Stars of the Backstage

Curtain up ! Light the lights ! And once again this year, the New Bedford Festival Theatre Apprentice Program ʻhit the heightsʼ in the words of “Mama Rose”, Gypsyʼs leading lady. Sixteen area high school students took three weeks out of their summer sun, to venture into the dark theatre learning stagecraft from the technical aspects of production. Under the direction of Elaine Santos, an experienced theatre professional and educator, the students were assigned to learning ʻstationsʼ led by Trevor Elliott, Technical Director, for training in spotlighting, light and sound design, rail and backdrop function, deck operations, and costume fitting and management. For this seasonʼs production of ʻGypsyʼ, that training also included learning how to hang, color, and operate the stage lighting, receive, inventory, unload/load a set, repair and construct props, paint, sew, deconstruct, size, and reconstruct costumes, mark a stage to manage set movement from place to place, manage microphone placement and operations, quick change and assist actors, and as one apprentice coined the phrase “ a bajillion other important things”

Upon successful completion of the training, apprentices are then given the opportunity to hone their skills by serving as members of the ʻrun crewʼ for each show. Here, they receive moment to moment guidance and daily feedback from the professional staff, which serves to shape their learning and bring out the best in each and every one. In other seasons, apprentices may be called on to learn to construct sets from the ʻground upʼ, as was the case in our 2008 production of “Les Miserables”. In the 2009 production of ʻThe Producersʼ, apprentices learned to install and operate a ʻtrack setʼ, which operates set movement through knife-blade tracks on a pre-cut false floor, and manage over 700 costume articles and changes.

Founded by Armand Marchand, Executive Producer, and George Charbonneau, Artistic Director, New Bedford Festival Theatre recognized early on, the significance of education in both the performing AND technical theatre arts. Now retired from successful careers in teaching, each brings their own expertise and guidance to our young apprentices.

Each year, applications are available beginning in March, and the yearʼs apprentice class is notified at the end of April. Students completing the application must have parental permission to participate, and must commit to the entire program. Due to the high number of applicants, and the nature of the program, expectations of the apprentices are high, and year after year, they rise to the challenge. Several apprentices find that the program helps to shape their college decisions, entering into technical theatre arts, performing, management, the sciences, math, creative writing, medicine, and engineering. Each develops their own ʻtakeʻ on what is needed in the production, which piques their natural curiosity. The actors enjoy sharing their own college program information with our students. The seasoned actors, share what life is like ʻin the industryʼ, which causes many to sit up and take notice that life in the lights can be grueling.

Many apprentices remain with the program each summer of their high school years, and are selected to remain as college interns in their specific areas of study. College interns have a major in the performing or technical theatre arts, and also serve as midlevel mentors to the high school apprentices.

The average high school apprentice has a curiosity about theatre, does not need to have prior experience, but must be focused and willing to take direction easily. Most have worked, or plan to work with their high school drama club. Some, work in community theatre companies, either as performers or crew, while still others, arrive without experience and leave with a bevy of skills in teamwork, creativity, and personal accountability. As a non-profit theatre company, NBFT receives grant and donation support for the program. Those funds provide educational stipends for each apprentice completing the program, and one ʻgraduatingʼ apprentice is awarded the New Bedford Festival Theatre Apprentice Scholarship, to further their education in the arts.

The New Bedford Festival Theatre Apprentice Program will begin to accept applications for our 22nd Season, in March of 2011. Those wishing to receive an application at that time, may contact Mrs. Santos at, or 772-263-8542, and leave a message.