August 9, 2012

The Apprentice Life


by  Stephanie Neuerburg and Sean Nill



Acting apprentices (top) Paddy Mulligan, Sean Nill, (bottom) Tricia Vang, and Stephanie Neuerburg explain "cuckolding" during The Merry Wives of Windsor, dir. by Virginia Reed. Photo by Kenneth Alexander.

Sean: Well…

Stephanie: Um…

Sean: Yeah…I guess we’ll talk now.

Stephanie: This is going to be the best blog post yet, I can tell.

Sean: Anyway. Being an actor in college is fantastic; you get good training from seasoned professionals and also get opportunities to be part of quality productions at a university. However, when it comes to getting rep work, professional companies can be very discriminatory to actors still in college or fresh out.

Stephanie: Especially when you’re like me, just at the beginning of your training but wanting to get more experience outside of school, during summer. I haven’t taken a lot of auditioning classes or had as much training as other people. It’s easy for companies to not take you and your talent seriously because your resume isn’t as full as someone else’s.

Sean: So it’s great when you have a professional company like Livermore Shakes which not only has an apprentice program specifically for college students, but which also casts them in roles and allows them to be a part of a summer stock company.

Stephanie: This is the first time I’ve been involved with theatre outside of a school setting, and it’s been great to learn how a professional company works. I feel like Livermore Shakes is a little more laid-back than other companies I’ve heard about, but they still teach you what it’s like to work in the real world.

Sean: Yeah, that’s true, and Lisa [Tromovitch, artistic director] treats the apprentices like professionals rather than little kids who get to sit at the big kids’ table. I went to general auditions, and I was treated like all of the other actors.

Stephanie: I actually wasn’t able to go to the general auditions because I go to school in Ashland, Oregon and couldn’t make it down. When I found out about this apprentice program, I was super excited because it had been a while since I was in a show, and I knew I wanted a theatre-related job for the summer. So I applied, and was able to audition in early January, when I was home for winter break. I did a monologue and read some sides, and when I told Deborah Munro [casting director] and Peggy Riley [dramaturg] that I could also do some basic sewing, the deal was sealed. They offered me an apprenticeship doing some acting and being an assistant to the costume designers. I did have to leave school two weeks early to be here, but trust me. It was worth it.

Sean: It was totally worth it.

Stephanie: I’ve been feeling pretty nervous about what my career in theatre is going to be like in the future. It’s easy to get caught up thinking about how difficult it is or is going to be breaking into this sort of business, but it’s places like Livermore Shakes that tell you straight-up what the real life is like and give you a taste of how hard you’re going to have to work, but also make you even more excited and confident about making acting and theatre your career.

Sean: Well said.

Stephanie: Thanks Sean.

Sean: Anytime.

Apprentices Tonya Sedgwick, Stephanie Neuerburg, Sean Nill, Tricia Vang, Christina Bauer, Cynthia Moore, and Paddy Mulligan pose for a group photo at the end of their first week of work. Photo by Stephanie Neuerburg.

Experience a Summer in Theatre

Sean: Do you want to talk or should I?

Stephanie: I’ll talk—

Sean: It’s okay. I got this.

Stephanie: Of course you do. [laughs]

Sean: The apprenticeship is a blast, but it is not for the faint hearted.

Stephanie: True that. It’s definitely a lot of work, certainly a lot more than my parents expected.

Sean: That’s super cute.  The apprenticeship is broken up into three categories. There are the roles we play in both productions, our understudy roles we try to memorize even though we will probably never play them, and the more “manual labor” jobs, which can vary from buying wig accessories to putting in the stage at Concannon Winery.

Stephanie: Ugh. Wigs.

Sean: Right?

Stephanie: And don’t forget the apprentices like Christina [Bauer], Cynthia [Moore], and Tonya [Sedgwick], who are not acting apprentices, but stage management and production management. One could even argue that they do a lot more work than we do: they have to be at all rehearsals, all the time, and the girls are in charge of things like selling tickets and organizing front-of-house duties on performance nights.

Sean: It’s really incredible how much stuff is done.  However it’s also a great experience to be here in the summer. How summer stock often works is you have a limited amount of rehearsal time [3 weeks for each production], you live with a patron who offers living space for actors (Cynthia Bird you are fantastic) and you spend 88 % of the time running lines, going over blocking and developing a character.  The summer is dedicated to these productions.

Stephanie: And going to the lake on our time off.

Sean: Yeah! The lake!

Stephanie: There are months and months of planning prior to this, but to be able to rehearse, develop, and put up two great shows in only a month is a pretty amazing accomplishment.

It’s Not All Fun and Games (Actually It Is) but We Learned Stuff Too

Apprentice Sean Nill writes up the first draft of this blog post at the Livermore Public Library. Photo by Stephanie Neuerburg.

Sean: What’d you learn, Steph?

Stephanie: Oh boy. A lot.

Sean: …why don’t you tell me about it?

Stephanie: Oh gosh, give me a second, Sean. I’m getting to it. Um… it’s been invaluable to have this experience smack dab in the middle of my acting training. I’ve met a lot of really cool people who are extremely talented actors and designers and directors and stage managers, and I have tried to take full advantage of being around them by asking for advice, listening to what it’s like to not only be a professional actor but an actor in the Bay Area, and just relishing the opportunity to work in such a beautiful space with talent I wouldn’t normally get to work with.

Sean: Also working with the First Folio script.

Stephanie: Oh yeah!

Sean: Which few theatres do and it is without a doubt invaluable Shakespearean training.

Stephanie: It’s been great to bulk up our experience with Shakespeare. I haven’t done a lot of Shakespeare before this, I dunno about you, but for this to be one of the first times I’ve done a show written by the dude has been cause for jealousy amongst many of my peers.

Sean: The people are fun, the productions are high-quality, the audiences are spectacular.  I think Livermore Shakespeare Festival has such a great thing going for it, and it’s great for young people like us to experience such an amazing response to Shakespeare.  It shows me how if you work with a spectacular group of people, a 400 year old play can still speak truth to contemporary audiences.

Stephanie: Ooh. Big words, Sean.

Sean: Well, you’ll catch up in a couple years, Steph.

Stephanie: I guess the bottom line for me would be that I was ridiculously nervous for this summer. I couldn’t believe what I was getting myself into: an apprenticeship at a professional theatre company, with professional actors. I mean, gosh. It really did scare me. But now I realize I had nothing at all to worry about. This summer has been a combination of super hard work and tons and tons of fun. It’s been so nice to get back onstage. I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

Sean: Here, here!

Stephanie: Rock ‘n roll.

Sean: Wonderful Shakespeare, delicious wine, in an amazing setting with phenomenal actors.  Nothing is better!

Next week, actor Elissa Beth Stebbins returns to write our final blog for this season, a retrospective considering her experience playing both tragedy (Ophelia in Hamlet) and comedy (Mistress Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor).