Mountain Feuds and Dive-bombing Bats: A Summer Internship

Release Date: 9/27/2011

Tori Rhein's summer internship at the Theater of West Virginia from May 16 to August 21 had much in common with any similar project - adapting one's knowledge of the craft taken from classes here at Ozarks, working long hours for little money (if any), and otherwise doing the thousand-and-one tasks required of anyone in theater, to get the show together on time and done right.

But most internships don't have bats. Or raccoons. Or wasps. Or lightning.

"The Theater of West Virginia is located in Grandview State Park, near a town called Beckley," Tori explains. "It is a beautiful outdoor theater, but there are challenges to working in an environment like that. One really interesting thing is you have to deal with the animals in the area. We had a huge raccoon problem, so in the mornings we'd come in and trash cans would be overturned and the scenery would have little raccoon footprints all over it."

Tori went on to describe a night during the production of the children's show, "The Jungle Book," when she was sent to investigate mysterious loud thumpings. "I was cleaning and we heard a giant THOOM, so I took my flashlight and went out to the dumpster, where the noise had originated. I peered in and saw one raccoon, and then out of nowhere another one leapt at me, and I fell off the trashcan I was standing on! Everybody got a good laugh out of that."

Tori works on building props for one of the productions.

Tori Rhein spent several weeks this past summer interning at The Theater of West Virginia, where she helped build sets for the shows.

She said the interns, like the other crew members, worked through numerous challenges. In addition to the raccoons, she got to experience building scenery the first two weeks while using tarps to keep the rain off.

And then there was the lightning. "Shows did get cancelled about three times. Whenever lightning struck, technicians would run like crazy for the breakers because several seasons back, lightning blew a breaker and zapped a member of the crew."

"Sunscreen is also very important," she said. "Once the rain let up, it got extremely hot. I have a really nice tan now as a result."

Despite the lightning, the wasps (all crew members carried wasp spray), the rainy weather, and even the bats, which dive-bombed cast and crew alike during shows, Tori says she learned a lot during her internship.

"Fortunately there wasn't any equipment in their shop I didn't already know how to use, except a portable band saw, which was fun." she says. "I did get a lot of experience carpentering, which was what I hired on to do. We worked usually about 16-19 hours a day, which means I took home about $2 per hour when you broke it down, but I got a lot of fast experience. In addition to carpentry, I did painting - I developed my painting skills and did a lot of spatter painting because I wasn't afraid to get messy. I also ran shows at night, and I had a walk-on role in 'Honey in the Rock,' which is one of the two shows they do every year. I played a soldier."

And motorcycles. "I learned a little about motorcycles," she says. For "All Shook Up," which she describes as "12 nights of Elvis music," she was part of the maintenance crew that took care of the motorcycle driven on and off stage during the show. "I got to ride it and everything, even though my feet would barely touch the ground," she says. "It was extremely cool."

Two regular stock productions put on annually by the theater are "Honey in the Rock," a tale of West Virginia's splitting from Virginia during the Civil War, and "The Hatfields and McCoys." The latter play, which premiered in 1971, chronicles the famous, decades-long feud between the two mountain clans, the Hatfields and the McCoys.

"For those shows I got to learn pyrotechnics," Tori says. "We used lots of guns and lots of fire in both shows. People carried torches and shot off guns, so I learned not only how to clean guns, but also how to handle them properly. I also learned how to put out a fire, because one night after a showing of 'the Hatfields and McCoys,' when we were doing change-over, the house on the set actually caught on fire. We put it out, but it was damaged, so I got to repair that next day."

Tori's summer wasn't all work, of course. "They provided us with inexpensive housing," she says, "and through the theater we got discounts to the movies and some places to eat. But mostly we did outdoorsy stuff, like hiking and camping. This was the first time I actually went camping, living up there. It's called Grandview National Park for a reason. You could take a short walk and see a really magnificent view nearby of the New River Gorge National River and the Appalachian mountains. We went to a beautiful waterfall high above a swimming area. And I jumped off!"

Tori says despite being attacked by raccoons and bats, cleaning guns, and being paint-spattered on a regular basis, she considers the internship a real success. "It was a lot of fun," she says. "A whole lot of fun."