Dinner Theatre, and Parkside’s scene shop supervisor.
“We do seven shows a year with Fireside, and four shows a year with Parkside,” said Stamper, who oversees the internship.
Front row seat
During the school year the scene shop has four part-time shop assistants who help with construction, delivery and set up. The interns then help with the theater’s summer production.
Next year the summer interns will be working on a set for “The Little Mermaid.”
“It is a program that has served us well,” Stamper said of the internship. “It helps us during the summer, because we always have large shows that we are building. But then it really helps the students, especially those that are interested in set construction and technical theater. It helps them see a little bit of the professional world.”
The interns build the flats — what could be the described as the bones of a set. Stamper, the Fireside’s assistant technical director, its professional scenic artists and props designer, and independent, professional set designer Rick Rasmussen — who designs nearly all of the Fireside’s sets — are in charge of the details.
For Jensen, who said he “likes to be a well-rounded person,” the experience was invaluable.
“I really learned how to work in the field — to see how everything is done; how professional loadings are done; how to handle yourself with the set designer; how to work within his specifications for the play,” he said.
Now the teen, who is considering a career in the medical field, is considering adding another focus to his college career.
“A minor in theater wouldn’t hurt,” he said.