Arden Professional Apprentices, A View from the Trenches: Episode Two

January 22, 2009

A View from the Trenches: APA Hillary Rea takes us through three days in the life of an APA.

Every Thursday I grab a ruler, my cell phone, >sickness my planner and some magnets. The weekly apprentice schedule has been posted and it is a non-ruled paper matrix of what to do when and where to go then. The ruler is for lining up each apprentice assignment with its beginning and end times. The cell phone is for plugging my entire schedule into a mobile organizer. The planner is my paper and pen back-up schedule. And the magnets are for tacking up the original schedule copy on my fridge. This may seem crazy but sometimes I spend the day in four different departments and need business casual attire, a crescent wrench, and a James and the Giant Peach t-shirt. Things can get hectic and sometimes overwhelming, but every week I look back, assess what I have learned, and feel really great about accomplishing each assignment listed in my phone, written in my planner, and posted on my refrigerator.

A few weeks ago I decided to keep track of my apprentice life for a week in a journal and below are three days out of the six-day workweek.

This morning I threw on my James and the Giant Peach t-shirt and went down to the lobby to be the House Manager for a 10am school group performance of (you guessed it!) James and the Giant Peach. The ratio of students to teachers and chaperones was so great that I envisioned 300 elementary school kids storming the stage and launching a revolution atop the most ginormous peach in existence. Luckily, ushering students, class by class, into the theater went smoothly. During intermission I caught a little girl just before she tried to climb under the riser seating to fetch her coat that she had dropped through the seats. I climbed under the seats instead and returned with a miniature blue puffy jacket. After completing a checklist of end-of-show tasks, I headed upstairs to the administrative offices for my afternoon assignments in the General Management department.


Most of our apprentice schedule is divided into three-hour blocks of time. But today I had a 9 to 5 day in the Production department working on building the set for the upcoming production My Name Is Asher Lev. The first time I was assigned to work in the scene shop with Glenn the Technical Director and Will the Master Carpenter I was slightly terrified. I had never used power tools (could I even name them all correctly?) and my 25-foot non-centering tape measure was weighing my pants down. Would I need to purchase a tool belt? But in that first 8-hour day I learned how to use a chop saw, a steel grinder and a cut a Giant Peach stem using a jigsaw. Though covered head to toe in saw dust I thought to myself “This is actually fun!”

Now the dread and fear of a Glenn and Will day is pretty much gone and I think the scene shop is awesome. My challenge for today was to read the set design blue print and try to understand how what we were building related to the design. This particular set has many wooden floorboards and roof panels. The floorboards are made of lauan (a type of manufactured wood) and I got to sand down the edges on a whole bunch of them. By sanding down the edges, the boards can look old and worn. I probably spent too much time on each piece of wood but they turned out pretty cool. The most rewarding part of the day was carrying the stacks of wood boards from the scene shop, down cobblestone and across 2nd street while they precariously balanced on my shoulder. And thanks to a SEPTA bus stopping in the middle of the street to let us pass by, the set made it to the Arcadia in the proper number of pieces.


I would say that this Thursday was the most adventurous day of the week. From 9:30am to 1:00pm all of the APAs were scheduled for “Distribution Blitz” – a Marketing Department sponsored day of hanging up posters and handing out postcards for James and the Giant Peach all throughout various Philadelphia neighborhoods. My assigned neighborhood was Chestnut Hill and I needed to take a regional rail train to get there. I arrived at Market East station only to discover that I had just missed the R8 to Chestnut Hill West and the trains only run every hour. After an awkward period of time people watching in the basement level of the Gallery mall, I hopped on a train to Philly’s outermost “borough.” While perusing the train schedule on board, I noticed that the only train that would get me back to the Arden in time for our weekly APA meeting left just 25 minutes after I will have arrived. I had done one other Distribution Blitz in this neighborhood before so I was able to sprint up and down Germantown Avenue frisbeeing postcards into each local business. Besides one tiny hold up in the Kitchen Kapers when the shopping bag that contained my postcards tore and dispersed my collateral everywhere, I made it back the train station and safely back on the train towards Center City.

After an hour in apprentice meeting – sharing personal stories, work related reports, and discussing the various factors that go into to planning a season of shows – I reported to the Development Department to work on invitations for an upcoming Sylvan Members special event. At the last minute we needed to add a logo and greeting to the front of the invitation’s envelopes and I had fun figuring out how to do that.

Immediately following the mailing, apprentice Bobby and I were briefed on our next assignment. We were informed that we needed to pick up a mattress and box spring from local actor Greg Wood’s South Philly home and move it on over to the Artist’s House (the Arden’s residence for actors and designers while in town for a production) in Old City. Before we could say “Huh?” Bobby and I were on Washington Avenue (far from the cobble stone streets of the Arden) with former apprentice Meghan at a truck rental facility. My heart was beating a little bit too fast because as I reported during apprentice orientation, “I am a skeptical driver.” Luckily Meghan was the designated driver and Bobby and I were along for the ride and the heavy lifting. We all hopped into the truck only to find out that there was a driver seat, a passenger seat and a huge gap to the floor in the middle. Megan obviously took the driver seat, Bobby buckled up in the passenger side and I took the huge gap to the floor in the middle. And we were off. The mattress pick-up and delivery was a success. Who knew you could “taco” a mattress to get it down a flight of stairs?

My day of running around the city concluded with some meditative stickering and stuffing of envelopes for the Marketing Department.

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