DORSET >> The play's the thing, William Shakespeare once wrote in "Hamlet."
But behind the scenes of the play on stage, there's a lot more going on. Lighting, sound, costumes and more backstage activity allow the actors to perform their roles and focus the audience's primary attention on them, not the lighting, sound or set design.
All those supporting roles need people who know what they're doing, and as part of training the next generation of off-stage experts, the Dorset Theatre Festival, right from its inception in the early 1970s, has run an apprenticeship program to train those interested in the theatrical arts that occur off-stage. That program has continued through to today, and one getting a renewed emphasis in recent years.
The theatre festival takes in about 15 apprentices each year to assist with their productions and give them direct hands-on experience that can burnish a résumé and lead to a job.
"They are looking for experience, on-the-job opportunities to work with professional designers they can make connections with — it's the entry level way the theatre works," said Dina Janis, the artistic director of the Dorset Theatre Festival. "It's a way to get your foot in the door."
Along with the opportunity to work side-by-side with experienced professionals in lighting, set design and the other off-stage magic, the theatre awards those accepted into its apprenticeship program through a competitive process a stipend of $150 per week and offers free housing, which is not always the case at other theatres, Janis noted. So it all costs money to run.
To help defray that cost, the theatre festival will be hosting a special garden party and auction Tuesday, Aug. 2, from 4-7 p.m. at Turkey Hill Farm, the home of Stanley and Sylvia Stroup. Set on one of the foothills of Mt. Equinox behind the Wilcox Farm on Silver spring Lane, the location offers a spectacular garden setting and views of the surrounding hills and valley. Guests and auction-goers will be able to wander through a Japanese garden and other formal gardens while bidding on array of auction items ranging from a getaway house on Nantucket, a garden consultation with designer Ellen Ecker Ogden, painting and a commissioned portrait by local artist Constance Beaty.
The garden was originally laid out in the 1930s and the basic footprint hasn't been changed, Sylvia Stroup said. They've added a sculpture garden, a pond and a greenhouse, making it a suitable venue for a fundraising event such as the one the theatre festival is organizing, she added.
Being supporters of the local arts scene, they were happy to help when approached by the theatre festival, she said.
Most of the apprentices are in college or obtaining Masters degrees in some specific area of the theatre. It's a small and selective program, but one that offers the apprentices the chance to be right in the middle of the action; building the sets, making the costumes and working the sound and lighting boards, Janis said.
"We have a great record for a lot of our apprentices going on and getting actual work through the connections they have made here," she said. "Many of those relationships have led to jobs, which is exciting to us because it really does become the way you are populating the landscape of the theatre."
Tickets to the event are $75 and it's open to the public. To get there, drive south on Route 7A from Manchester, and make a right turn onto Silver Spring Lane, then make a second right and follow a dirt road which veers to the left and up the hillside. For more information, call the theatre festival at 802-867-2223, or visit dorsettheatrefestival.org.