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Photograph by Gordon Schmidt
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Alana Wiljanen, already familiar with the stage, worked back-of-house during a summer apprenticeship.

Alana Wiljanen, ’17, has already spent years developing her craft as a performer, particularly of Shakespeare’s plays. Her training and performances — Midsummer’s Puck was one favorite role — have brought her to stages throughout the D.C. area and to Canada and Spain, among other places.

But where she hadn’t spent much time was in the back of the house, the place where budgets are decided, marketing plans devised, and tickets sold.

Until this summer. During an apprenticeship with Richmond’s Firehouse Theatre, she did marketing research, analyzed ticket agencies, and even helped build the set for its production of American Idiot — all tasks focused on increasing her understanding of what happens offstage to make a theater company run.

“I want to be the type of artist who is aware of the entire system,” she said on a hot June afternoon in the theater’s foyer. “If I want to build my own company in a few years, I feel like I should know how a company is run, successfully or unsuccessfully, in order to make that happen.”

The creative side of the theater still suits her best, she said, but her summer experience with administration will make her a savvier and more valuable creative artist.

“I want to work in a theater, but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself,” she said. “People will say, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to be a performer? A director?’ I want to be a theater artist, and I’ll see what opportunities present themselves. I don’t want to say I’ll be one thing. I have a skill set, and I can develop that within the theater. The world of the theater got bigger and more clear.”