LIKE MANY YOUNG Thespians, I once dreamed of working on Broadway. But in my tiny Midwestern school, I thought that was all it could be — a dream. By age 17, I decided to be “realistic,” and I placed my performing days behind me. But my love for theatre endured, leading me to found and serve as president of Thespian Troupe 8096 at Christian Academy of Indiana my senior year. This experience taught me about leadership, how to advocate for school theatre programs, and the impact of arts education.

As a result of my high school theatre experience, I attended Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I studied theatre education with hopes of becoming a high school teacher. In association with the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, our university co-sponsored the Spotlight Awards, a regional affiliate of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as the Jimmys. As a future high school theatre educator, I looked for ways to get involved, helping my professor, the director of the program, with various administrative tasks.

That year, my friend Hatty was nominated for a Spotlight Award. Hatty was a senior in high school and planning to attend Lipscomb University the next year. Before she matriculated, she won the Spotlight Award for Outstanding Lead Actress and was named one of eight finalists for the Jimmy Award for Best Performance by an Actress.

When she returned from New York and we became college classmates, I saw the positive impact that experience had on her and the Nashville high school theatre community. I wanted to learn more about The Broadway League Foundation, which manages the program. Consequently, I did what any young dreamer would do: I applied for an internship.

The league offered four summer internships, and the one I wanted was in education and audience engagement. I knew that applying for such a competitive internship was a long shot, but with the confidence of Millie Dillmount singing “Not for the Life of Me,” I sent in my application anyway.

Times Square
Brooklyn Chalfant stands in Times Square, part of her commute for a 2018 Broadway League internship. Photo by Tonya Chalfant.

Applying

Internship applications typically consist of three parts: a cover letter, résumé, and references. The cover letter is your first impression to your potential employer, so make it stellar. This is a chance to convey your passion for the position that cannot be expressed in your résumé. I always end my cover letters with specific positive feedback to the company, because that tells the reader what you love about the organization, and it proves you researched the position. Be honest, be professional, and proofread. Definitely proofread. (Did I mention proofreading?)

An arts administration résumé is not the same as an acting résumé listing hair color and vocal range. It is instead a business document detailing your work or volunteer experience relevant to the position. If it’s not obvious how your experience relates, use action words to argue why it does. Perhaps you worked as a babysitter? Don’t say, “I watched my cousins on Fridays for some cash.” Instead, say, “I supervised school-age children, managed behavioral conflicts, and supported positive emotional development and relationships.”

Jimmys Playbill
Chalfant assisted with administrative tasks for Broadway League Foundation student awards programming. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Chalfant.

When it comes to recommendations, ask an adult familiar with your work ethic or abilities and willing to speak on your behalf. Make sure you give your references details about the position and a month to compose a quality recommendation. Always follow up with a thank you letter.

One month after applying, I was offered an interview, which in the business world is like a callback and requires similar preparation. Revisit your research and remind yourself why you want to work for the company. Prepare questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company and interest in the position. Find a friend or family member to review your application and ask you practice questions. Finally, dress for success. Since I was living in Tennessee, I interviewed over the phone, but you better believe I wore business attire. My preparation paid off. After a week of waiting, I was offered the internship.

Tonys Dress Rehearsal
Chalfant attended the dress rehearsal for the 2018 Tony Awards. Photo by Maliya Castillo.

Yes, and …

Being from a small town, the biggest city I knew was Nashville. Moreover, I had never lived on my own. Navigating New York turned out to be an adventure.

I arrived in May, just as the weather turned hot. I didn’t have a car in the city, so I learned to use the subway, and I walked … a lot, maneuvering Times Square to get to work (headphones in, head down, hopes high). Everyday tasks turned into afternoon escapades, as I learned to haul groceries or laundry 12 blocks north and up five flights of stairs. When the hustle and bustle overwhelmed my flower-child heart, I visited city parks and gardens. As I adjusted to a New York state of mind, I took advantage of living in the city, winning Broadway ticket lotteries, participating in Times Square yoga, and attending the Tony Awards — all results of keeping my eyes open for opportunity.

Adapting to this new environment helped me see life as one big improv show. I began saying “yes, and …” to the prompts around me. While working at the Broadway League, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for a special event. This put me behind the scenes at Stars in the Alley, greeting Broadway performers. During the week of the Jimmy Awards, I was asked if I would mind “waiting with Vicki.” It turned out that Vicki was a beautiful, regal woman with a kind smile and the best stories. We spoke for the next half-hour about the talented kids in the awards program, she asked about my dreams and plans, and I asked about her son, whom she adored.

The next week, while working the VIP ticket table, I heard my name across the crowded lobby. I like to imagine if Sarah Ruhl wrote a play about my life, that scene would go like this:

VICKI: Brooklyn!

A goddess divine in a royal blue jumpsuit, VICKI, crosses DSL to where BROOKYLN stands in a sequin frock, smiling and sweaty, per usual.

VICKI: It’s so good to see you again.

BROOKYLN: So good to see you, too!

They do that Italian kiss-on-both-cheeks thing. Music fills the air, angels sing, and BROOKLYN is suddenly acne-free and fabulous, in the style of VICKI.

BROOKLYN: Here are your tickets. Enjoy!

VICKI: Thanks!

VICKI exits. BROOKLYN turns to see her fellow intern, mouth agape.

FELLOW INTERN: OMG, how do you know Victoria Clark?!

BROOKLYN realizes her new BFF VICKI is the Tony Award-winning actress who starred in, among other shows, The Light in the Piazza. Brooklyn considers for a moment chasing VICKI to tell her all about the time she directed that play for a term project. Instead, she faints dead away. Fin.

Okay, so that was a slight exaggeration. The point is, I quickly realized that saying yes opens doors to new possibilities, unique experiences, and amazing networking opportunities. Take advantage of the position you have been given and make yourself available.

Act well your part

The Thespian motto is Alexander Pope’s famous quote, “Act well your part; there all the honor lies.” This doesn’t just apply to being onstage. In a company, every person is vital to the success of the organization. There are no small parts, only small interns. (And at 6 feet, 1 inch, I don’t qualify as a small intern.)

My daily office tasks began with showing up on time. This may seem straightforward, but remember when you worked tirelessly to represent yourself as the best candidate for the job? Don’t lose your good impression first thing in the morning. As in rehearsals for a show, early is on time, and on time is late.

After arriving at work, my first step was to review my personal task list to see which projects needed my attention. As a summer intern, my primary work was assisting with the Jimmy Awards at the end of June. The event is a weeklong marathon in which 80 student nominees gain exposure to Broadway shows and attend master classes with theatre professionals, all while preparing for a Minskoff Theatre performance and the chance to win scholarships. While that week is rigorous, administrative work for the event began long before I showed up.

Mid-morning, I would meet with my supervisors to see if they had additional tasks for the day. Then, I would move forward, documenting meetings, filing, managing databases, and whatever else came up. As an intern I was part of a team, but I was expected to be independent and reliable. I had to keep track of projects throughout the department, which taught me organization and priority management. I also drew on skills I learned as a Thespian, such as collaboration, confidence, and problem-solving. One of my favorite activities was reviewing materials from regional awards programs and learning about the education initiatives produced by Broadway venues across the nation.

classroom 2
Chalfant with her 2018-19 senior AP literature class at Christian Academy of Indiana, where she directs Thespian Troupe 8096. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Chalfant.

The business of Broadway

The Broadway industry is so much more than the phenomenal performers who put on eight shows a week. Backstage there are dressers, wig artists, stage managers, and security personnel. In the theatre buildings, there are house managers, ushers, box office workers, and theatre owners. Before a show gets onstage, producers, directors, choreographers, and designers make it happen. And I still haven’t mentioned the personnel involved with Broadway shows that travel across the country in more than 200 regional venues. I worked in administration, which includes marketing, education, legislation, membership, and much more.

As an intern, I worked in an office with marketing masters, brilliant administrators, and fellow interns who stunned me with their abilities and helped me develop mine. When my supervisor realized I had a knack for organizing, she opened doors for me to improve the office by creating systems for organizing office materials and honing my spreadsheet skills. Knowing that I wanted to be a teacher, she allowed me to be onsite during awards week, where I spent time with the student nominees. Tiffany, a talented graphic designer working as the digital content intern, saw her advertisement designs printed in the New York Times, and Brittany, the membership and professional development intern, used her management skills to create online networking opportunities for young theatre professionals.

Broadway is a business that employs more than 100,000 people and contributes more than I can comprehend to the culture and fabric of our country. Suddenly my high school mindset that “I could never work on Broadway because I am not a performer” was replaced with the realization that all kinds of people with various talents comprise the beautiful thing that is Broadway.

Unlimited

I wish I could tell you that this story ends with a movie-worthy montage of me being discovered by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. Or that Lin-Manuel Miranda heard my story and is turning it into a hip-hop musical. Alas, that is not the case.

Instead, I am living out my own version of “happily ever after.” After the internship, I stepped off the plane back into my tiny-town life, followed by the encouraging words from one of my colleagues in the audience engagement department: “Brooklyn, you are a fantastic administrator, but you belong in a classroom. I have never seen anyone light up the way you do when you are around kids. You have to take some time and give teaching a try.”

Despite my amazing experiences as a Broadway intern, I knew that my heart belonged in a classroom. I now work as a high school teacher, directing Thespian Troupe 8096 (yes, the same one I founded at my old school). In the faces of my students, I see the same passion for theatre that propelled me. I use my résumé writing advice to help them apply for jobs. We use “yes, and …” to seek opportunities to grow and learn. We act well our parts as collaborators, problem-solvers, leaders, and dreamers. I know that every one of my students has a gift they can share, and that’s why I became a theatre teacher: to help students see that they can create the world they dream about.

So, you want to work on Broadway? Go for it! Use your talents however you can, whether onstage, backstage, in a studio, or at a desk. As Elphaba famously sings in Wicked, “Unlimited … your future is unlimited!”

This story appeared in the December 2019 print version of Dramatics. Learn about the print magazine and other Thespian benefits on the International Thespian Society website.

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