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Company One raises the curtain for student jobs

Kassmin Williams
Company One raises the curtain for student jobs
Company One Theatre has expanded its summer student apprenticeship program from December to May to allow students to take part during the school year. Apprentices shown above (clockwise from top left): Brieana Valdez, Shayna Bredbeck, Kemal Beyaztas, Nada Shaaban and Shawn Phillip.

While many teens are forced to settle for retail and fast-food restaurant gigs for their first jobs, Shayna Bredbeck, 16, was able to land a position in Company One Theatre’s production apprenticeship program this school year because the theater expanded its education program to provide jobs to students during the school year.

Company One has traditionally had a summer apprenticeship program as part of its educational program, Stage One, but now the program is open during the school year as well from December to May.

“I don’t come from a place of a lot of money where I don’t have to work, so I’m working to have money in my pockets to do what I normally do,” Bredbeck said. “It’s incredibly nice to be able to go to a job and be able to look forward to it because I’m learning about stuff I want to be learning about. It’s not just work.”

The apprenticeship program works with students who are approved through the Boston Youth Fund employment program and the students are placed in various positions with its community partners.

“BYF does a really excellent job of trying to place students where they have interest,” Company One educational director Mark VanDerzee said.

During the December to May school year employment program, students meet three afternoons a week.

Stage One’s production apprenticeship resembles a job-training program during which students participate in various workshops connected to the theater profession, which can translate into various careers in the industry.

General workshops train students on resume writing, financial literacy, as well as auditioning and interviewing.

Theater-specific workshops include stage management, technical design and computer drafting.

Bredbeck, who is a student at Boston Arts Academy where she studies theater, hopes to pursue a career in acting and says the program is giving her invaluable experience and opening her eyes to the many different aspects of a single production.

“I’ve been in a bunch of shows, so I know what it means to be onstage. But I don’t necessarily know what happens backstage or what happens through the process,” Bredbeck said. “The acting part is just a small part of what theater is. Learning about everything is really important so I can value everyone’s job.”

The students’ biggest task during the program is to plan and execute a community engagement event that ties in with Company One’s current production.

For Company One’s recent production “We are Proud,” the students created a video, with the same name as the production, which tells the story of the genocide of the Heroro people in what was formerly known as Southwest Africa.

The students created a spoken word piece for the video and spent a Saturday afternoon interviewing people on the street about the genocide.

As Company One readies to open its new production “The Flick” on Feb. 20, student apprentices are brainstorming ideas for a complementary community engagement event.

“The Flick” is set in an old and ragged movie theatre in Worcester, so the students are thinking about playing an old black and white film as part of an event, Bredbeck said.

Bredbeck expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with Company One and get involved in her field of interest.

“[Company One] creates this opportunity for us. They accept young people with open arms and accept that we’re learning. And they teach us, which is really awesome,” Bredbeck said.

A majority of the founders of Company One come from an education background, so the theater company places a strong emphasis on education and has a particular interest in teenagers, VanDerzee said.

“One of the things that Company One believes in is civic engagement and teenagers are at the right age for that,” VanDerzee said.

The theater company also wants to promote and encourage creativity in teens.

“When we’re younger we’re all theater artists,” VanDerzee said. “It’s when students get older that many become more inhibited and they take less [creative] risks and they have less fun in those ways.”

The student apprentice program is one of four Stage One educational branches.

Stage One also has residency programs in five Boston schools including the Boston Adult Technical Academy, Fenway High School, Another Course to College in Brighton, Jeremiah E. Burke High School and the Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury.

The programs are designed to fit the needs of each school and vary in style and length.

The residency program started five years ago at the Boston Adult Technical Academy where Company One works with English as a Second Language students using theater and drama to support English language acquisition.

Company One also has a program called “Curricular Connection,” through which it creates curriculum packets that goes hand-in-hand with their productions and places them on their website for educators.

The last program — a professional development actor’s class — focuses on those who are post- high school.

Company One has been running the summer apprenticeship program since 1999 and continues to add new educational programs to Stage One every few years, VanDerzee said.