Cortland Repertory Theatre intern knows how to juggle.
Not balls or bowling pins, but reams of words, dance moves, singing parts, and where to place themselves on a stage.
“We’re working on ‘Goin’ to the Chapel,’ a ’50s musical, said Mike Bindeman, a junior at Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music last month as the six-intern troupe practiced at Cortland Repertory Theater Downtown. “Once we open that, we will start doing rehearsals for ‘Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.’”
The performing intern company will spend its days learning the insides and outsides of a Shakespeare play and at night, will revert to 1950s America, with singing and dancing in “Goin’ to the Chapel” at the Little York Pavilion Theater’s outdoor stage, a response to the COVID -19 pandemic.
“It’s a lot of prep work,” Bindeman said. He walks onto the set with 80 to 90 percent of the show memorized before rehearsals. “When you walk in, having already done that work, you start working on staging and working on rehearsing with other characters.”
Others in the CRT Performing Intern Company are John Broda, a Michigan man and graduate of Taylor University, Alex Keane of New York City, a Syracuse University graduate, Ilyssa Rubin of Maryland, a graduate of Rider University, and Shelby Zimmerman and Carson Zoch, both students at Otterbein University.
If you go:
What: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Who: Cortland Repertory Theatre
Where: Little York Pavilion Outdoor Venue, Dwyer Memorial Park, Little York
When: Aug. 19 to 21
How: 607-756-2627 or www.cortlandrep.org
Interns must be versatile, said Kerby Thompson, producing artistic director. “Especially this year. They are in a musical, a Shakespeare and a children’s show. All three things have very different demands. We are very fortunate … This is a good group.”
While Bindeman goes into the show knowing most of the lines, others keep it loose, memorizing more later, so they don’t get locked into a certain delivery. They need to adapt to what a director wants.
“Most directors expect, once you block a scene, you should be off book the next rehearsal,” said Keane. “You will get a daily call from the stage manager for what we will do that day. We will do this scene, block that song.”
“While you are doing late night laundry, you memorize lines,” Zoch said.
Kevin Halpin, SUNY Cortland theater professor who also directs and choreographs for the performing arts department, is very familiar with the intern company.
“It’s a well-done program,” he said, and similar to the Tibbits theater he works at in Michigan in the summers. They hire college-level performing arts majors as well.
The theater company gets a talented staff and the interns get valuable training and experience for their resumes, he said.
The CRT interns rehearse from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with one hour lunch and dinner breaks.
“A lot of us will get together on days off and run lines,” Zimmerman said.
“When you get something new, you are putting it into your body, so when you come back, it’s muscle memory,” Broda said. “Even breaks are not breaks. You want to be prepared for the next scene.”
Once movement is memorized, there is no thought in the dance.
“You can truly look and listen,” Broda said. “Now you are able to play with each other. Just live in each moment.”
“I will use the music, the instruments and the beat to align my movement,” Keane said.
Halpin said most musicals have ensembles, a group of young actors who supplement the stars. They dance and sing together.
“They support and hold the story together,” Halpin said. And they traditionally need to be able to sing, dance and act. “They are the most physical performers, often done by young people. They have to have stamina to do it.”
And there’s power in hiring an ensemble that will work the entire summer. “It makes it easier to put shows together,” Halpin said. “They have a rapport.”
But the interns this year are not just the ensemble crew. They are carrying entire shows: “Goin’ to the Chapel,” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” playing Aug. 19 to 21.
And when a show ends, the set comes down after the last performance. Cast and crew work together taking it apart and they erect the new set for a new show. They’ll be at it from from 9 p.m. to midnight.
“We get to help out with different aspects with strike night,” Bindeman said. “I helped out with sound.”
“I helped with costumes,” Zimmerman added. She hauled the costumes from the previous show out of the theater and hauled the new set of costumes for the next show into the theater.
“The guild is super nice,” Keane said. “They get us Bob’s Barbecue every time.”
The interns live in off-campus housing and everyone in the cast has been vaccinated. If they go to Aldi’s, their go-to grocery store, or to town, they are encouraged to wear masks, Keane said.
“It’s a very weird time right now,” Rubin said. “Alex and I have graduated. We did virtual senior showcases. We’re trying to find work right now. It is challenging. We auditioned virtually for this show. That’s the normal now. Most theaters have really, really small shows right now. ‘I Do, I Do,’ ‘The Last Five Years,’ two-person shows.”
But at least there are shows. “Theater a year ago was non-existent,” Bindeman said. “I was caddying at a golf course. All of us were working other jobs. It was a horrible experience. You have your industry vanish in three months and wait a year to return. This summer has been joyous.”
“It’s scary to be in a major with an industry that doesn’t exist,” Zoch said.
“We’re very grateful this year,” Zimmerman said. “In a normal year, before COVID, it was, ‘Oh a show.’”
That’s not the feeling now. It’s a treasure to perform. “It’s a need for most of us,” she said.
Broda is learning that there is no one set journey in theater. The actors are from different schools, backgrounds and experiences. Some come from small programs. Some not.
“Everyone’s journey is valid and different. It takes hard work no matter where you go.”
Outdoor theater caused an immediate reaction.
“I got stung by three wasps,” Keane said. That was as of July 28. There could be more.
“I was blinded by sweat in the eyes,” Zoch said.
The cast have little fans backstage to cool them down.
During a rainstorm, backstage staff gave the interns umbrellas three minutes before a scene. “Here!”
During a tap number, they turned umbrellas into canes.
“You can’t control things outside,” Rubin said.
“Indoor theater, you have black in front of you,” Keane said. “It’s very easy to be in your own world.”
Now the actors can see everything. And hear everything: screaming people in the park, roaring motorcycle engines.
But they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Support the arts,” Zimmerman said. “Now more than ever, the community needs to be lifted up artistically.
Broda said theater organizers chose the shows this season so they would lift spirits. “That’s a testament to who CRT is.”