Bates, British secondary school create internships in performing arts

Victoria Lowe ’12, at right, leads a dance class during her 2012 internship at the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre in Taunton, U.K. Photograph courtesy of Heathfield Community School/Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre.

“Many prestigious independent schools in Britain have internships, usually linked to sport,” says Michael Bettles, a Bates parent and top administrator at Heathfield Community School, a state secondary school in Taunton, U.K.

“I could see the benefits that the interns bring to those institutions, so I thought: Why should they have all the fun?”

Thus inspired, Bettles worked in 2011 with the Bates Career Development Center to grab some of the fun for Bates and his own institution, where he is deputy head for curriculum and assessment. The result: performing-arts internships at the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre, affiliated with Heathfield, that were inaugurated this summer by a current Bates student and a 2012 graduate.

The internships, which Bettles suspects are the first at any state-run school in the U.K., include salary and accommodations, as well as invaluable assistance negotiating the complexities — “labyrinthine,” in Bettles’ description — of obtaining visas for the interns.

“This partnership is exciting because it provides a paid professional internship abroad in the arts, which is unusual,” says Nancy Gibson, an assistant director at BCDC whose purview includes internships. “Most internships in the arts are unpaid and may involve clerical responsibilities, as opposed to professional experience.”

Gibson worked with Bettles to make the internships a reality. “The help offered by Nancy was crucial to the success of the whole thing,” says Bettles, father of Matthew Bettles ’13.

Lucas Wilson-Spiro ’15 shows off the robot that he designed and built as part of the set for the Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre production of “€˜The Wiz.” Photograph courtesy of Heathfield Community School/Tacchi-Morris Arts Centre.

Lucas Wilson-Spiro ’15 and Victoria Lowe ’12 just completed the inaugural eight-week internships at the arts center in southwest England. Lowe is one of Bates’ first dance majors and Wilson-Spiro has a long interest in the technical aspects of stage performance.

At Tacchi-Morris, they helped instruct individual students and classes in performing arts, and pitched in on a production of The Wiz, the 1974 soul-music adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, that ran July 11-14.

Lowe contributed choreography and did marketing work. Wilson-Spiro put in late nights designing and building sets, and working on stage lighting.

“They both got on brilliantly,” Bettles says, “and we were overjoyed at how well they fitted in.”

“It was an amazing experience,” says Lowe. “I’ve had a variety of different internships elsewhere, and held many leadership positions, but not at such depth. It was an opportunity to really be a part of a team, and to weave my own piece of thread into the fabric of the Heathfield community.”

She adds, “Everyone had a job to do, and no person or position seemed to be more valuable than the other. This was really nice to see.”

For Wilson-Spiro, a connection made during the internship led to a volunteer position at this August’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. “I jumped at the chance,” he says.

“I never would have made the connection or gotten the position if I hadn’t been chosen for this internship.”

If the Tacchi-Morris internships are distinctive in important ways, they are typical of the productive relationships that BCDC has with parents. “They contribute their expertise by participating in workshops and panels,” says Gibson. “They provide internship and job opportunities, and connect students to other professionals.

“These partnerships are tremendously valuable.”

To Bettles, the new partnership makes good sense. “I see a clear correlation between the ways that performing arts are taught at Heathfield and at Bates,” he says.

“We both see the performing arts as an essential part of a well-rounded education, and as providing insights into the human condition that cannot be fully realized in any other way.”

The connection also extends a network of overseas relationships that Heathfield and Tacchi-Morris have forged in service of their common goal of using the performing arts to promote international understanding. That goal reflects the vision of arts center benefactor Kathleen Tacchi-Morris, who was a women’s rights advocate and world peace activist, as well as a dancer.

Bettles anticipates adding a third Bates internship, with a more pronounced educational focus, next year. “One of our aims is to ensure that our students leave with a world vision,” he says. “For them to rub shoulders with students from a top U.S. liberal arts college is a fabulous opportunity.”