When someone handed Alana Wiljanen, ’17, a box and told her to make it look like luggage, she was excited. Experimenting with paint effects and design elements were two of the things the senior enjoyed during her Jepson Internship working with the artistic director at Firehouse Theatre in Richmond, Va.
During her search for internships at theatres in the Washington, D.C. and Richmond areas, Firehouse stood out to Wiljanen because of its small staff size; because of its contemporary focus, which aligns with her thesis research; and because it is in the midst of dramatic organizational change.
Wiljanen, a major in leadership studies, French, and theatre, connected with Firehouse associate producer and University of Richmond alumnus Adam Ferguson, ’11, at a performance of Maple and Vine at the theatre and asked about a summer internship.
“When I emailed him later that week explaining my hope of working under the artistic director, he put me in communication with Joel Bassin [Firehouse Theatre producing artistic director],” Wiljanen remembers. “I set up a phone interview with Joel, and after an hour-long discussion on theatre and Firehouse, Joel invited me to come work with them.”
The internship was a departure from Wiljanen’s previous work as a performer in the University’s Threshold and director of the student productions of Art and Waiting for Godot. Wiljanen explains that “since there are only five fulltime staff members at Firehouse, everyone gets to do a bit of everything — administration, marketing, design, set constructions, general upkeep and maintenance.” Wiljanen gained a better sense of how a theatre is artistically and financially run, describing how Firehouse’s small size presents a challenge for accruing grants and funding.
“Every little investment, all the way from installing a bit of carpet to using a new trash bag, needs to be accounted for and, when possible, financially conservative,” Wiljanen says.
Most importantly, however, exploring so many different roles in the theatre helped to make Wiljanen more aware of what she likes and dislikes in a career.
“I already knew that I love working with people — making art together is so much more fun to me than creating an advertising campaign!” Wiljanen says. “I have also found out that design — set and props — is of potential interest to me.”
Wiljanen plans to pursue a career in theatre in some capacity, whether that is performing, directing, or producing shows.
“Right now, I have a few paths I’m considering — staying in Richmond for a year to experiment in the theatre scene here, moving to NYC where I have several contacts and trying to develop work up north, applying for a scholarship to study at the Jacque Lecoq School in Paris,” Wiljanen explains. “Who knows what other opportunities might present themselves in the next year!”
And as for the box made into luggage, she says, “I think it turned out pretty well.”