Ozarks theatre student creates her own internship

Release Date: 12/2/2011

You can't go home again, someone said, but at least it turns out you can intern there. When Alisha Nystrom, a rising sophomore theatre major from Bentonville, wanted to do a summer internship at the end of her freshman year, she did not follow the usual route: going to conferences, networking, and applying to the many major theatre venues across the country in hopes of being accepted.

Instead she chose a more direct path, going back to her old high school and convincing them to let her do her internship there, at the school's Arend Arts Center, where she'd worked before. Her internship ran from June 1 to August 19, and it was a success.

"I went to Bentonville High School four years and had worked in the school's theatre during that time," Nystrom said. "The theatre is used by the high school but also rents the space, so I got to be involved with a lot of different kinds of events during the time I was there."

Alisha Nystrom paints a set during her summer internship.

Alisha Nystrom paints a set during her summer internship with the Arend Arts Center.

She described her work falling into three broad categories: First, a lot of cleaning and repairing. "A lot of things get broken during the school year," she said. "Re-plastering, painting, sewing. A local framing store went out of business, so its owner donated all its extra material to the school. It consisted of thousands of dollars worth of material. Matte board, framing materials, you name it. And it had all been stuck in a closet upstairs. So that project took a few weeks. I had to assemble shelving units just to have a place to arrange the materials. The costume and storage loft was a wreck, so I cleaned and re-arranged all that. They have a perfectly good little practice stage up there that nobody could use because it was crammed full of all this junk. I hated to see a nice space like that go to waste, so I cleaned it all up."

Nystrom also worked closely with groups renting the center for their performances. "We did a lot of dance show recitals," she said. "Those draw a large crowd. We provide the lights and sound, and they provide their own music. You have to know how to use all the equipment to help them out. In July we had three operas performed there from the Opera of the Ozarks in Eureka Springs. They have an opera house in Eureka, but every summer they set up and do their shows in Bentonville as well. I felt it was really valuable to work with them because the operas use interns as well. So you meet people from all over."

One unusual type of act not normally dealt with during a theatre internship was the bodybuilding competition. "Those are a whole new experience," Nystrom said. "But you get used to them after awhile. I've done quite a few. You have to tape down all the floors with paper, because the bodybuilders get grease and spray paint all over everything if you're not careful. And they always have a lot of banners from their sponsors so they give them to you and you have to put them all up."

Nystrom described the most exciting part of her internship as being her participation in the Second Annual Northwest Arkansas Young Artists Showcase. "The year before I had worked at the same theatre, and during that time I worked with an individual sort of last minute who had all these talented friends who wanted to put on a show, so we did it! This summer I said we should do a better version, not last minute like it was first time. Make it awesome. So he worked with his people and organized three student films, a ballet number, a musical number - and I and Stephen Kennedy wrote a one-act play called 'Narrating Jonathan.' That was so much fun."

Nystrom enjoyed the freedom to exercise her creativity during the production. "I did everything," she said. "I got to design the set and the sound and the lights and the graphics. I just thought it was a tremendously fun experience. I took reference photos of the actor to make the posters, and we took them around to the businesses in town. Our show drew about 60 people, which was actually really decent considering we had no budget and did it all using materials at hand."

Since Nystrom didn't know anybody in town who had any experience in the theatre to help her out, she recruited her little brother, a freshman at Bentonville High, to work as a stage hand. "He helped me with a lot of the bigger sets," she said.

Despite the fact she'd worked in the theatre previously, Nystrom said her first year at Ozarks had made a difference. "My classwork here really did help me over the summer," she said. "I learned a lot about the design process, and I used that knowledge for designing the play. I also got a lot of practical experience over there which helped me over here because I had a better understanding of how to start on certain projects."

One new thing Nystrom learned was how to use the theatre's sound cue software system. "I used that because it was just so helpful," she said. "I was also excited because they'd gotten some new LED lights since I'd worked there before, and I enjoyed learning how to use them. In fact, because there wasn't anyone else there trained on the different boards, I hooked my laptop with the sound cues software up to the light board, so while the show was going on I had the cue book in my lap and could switch back and forth between light and sound whenever I needed to. Sometimes when you cue someone it takes a few seconds for them to respond, which can be awkward, but this way I could do it all exactly how I wanted. It gave me a whole lot more control of the whole process."

Nystrom says although she doesn't yet have anything lined up for next summer, she will be taking the course on the internship process in the spring and plans to find something in the theatre field to do over summer break.