Teen intern playing key role backstage at Guild

PARKERSBURG – When the Actors Guild of Parkersburg opened its current production of “9 To 5: The Musical” last Friday, all of the lighting on stage was designed, installed and coordinated by 17-year-old student intern Katie Godell.

“9 to 5” has two more weekends to run at the Guild Playhouse at Eighth and Market streets, with its final performance on Aug. 23, which will also be Godell’s final day before she returns home to Big Rapids, Mich.

Godell began her internship at the Guild on June 14 under technical director Rod Oden. Godell was a sophomore at Big Rapids High School when Oden was technical director there. After coming to Parkersburg to work at the Guild, Oden contacted her when the Guild approved his idea to try an internship program at the local community theater.

She started in June during the preparations for the Guild’s production of “Grandest Canyon.” While her focus is on lighting, she worked in a variety of areas during that production and through the summer, including helping with set building, running projections and learning more about sound, props and painting, among others.

For the current production of “9 To 5: The Musical,” she served as lighting designer and installed all of the lighting for the musical.

“I did the whole plot (design) myself, which was really fun to do because I got to learn how to work with the different instruments (lights) that are here, that are a lot different from the instruments that I’m used to,” she said.

Robin White has been directing “9 To 5” at the Guild and is pleased with Godell’s work on the production.

“Katie has taken the challenge of designing the lights for ‘9 To 5: The Musical’ very seriously,” he said. “I was impressed with her intuition to the music and trying to incorporate that into the overall design. Coming into a new space and designing the light plot is a challenge and she’s done a great job. I’m excited to see where her career takes her,” White said.

Godell graduated this year from Big Rapids High School and will be attending Saginaw Valley State University this fall, where she will be pursuing a bachelor’s degree in technical theater with a focus on lighting and scenic design, while also minoring in art.

“I’ve known since early on in middle school that it’s what I want to do,” Godell said of her technical theater goals.

Depending on circumstances, she may also pursue a master’s degree depending on how things go after college. Godell said she would be happy doing anything in theater, from big city productions to community theater as a technical director or some other position.

“I definitely want to go on to run a theater somewhere. I don’t really care where I end up, as long as I’m somewhere that’s a great place with a good environment and really nice people. I want to be able to do what I love, which is to produce theater and make an audience happy,” she said.

Prior to spending this summer in Parkersburg, Godell did a lot of work in her school theater department and was also involved in her local community theater program, Stage-M, where she worked on summer stage productions.

Working at the Guild has expanded her experience and knowledge of lighting and let her do more on her own, she said. In lighting for a high school production, the students would be more involved in installing and operating the lights while the instructor would do most of the design work and decision-making.

“It’s a lot of the teacher designs and you execute, so I’ve done a lot of hanging and stuff like that but I’ve never designed my own show before. Being here and learning how to circuit and plot and all of that other stuff has been a totally new experience,” she said of her weeks at the Guild.

During the summer, Godell spent 40 to 60 hours a week in the unpaid internship, helping around the Guild Playhouse and working to tear down the previous production and on the building and preparation work for “9 to 5: The Musical.”

Oden has been technical director at the Guild for the last couple of seasons. He said there is a large and strong volunteer base at the Guild and a lot of time is spent educating those volunteers in new skills and areas of theater production. When he approached them with his internship idea, Oden said the Guild’s board of directors was supportive of the program.

“The Guild stands on the shoulders of its volunteers. It’s volunteer base is incredible and very talented varied artists work in this building. I think interns as well could be another level of volunteer base,” he said.

When he was younger and began pursuing his own interest in technical theater, Oden said he participated in some internship programs as a way to gain experience and skills.

“The way to get knowledge was experience and it was very hard to gain experience in a serious professional sense unless you were an intern,” he said.

After receiving the Guild’s approval, he contacted his former student, Godell, for the initial internship but has always envisioned it as a way to reach out to the high schools and colleges in the Mid-Ohio Valley, to students who “could benefit from practical, hands-on knowledge of working in the theater,” he said.

Oden also said the more experience in a wider variety of venues, the better it will be for interns like Godell. Every theater has its own strengths and weaknesses and obstacles to work around or overcome.

“She has a totally different experience here at the Guild than she will have anywhere else and that will benefit her greatly as she progresses down into her technical field,” Oden said.

Oden believes the Guild’s internship program is off to a positive start and hopes to see it continue and grow. There are a lot of opportunities to learn and grow in the local program, from the focus Godell gave to learning about lighting to other aspects of theater production, from set design and construction to costuming and prop making to directing.

Those interested in learning more about the Guild’s internship program can contact Oden by email at rodneyoden@gmail.com or John Newton, the Guild’s vice president of administration, at jwnewton@suddenlink.net.