Aspiring young theater professionals continue hands-on career training (safely) through pandemic

Designed to create new paths to arts careers and promote greater diversity in the industry, the Arsht Center’s Technical Theater Apprenticeship Program has continued to safely provide hands-on experience and learning opportunities in technical theater despite the limitations posed by COVID-19. In 2020, the five current Arsht Center Apprentices – all Miami natives and minorities – spent more than 5,500 hours working alongside and learning from the Arsht Center’s production professionals.
Black professionals make up less than 1% of the theatrical workforce, according to the Black Theatre Coalition. In 2020, the industry’s leading labor union acknowledged a lack of diversity in its 2020 “Ground We Stand On” statement. The Arsht Center’s Technical Theater Apprenticeship Program helps to address this industry-wide disparity.
“The cycle of inequitable access to sustainable wages can be broken with greater access to training and lucrative careers. The Arsht Center’s Technical Theater Apprentice program provides classroom and on-the-job experience needed to propel these young professionals toward a career in entertainment, but also gives them the necessary life skills to thrive in today’s world,” said Curtis Hodge, Arsht Center director of production.
While the Arsht Center was forced to cancel more than 200 shows and lost $11 million in revenue since the onset of COVID-19 in March, generous grant funding has helped to bridge the gap.
A new six-figure grant from the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation is bolstering the continuity and longevity of the Arsht Center’s three-year Technical Theater Apprenticeship Program, honoring Lynn Wolfson’s long legacy of supporting the arts and the Arsht Center.
During the first few months of the pandemic when the Center was fully closed, thanks in part to inaugural support from The Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation, apprentices earned a wage while attending virtual workshops offered by nationally recognized theatrical organizations and vendors, training with Arsht staff on theatrical rigging and computer-aided design and taking personal development classes, such as financial management. The stability provided by the new grant from Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation grant ensures their work can continue as the Center re-emerges to host newly imagined socially distanced events.
This fall, the apprentices were able to resume working on high-profile events at the Arsht Center, including preparations for the 2020 Presidential Debate (which was ultimately cancelled), the launch of a new Live on the Plaza outdoor concert series and, most recently, the swearing-in ceremony of Miami-Dade’s first female mayor Daniella Levine Cava. The Apprentices, and the Arsht Center staff from whom they are learning on the job, adhere to strict health and safety precautions, including temperature checks, hand-washing and mask-wearing at all times.
“I feel so fortunate to be an environment that both facilitates technical theater education and offers great support,” said apprentice Ayana Vail.
“The world of live entertainment seemed very foreign until I started the apprenticeship. Now I have the opportunity to work in events that I’ve wanted to be around my whole life,” said Andre Best, apprentice. To learn more about all of the current apprentices, visit here.
The program will continue through 2021 and beyond, ultimately providing each apprentice with a robust resume of work, hours of hands-on training and the real potential for a long and well-paying career in the arts. 
The new gift to the program from the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation is the latest in the Wolfson family’s longstanding support of the Arsht Center, which pre-dates the Center’s groundbreaking. Lynn Wolfson was an early champion of the performing arts center and served as a member of the Adrienne Arsht Center Foundation Board of Directors prior to her death in 2012. The Lynn Wolfson Stage at the Ziff Ballet Opera House bears her name in honor of her dedication and generous philanthropic giving to the Arsht Center, which totaled over $1.7M. The Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation, Inc. was the program’s inaugural funder in 2019, and continues to support the program.
Launched in 2018 as the first federally registered apprenticeship of its kind in the state of Florida, the Arsht Center’s Technical Theater Apprenticeship program was designed to introduce residents of Miami-Dade County, ages 18-24 from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities, to a professional career in technical theater. The apprenticeship is a paid, three-year program, running annually from October to July. Under the supervision of industry professionals, apprentices work daily on projects related to Arsht Center performances and events. Once an appropriate level of training has been completed, apprentices join the performance running crews alongside International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) stagehands, exposing the apprentices to local and international artists, technicians and companies. In addition to technical training, apprentices attend “Life Skills” workshops focusing on financial literacy, health, resume-building and more. Since the beginning of the program, Technical Theater Apprentices have participated in many significant Arsht Center productions, including NBC’s 2019 Democratic Presidential Primary Debates, the NFL Honors broadcast on Fox, several galas and play premieres, Broadway musicals including Hamilton and many more events at the Arsht Center.

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