Mary Rodriguez '13 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Interns with Casa Manana Theater in Fort Worth

Mary Rodriguez is a theater major from Arlington, Texas. She interned in the costume and sound departments of the Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth.


Theatre is an interesting beast. Most professionals in the business do not stay attached to a single production for a great length of time; even the longest-running shows in the world are not necessarily worked by the same people for the whole of their production. Therefore it is somewhat difficult to give a typical account for even a day of my internship at Casa Mañana Theatre, but there were indeed some elements that tended to repeat from day to day in two different categories: when we were preparing for a performance, and when there was actually one upon us.

During the former case, I would arrive at about 10 a.m. I worked mostly in the sound and costume departments, so I would spend the day doing the jobs assigned to me by the designers of the respective departments. I discovered that much of the work of the sound department in theatre has to do with running cables. There were so many cables that needed to be untangled that I felt like I was trying to sort spaghetti. This was not easy at all, but when I was done I would leave an organized stream of parallel wires behind me. Sound at Casa Mañana is also somewhat strange because the theater does not own its own equipment. They rent for every production, and so there is a huge time commitment to setting up and breaking down every show. I did both of these tasks during my time there, and they both required attention to detail and a willingness to try new things. 

The idea in sound for theater is to give each member of the audience the same aural experience during the show by evening out areas that are exceptionally "hot" or "dead." During the first show I worked a Broadway sound designer came, and I had the opportunity to work with him, trying to recognize inequalities in the soundscape of the theater environment. As someone who has trouble hearing in the best of circumstances, I had to train my brain to pay attention to the differences to compensate for the deficiencies in my ears.

When working in costumes, I discovered that much of the job of costuming a show is in making the clothes fit the actors. This sounds like an extremely obvious point in retrospect, but I had only really considered the design aspect before this internship. I would walk in every morning and have to add snaps; add hooks and eyes; hem sleeves; add buttons; and do a whole host of other things in order to make our stock costumes fit. I had the opportunity to construct a few skirts in Victorian style, but otherwise I was basically trying to avoid a scenario where the garment would fall off of an actor. I enjoyed this job the most of all of those this summer because I felt that I was really contributing to the overall effort of the show. By doing the more basic jobs, I was able to free the more experienced seamstresses to do their jobs more effectively.

Costumes, as a department, also requires a great deal of organization in order to make sure that each actor's costumes are where they should be at all times.  Sometimes I would work on massive spreadsheets on the computer so that the dressers could remain accurate throughout the show. I found that my computer skills helped me greatly in these endeavors, and these occasions made a nice change of pace in my tasks.

In the week leading up to performances, all of my waking hours are spent working in the theater. I was able to actually work two shows during the summer: Ring of Fire, for which I worked the slide projections, and Parade, during which I helped to dress the actors. In the former case, I had to pay very close attention to the show that was happening so that I could ensure that I cued all of my slides exactly when they were supposed to go. Normally the Stage Manager would have told me every time, but because the slides changed so much during the course of the run, the production team decided to trust me to do this on my own. During Parade, I was in charge of dressing the men during their quick changes. I had to set up all of their clothes and keep backstage neat so that they did not have to worry about anything except for changing as quickly as they could. This job was fun and gratifying, because the actors were all very classy and appreciative of my help.

The first job was definitely easier, but during both I was expected to be at the theater ten out of twelve hours for the days proceeding. I would arrive and make sure that all of the materials that I needed to do my job were exactly where and how they were supposed to be, and I did my best to make my small part of the show as perfect as possible. The strange thing about doing shows is that every single day, something else goes wrong. Sometimes I would find myself sprinting backstage in search of shoes, and sometimes I would be sitting for hours waiting on others to fix mistakes. I think that this duality reinforced my perceptions of my future, so it was really good to practice care and patience.

Overall, I thought that my day-to-day experiences were quietly incredible. I was in the world in which I want to spend the rest of my life, in the best theatre in the area. I think that it also really alerted my attention to the fact that every cog in the metaphorical machine is important. If I did the best work that I could, then it eliminated many concerns from those whose attentions were better spent on more important issues. As an artist and a collaborator, I grew enormously, and I even learned how to sew some excellent buttons.