East Carolina University graduate Rachel Isaac knew she had a passion.
The Claremont native loves children’s theatre. The energy, excitement and frenzy that come from directing and producing a play for young actors are the emotions that drive Isaac, but the question remained of how to turn that affection into a job.
Isaac arrived at ECU in 2015, joining one of only two undergraduate children’s theatre programs in the state. Fast forward two years, and Isaac found the answer to her pressing job question – an internship with ECU’s SECU Public Service Fellows program.
The program, founded in 2015, connects ECU and communities through projects that address community-identified priorities. Isaac’s internship connected her to Arts of the Pamlico in Washington. The organization provides cultural opportunities through initiation, support and presentation of artistic programs in Beaufort County.
Isaac said at first she was hesitant of taking on the internship.
“During my senior year, professor Patricia Clark asked everyone in our Theatre for Youth department to apply for the internship,” Isaac said. “I was on the fence about it because I was already so busy. Theater is time consuming and the internship would total 350 hours throughout the year.
“A short time later no one had applied, so I applied just for fun,” she said. “I went through the application process, found a facility to work with, and then interviewed. I ended up getting the internship, and it has shaped my life moving forward.”
Despite classes, participating in a play and the 30-minute drive from campus to Washington, Isaac was able to complete the internship, picking up valuable work-related skills along the way.
“My internship was originally focused on the original Turnage Theater, built in 1913,” Isaac said. “It was a vaudeville theater that was shuttered in 2011. However, due to my focus in children’s theatre, we reshaped my internship goals to help build up a children’s theatre program in the region.”
Isaac said that through her internship she was exposed to new experiences and leadership opportunities that weren’t available in the classroom.
She created brochures and pamphlets for both the Turnage Theater and for children’s theatre history; created a map of historic theaters in North Carolina; developed funding resources for the theater; and hosted and curated event listings for the Arts of the Pamlico.
Isaac’s largest undertakings included interviewing Washington residents about the Turnage Theater and documenting children’s theatre history in North Carolina and beyond.
“For the internship I interviewed different people in the Washington area to get background information on the Turnage Theater, including board members, city council members and even a relative of the theater’s original builder, Cat Turnage,” Isaac said. “I then interviewed people who had a history or knowledge of children’s theatre to learn how they became involved in the discipline and what tools you need to start up a children’s theatre. I wanted to preserve and document a history that wasn’t readily available.”
Isaac also developed a monthly playwriting workshop for young children, guiding the children in writing a story with their own characters, settings, conflicts and resolutions. Isaac participated in the 2017 Early Childhood Education Conference held in Raleigh, where she discussed the Play Outside N.C. program for pre-K students. The program aims to get students more involved in learning outside with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics learning. Isaac helped develop two STEAM modules for the program on art and literacy and on engineering and math.
Not reading out of a textbook
After her internship ended, Isaac was extended a job offer by Arts of the Pamlico. She now serves as the organization’s children’s programming coordinator; a job she believes would not have been possible without the SECU Public Service Fellows Internship.
“While I was in school, I basically learned how to be a teacher of children’s theatre,” Isaac said. “With the internship, I was able to put what I learned into practice. I got a better understanding of the administration and leadership skills needed to be successful as a children’s theatre leader.
“I gained a lot more professionalism and understanding of what it’s like to be in charge,” she said. “My work provided real-life scenarios that gave me a lot of knowledge that I wouldn’t have just gotten from the classroom. I felt I was prepared for the real world by combining school with my internship.”
Dr. Sharon Paynter, assistant vice chancellor of community engagement and research, said that Isaac’s experience is the goal of every partnership created by the internship.
“The experience that Rachel had with Arts of the Pamlico is exactly the kind that we hoped for when this program was created,” Paynter said. “A high-quality student was able to test the professional waters in a supportive and challenging internship in a small town in eastern North Carolina. We are thrilled that the relationship will continue since Rachel joined as a full-time staff member while she does her graduate work.”
Paynter said that applications for the 2018 SECU Public Service Fellow Internships are being accepted until March 15. Students can find information online through the Office of Community Engagement’s website.
While Isaac is now out of the classroom and into the “real world,” she knows her transition would not have been as successful without the program. She encourages others to give it a shot.
“Internships will help you in any profession – with me it just happened to be theater,” she said. “I believe getting out and doing the work helps you way more than just sitting and learning about it.
“With me, it ended up leading to a job; that same possibility is out there for other students. What do you think is going to help you more, only reading a textbook or actually doing the work?”
-by Matt Smith, University Communications