I showed up for the first day of my internship with the Special Programming department of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in an evening gown. The day before, as I was frantically packing and preparing to leave for my summer interning in Washington D.C., I had received an email from my supervisor asking if I would be interested in helping out that weekend at one of the Kennedy Center’s black tie events, the Opera Ball.
An annual fundraiser for the Washington National Opera, this gala takes place every year hosted at a different embassy in D.C. This year, in a nod to the Washington National Opera’s upcoming production of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, it was hosted at the German Ambassadors residence.
Not one to turn down the opportunity to go to a ball- I emailed my supervisor that I would be delighted to help out, tossed my prom dress from two years ago in my suitcase and was on my merry way. Which explains, how I found myself the following afternoon, at the German Ambassadors residence dressed to the nines at my first day of work never having set foot in the Kennedy Center itself. The night passed in a blur of meeting new colleagues, escorting performing artists through the embassy from their dressing rooms to the stage, and practicing my German joking around with the Ambassador’s security detail.
For me, that evening highlighted the extraordinary ability of the arts to bring people together. Supporters of the Opera on a local, national, and international level were there including Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (sans her signature glasses), Senators, Ambassadors, performers, and arts administrators.
Coming off a first experience like that, one might think that the next 10 weeks would pale in comparison. However, when I showed up for my first real day of work that next Monday, I was quick to find out that life as a Kennedy Center intern, especially with the Special Programming Department, was never boring.
First, a little background. As the National Center for the performing Arts, The Kennedy Center’s mission involves presenting and producing both national and international works of theater, dance, and music, while supporting artists in the creation of new work and contributing to arts education, in addition to serving as the living memorial to President John F. Kennedy. Currently in its 44th season, the Kennedy Center hosts more than 2,000 performances each year including festivals, awards shows, musicals, plays, and comedy shows in addition to being the home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet company. The Special Programming department specifically works to produce Kennedy Center Special Events including galas and fundraising events, honors and awards such as the Kennedy Center Honors and the Mark Twain Prize, and specific music and comedy concert presentations.
The Special Programming department itself is a small team of three people, though in my position as intern, it means I get a lot of responsibility and variety in the projects I get to work on, and also the opportunity to collaborate with different departments all across the Kennedy Center. From brainstorming and presenting themes and performers for the Spring Gala, to researching artists for upcoming shows, to cataloging tapes of previous performances for the Library of Congress, each day brought new challenges and fresh ideas.
My favorite aspect of my internship has to be the days on site for shows. The summer is usually the slow season for my department, however this summer, with the introduction of the new Comedy at the Kennedy Center series, Special Programming has hosted shows with performances from Jay Leno, to Kathy Griffin, and Whoopi Goldberg. Getting to be involved with everything that goes into putting on these shows, including going over performers hospitality riders (requests for the comfort of the artist ranging from normal to sometimes quite bizarre), drawing up backstage access lists and production schedules, and running around backstage on the day of making sure everything goes smoothly.
The most unusual undertaking of my internship has to be my stint as a seamstress during the Whoopi Goldberg show. 30 minutes before the performance, she got a tear up the seam of the leggings she intended to wear underneath her trademark white button down. I offered to fix them for her and spent the next 20 minutes hunting down a needle and thread, furiously stitching them up in the production room while reminding myself to thank my mom later for making me take sewing lessons as a kid. I finished with a flourish with 10 minutes to spare and upon presenting the finished product to Whoopi, she called me her hero.
From my first day on the job at the Opera Ball to my last day working on our biggest concert of the summer with Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett’s Cheek to Cheek tour, the biggest takeaway I have from this internship is to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, and to treat each experience as a learning opportunity, you never know who you’ll meet, or if you could end up as someone’s hero-if only for a day.