Theater for life

Two Rice theater students work behind the scenes this summer  

Instead of spending the summer working in their hometowns, theater majors Mackenzie Turner and Michael Hollis stayed at Rice, where they are building, painting and working with lighting inside Hamman Hall five days a week.

Turner, from the Dallas area, is a rising senior at Sid Richardson College; Hollis, from Huntsville, Ala., is a rising junior at Hanszen College. Both successfully auditioned for the Department of Visual and Dramatic Arts’ Barbara Long Chilton Education Internship. They are working as technical interns in support of the Rice Theatre Program’s collaboration this summer with Generations Theatre, a regional company comprising Broadway-honed professionals and younger nonprofessional apprentices of all ages.

Drawing on the theme of “A Patriotic Summer,” the collaboration is presenting Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Our Town,” which opens June 14, and the Houston premiere of the Wild West-themed rock musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” opening July 12. Both performances are directed by Generations’ artistic director and designer George Brock.

Turner and Hollis are working under the guidance of Rice Theatre Program production manager Matt Schlief and involved in “pretty much everything,” Turner said, adding that “there’s not a lot of downtime.” After a morning check-in meeting, the two join Schlief in accomplishing the to-do list of the day, which can include lighting and sound arrangement, costume design and makeup work or set construction involving significant manual labor.

They are very active in their colleges’ theater programs as well as the student-run Rice Players troupe and said the internship has opened their eyes to all the possibilities theater work offers, not just as an actor on stage. For example, their assignment for the “Our Town” and “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” performances is to operate spotlights, perched high above the stage on two towers – a responsibility that requires great concentration and attention, Turner said.

“It’s very close to having a job at a professional theater,” Schlief said. “It’s a great opportunity for them to see how things function in the professional world.”

Rice theater majors Mackenzie Turner, at left, and Michael Hollis, at right, are working as technical interns in support of the Rice Theatre Program’s collaboration this summer with Generations Theatre. Photo by Jeff Fitlow.

This is the third year that Rice has collaborated with Generations on a summer production series and the second year that Rice students have served as interns. The internship can be taken for course credit and comes with a housing and dining stipend, which allows the students to live and work on campus.

One of last year’s interns, recent Rice graduate Aaron Garrett ’12, is actively involved with this summer’s Generations performances, serving as stage manager. Another recent graduate, Dustin Tannahill ’12, is a cast member. Both were theater majors.

“The experience really shows students that working in theater could be a career for them,” said Christina Keefe, director of Rice’s Theatre Program. “This can not only be something that they do for fun or as a release, but, in fact, it could be their job and the thing that is their life.”

Hollis said the experience will already help him in the very near future, when he will oversee the production of his college’s theater performance this fall.

“Our Town” runs June 14-24; “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” runs July 12-29. Performance times are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $10 and can be purchased at https://buy.ticketstothecity.com/venue.php?org_id=107.

For more information about Generations, visit www.generationsatc.org.

About Jeff Falk