We had the opportunity to learn more about Brighter Boston, a non-profit partnership of the top producers and venues in the region, on a Saturday afternoon. Ann Sousa and Daniel Jentzen shared their vision for Brighter Boston. Brighter Boston serves public school teenagers age 16 and up. Brighter Boston interns get real-world job experience with at least 100 hours per year of paid work.
You can listen to the STEAM Boston Podcast wherever you get your podcast – including Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Pocket Casts, and Overcast. The latest episode features an interview with the Executive Director of Brighter Boston, Ann Sousa, and the Founder and Director of Programs, Daniel Jentzen.
Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Will’s conversation with Ann and Daniel.
Will Ma: Hello, and welcome to the STEAM Boston podcast. My name is Will Ma, the CEO and co-founder of STEAM Boston. The STEAM Boston podcast provides dynamic and inspiring stories to students and professionals in the STEAM fields. In this episode, we will be featuring Brighter Boston. Brighter Boston is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, a partnership of the top production companies, producers, and venues in Boston. Brighter Boston gives teenagers a paid internship, where they get to work on professional theater, concerts, and special events. It’s a chance for them to learn valuable skills and start a career in the high-level industry, and it’s open to anyone age 16 and up.
Will Ma: In this episode, we do have two special guests. The very first one is Ann Sousa, the Executive Director of Brighter Boston. Ann Sousa was a ballet dancer that worked in the trades as a young adult. She went on to found an afterschool arts enrichment program and became the Policy Director for the Boston City Council Chair of Education, Tito Jackson. Ann is an advocate for equity in the workforce development, and a mother of two Boston public school students.
Will Ma: The next special guest is Daniel Jentzen. Daniel is the Founder and Director of Programs for Brighter Boston. Daniel is a lighting designer, neuroscientist and teacher. He has created lighting for over 600 plays, musicals, concerts, and special events including Oprah, Hillary Clinton, Stephen Hawking, LL Cool J, Alyssa Cross, Aziz Ansari, Conan O’Brien, and corporations such as Vice Media, Google and the Walt Disney Corporation.
Will Ma: Also a big shout-out to the Brighter Boston interns. They have worked on 200 different professional projects for a total of 4,590 hours. They’ve worked on lighting and sound for LL Cool J, Lucy Liu, Béla Fleck, Aziz Ansari, and many more. They’ve also worked with 22 producing organizations and venues, including the Celebrity Series of Boston, Boston Lyric Opera, Vice Media, Harvard University and WGBH. We’re very excited to have Brighter Boston on the STEAM Boston podcast. Enjoy.
Will Ma: Tell us more about Brighter Boston and how it came to be.
Ann Sousa: Sure. Dan Jentzen is here. He’s our founder, and now Programs Director, so maybe I could let him fill you in on how that came to be.
Daniel Jentzen: The Brighter Boston idea started back in December of 2012. I am a working lighting designer here in New England, and that means that people hire me and my company to create lighting setups for theater and parties and concerts. Television, any sort of special events. And I also am a teacher, in the Boston public schools.
Daniel Jentzen: This particular day in December of 2012, it was a Friday, I was working on a concert in downtown Boston, but I was also supposed to be teaching my ninth grade high school theater lighting class. And we decided to have the kids come downtown for a field trip, and see the theater. But we realized it wouldn’t be much of a field trip if the kids were just walking around and looking at things, we wanted to have them actually interact with the technology.
Daniel Jentzen: So, on this concert we were using all sorts of state of the art lighting technology. We had robotic lights, fiber optics, LEDs. And all of that stuff is computer-controlled, of course. So we had these ninth graders sit down at the computer that controls all of those lights, and the kids were pushing buttons and getting the lights to move and controlling them. And at the end of it, they were about to head back to school and I asked them, I said, “So, how was that? You guys have a good time today?” And I remember this one young woman had a look on her face. And I said, “What is that?” And she said, “Well, nobody’s ever trusted me with anything like this before.”
Daniel Jentzen: See, for her, it wasn’t the technology so much as the trust, as the actual chance to interact with something like that in the real world. So as a team, we said, “We’ve got to do more of this.” So, that entire following spring, so, Winter and Spring of 2013, we started bringing high school kids on the rest of the jobs that we were doing. And the kids were helping set up lights for parties, little special events, some more theater. And in May of 2013, we incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called Brighter Boston, to bring more kids to work backstage on professional shows. And that was six and a half years ago, and now here we are today.
Will Ma: Congrats.
Daniel Jentzen: Thank you.
Will Ma: You’ve focused mostly on the Boston public school system, and I am a Boston public school alum. I went to the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science. And that specific moment, that the students had hands-on learning experience. What’s great about your internship program is, they have access to having real world job experience, to put on their resume. And that’s great.
Ann Sousa: Yeah, that’s right. That component was really important to us, because we also want to create access for the young people that are in our program. So, access to networks. Everyone knows that you can’t get a job these days, unless you know somebody. So we wanted these young people to be interacting with future employers and other folks that are in the business that they’re passionate about to help them, help their career move along.
Will Ma: So in terms of doing lighting, so in terms of design, followspot operations, console programming and also jumping into the audio too, like mixing, microphones and installing systems. Can you tell me more about the experiences that these high school students had at, you did say that you worked at several events. What kind of events were the high school students working at?
Daniel Jentzen: So, it’s a whole mixture of things. You can think about, anything that would need special lighting or sound technology set up for it. So as we were saying, theater shows. Plays, musicals, ballet, opera, dance, anything like that. So the kids have worked at Huntington Theater company. Celebrity Series of Boston, which produces concerts, Speakeasy Stage Company and Lyric Stage Company, but also special events. So they’ve worked for a company called High Output, that sets up stages and lighting and sound technology for rallies and speeches and outdoor events, concerts and festivals. So basically, any sort of thing that would need lighting or sound set up, that’s what our interns go and work on.
Will Ma: In terms of being able to work in the real world, and that’s high level work, too. How long, do the interns get training? One, two week training, or do they just get dumped into that certain event?
Ann Sousa: Yeah, so we provide a skills training at the end of the summer. One week, 40 hour, 9:00 to 5:00 every day, skills training. Which prepares them to do, be employed. So it’s ladder safety, it’s all the basic skills that they need. And then, one of the agreements to hiring a Brighter Boston intern is that, you’re going to continue to mentor and train and teach them. So we at no point want them to be floundering about, not knowing what they’re doing and not continuing to learn. So there is an understanding with all our employers that they are really happy to have this young person employed with their production company or venue, and that they’re going to continue to train them as the year goes on.
Will Ma: Sounds good. In terms of high school students learning more about the event. Do you as an organization go straight to the high school, or is it more of the high schoolers coming to you?
Ann Sousa: Yeah, so we’ve done both. Dan works at the Boston Arts Academy, that’s where he is a part-time teacher. So there are certainly kids from that school. We also work with the Office of Career Technical Education of the Boston public schools, and they will refer students to us, as well as sending us a list of all the theater teachers in the district and we have reached out to them, to grow awareness of our program. We go visit high schools, and we’ll talk to classes that might be interested in having kids enroll. So we kind of do a full court press in terms of schools, parents, I’m also a BPS parent, so any contacts at schools that I have where we think folks might be interested. That’s who we reach out to.
Will Ma: In terms of, do most of the students, when going to the program, do they have a specific career in mind? Or is it just something that, are they interested in learning? Or, do they see this as a stepping stone to just getting experience and having a real world experience, during the summer?
Ann Sousa: So, most of our students have an interest in the arts, whether it’s, they want to be an actor or a singer or dancer. And this is a great way to earn a living. And it’s also during the school year, so we provide these paid internships during the school year. So they’re able to earn some money to help support themselves, and potentially their families, really, year round.
Daniel Jentzen: Our interns start at age 16, and I would say that at age 16, a lot of young people don’t know what they want to do in the future. And that’s completely okay. So we see this as an opportunity to explore what the real world is like. So some of our interns, yeah, they come in. “I’m really interested in theater or music or in the special events business. I’m really interested in visual design.” Other ones, “Hey, I need a job and this seems like a lot of fun. I like working with my hands. I like climbing ladders. I like to be busy. I like to work hard.” So it’s very exploratory. I would say some of them definitely want to climb that career ladder right away, other ones are just looking for some income, and to learn a new skill.
Will Ma: Do high school, there was this program called Tech Apprentice, this was through the Boston PIC, I got an opportunity to work at Fidelity Investments as a, more of an administrative intern, but I worked in IT departments. But having that stepping stone, I was able to get more experience and networking in that job, I was able to connect with IT professionals. And now, I’m actually working as a IT analyst at a ad tech company, and that high school internship experience was crucial in helping me explore my career path.
Ann Sousa: Yeah, I think it’s great. And one of the important pieces that, they’re being exposed to a real employer. So basic skills like being on time, it’s really important and something that we really care a lot about, and we help support the interns to make sure that they can show up to work and that they are wearing close toed shoes, and that they’re really set up for success. But I think having that employer that is outside of the nonprofit is a really important component of the program.
Will Ma: And definitely, having that mentorship experience, relationship too, and that employer can have a higher up professional that can tell about their career path and ways that they were able to get into that industry. So having that connection really helps a lot.
Ann Sousa: Absolutely, yeah. And I think being trained by some of the best professionals in the city is also something that’s really important to us. So we really want to be placing them in high quality venues, with employers that are really capable in their fields.
Will Ma: What were your best highlights for 2019, for Brighter Boston? How many students were actually enrolled into the apprenticeship program?
Ann Sousa: Yeah, so we have 15 in this cohort. 15 young people that will receive a hundred hours of paid employment during the school year. They’re working all around the city, we’re kind of dispersed, all over. So we’ll see what happens next year. We’re hoping to expand to set construction, and we have had some interest on the employer side. We have gained a bunch of new employers this year, with the Huntington Theater Company, the Institute of Contemporary Art. A production company called AVFX.
Ann Sousa: So yeah, we’re just exploring new partnerships. We’re looking at deepening the relationships with the schools, where students currently come from. So, really being able to provide full support for our students. The more adults that are in the room for us, the better. The more adults that we can give an intern’s schedule to, the better. So yeah, looking to always grow the number of partnerships we have and then, to really deepen the relationships with the schools that we have.
Will Ma: So, it seems that your 2020 vision is to get more partnerships and also get, to create more awareness for high school students. And the vision is to have all the Boston public school students actually know about this opportunity. And we can also help you on that end, by connecting with professionals that are in this field and sharing the mission and the vision that Brighter Boston is doing in the city.
Ann Sousa: That’s great. Yeah, we want to be the career pathway for all the technical theater arts. So carpentry and set construction, audio, lighting, costuming. We are really the only organization in Boston that is doing this work. That’s our only focus. And so, yeah. We want to continue to expand those career pathways for young people that are interested.
Will Ma: Do you plan to, a few years down the line, do you plan to stick to Boston or expand this to a different city?
Ann Sousa: We could be Brighter Springfield, that would work. We can be Brighter, any other city, I think. Brighter Worcester. Wherever there’s a vibrant creative community with events and theater and music, I think. Brighter Providence. I think we could do it all.
Will Ma: That would be great.
Ann Sousa: Yeah.
Will Ma: In terms of success stories, do you see, are they in college now, or, for the interns that were in the program?
Daniel Jentzen: Yeah, great question. Alumni of our program are working all over the place. We have an alum who’s already started her professional career in the business. She’s working at the new Encore Casino, actually running a followspot, for some of the concerts over there. She also works for a lot of the local theater companies, on a contract basis.
Daniel Jentzen: Quite a few of our alumni are in college, for theater programs. Some of them are in acting. Some of them are in technical theater programs, like lighting design or sound design. Some of them are actually in theater education, which makes me very proud, as their former mentor. And some of them are working in other industries, and starting their lives. And we’re just proud that the experience that they had in Brighter Boston has gotten them to the next step in life.
Will Ma: You never know if, a few years down the line, some alum would be coming back to the program and mentoring the interns there or something.
Daniel Jentzen: That would make us very proud.
Ann Sousa: Wow.
Will Ma: In terms of so, going to the STEM to STEAM concept, in terms of the science part, so light does have a few neurological aspects. So science, math, to form this type of art. Can you dive deeper into lighting and audio?
Daniel Jentzen: So, if you think about technical theater, what goes into putting on a modern high tech show, in terms of the lights and sound, you have to know a lot about physics. There’s a lot of electrical knowledge in building those systems. Not to mention optics and lenses, as you choose the right equipment for the job. All of that technology is computer controlled these days, so people are programming computers to control their shows, and we train our interns in that.
Daniel Jentzen: There’s an awful lot of just engineering and problem solving mindset, that goes into building these systems. You have to know a lot of geometry, a lot of calculation is going on. And there’s a lot of what’s called computational thinking. And computational thinking just refers to, “Okay, if I do this, then what happens? If I want my system to do this, then how do I need a computer to think? How do I need these algorithms to behave?”
Daniel Jentzen: And on the design side, it’s very artistic as well. Lighting and sound design are about taking abstract concepts and making them real for people. Making them visual, and making them expressed in sound. That’s what we do as designers. Beyond that, if you think about it very basically, when you work in technical theater you develop this sort of technical sense or a technical intuition for how things work. You’re using tools, you’re climbing ladders, you’re fixing things and you’re building things.
Daniel Jentzen: And if you look at the interns that Brighter Boston serves, many of them did not grow up using tools and climbing ladders, and interacting with the physical world that way. And so, when you work in this business, you develop this technical intuition for how things work and when they’re not working, what to do about it and how to fix them.
Daniel Jentzen: At the end of the day, if you think about what STEAM is, it’s basically collaborative problem solving. It’s bringing knowledge and skills together from all the different domains of STEAM, science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. And bringing those domains together, to solve a real world problem. And that’s exactly where Brighter Boston falls as far as STEAM education, which is, we’ve got this show to build. We’ve got this multidisciplinary problem to solve, and we’re going to take all of these skills and all of this knowledge and put it together.
Will Ma: Yeah, I like that, how you were able to add all these concepts all together and sometimes like, people would not know that technical theater would have that many components that actually goes into it. So, having these interns learn about it and [crosstalk 00:19:49].
Daniel Jentzen: I think that’s one of the most fun parts of working in technical theater is that, most people don’t really think about it.
Will Ma: Yeah.
Daniel Jentzen: People, when you turn on the TV at night to watch TV, or to watch a movie. Or if you go to a concert, or you go to a play. People don’t really think at all about what goes on behind the scenes. And our interns love to be the ones who know. They love to be the ones who have built the systems and solve the problems, to make a flawless show. It’s really kind of a cool experience, to be a part of.
Ann Sousa: Yeah, and just being backstage. It’s a pretty cool place to work, I will say.
Will Ma: Yep, definitely. Do they get a chance to meet the actors or the performers, in the show?
Daniel Jentzen: They do. They do. Our interns have spent some time backstage hanging out with Lucy Liu and LL Cool J. They’ve worked on Oprah. I had an intern help me with some lighting for Stephen Hawking, when he came to Cambridge, one time. But I would say that, for them, celebrities is one thing but they just like to be busy. They just like to be part of the team, you know?
Will Ma: Yep. Like at the end of the day, they’re going to feel proud that the work that they did to create this perfect show, it’s amazing, and to have that hands on experience. Yeah. It’s really good.
Daniel Jentzen: That’s exactly right. I remember one time, I was at a show that my interns were working on. I was actually there with my parents. And one of our interns ran up to us in the audience at intermission, and this young lady pointed to the stage and goes, “I did that.”
Will Ma: In terms of 2020 numbers. How many interns do you expect to be in the program?
Ann Sousa: I think it depends on how many pathways we have. I mean, we always want there to be a job after the skills training. So we don’t want to be training folks where there’s not an employment, on the other end. So I think that as we move forward, if we have a couple of employers that need costuming, and maybe it’s only four, then maybe we would only have four, in our costuming track.
Ann Sousa: If we have 20 employers that are need of lighting interns, then we will have 20 in lighting interns. So we, we are always looking on the employer end, too, in terms of the need that’s there. And right now, there’s a large need for lighting and electrics.
Will Ma: Do you have any information that you want to share more about your program?
Ann Sousa: Yeah, I think that what we didn’t touch upon is, the importance of youth jobs. And how, for every year young people work, income during their 20s rises 14 to 16%. However, we know unemployed young people have a greater chance of being unemployed adults. So I think for us, that’s always in the back of our mind, that providing a young person with a job in technical theater is also providing a young person with access to income, and to employers and to future networks. That’s what I would say.
Daniel Jentzen: I would add to that, that any young people or perhaps parents of young people that are listening and thinking about careers and thinking about their future, look to technical theater as a possible career path. It’s an awful lot of fun. You get to work really hard, and be part of some really cool stuff. People don’t think about working behind the scenes as a career, but it really is a pretty great life.
Will Ma: So let’s, I have a few fun questions that I wanted to ask you, so the audience can learn more, better about you. One question I have is, that I usually ask my interviewees is, if you had a superpower, what would it be?
Ann Sousa: Oh boy, you got an answer for this, Dan?
Daniel Jentzen: Yeah. I think if I had a superpower, I would make there be more than 24 hours in a day.
Will Ma: Yeah, more time.
Ann Sousa: That’s a good one. Probably invisibility. I like to lurk around, check things out. I don’t know what that says about me, but.
Will Ma: Is there a superpower related to technical theater?
Ann Sousa: Flying might be helpful.
Daniel Jentzen: In our business, being able to levitate off the ground, and fly around. That would be pretty helpful.
Will Ma: Yep.
Daniel Jentzen: Or maybe like that guy in the Addams Family, you could light up a light bulb by holding it in your hand, or something like that. That’d be pretty cool.
Will Ma: Yeah. My superpower would be teleportation. I love to travel and if I would like, just teleport to different places and save time in transportation, that’d be great. Do you have any shout outs to any mentors, educators, friends or family. And any interns?
Ann Sousa: Oh, I mean, yeah, our interns. I’m going to shout out to [Naris 00:24:55], our intern, who is, loves this work and is so hardworking and passionate about it. And she sends Dan text messages at all hours, with her ideas about lighting. Totally dedicated.
Daniel Jentzen: I want to shout out all of the working professionals in this region, who mentor the young people. Brighter Boston depends on people that work at theaters and event companies saying, “Yes, I’d like to take on an intern this season. I’d like to mentor them, and include them in my team.”
Daniel Jentzen: So, if there are 15 interns, that means that there are 15 working professionals in this town that have taken on a high school student as a member of their team. And I think that that’s a really beautiful vision for society, when people want to help out the next generation. So I’d like to shout out all of the Brighter Boston mentors.
Will Ma: Hello, we’re glad that you made it to the end of the STEAM Boston podcast. We want to thank Ann Sousa, the Executive Director of Brighter Boston and Daniel Jentzen, the Founder and Director of Programs, for being on the STEAM Boston podcast. We’re glad that you were able to listen to the podcast, and visit brighterboston.org to learn more.
Will Ma: Thanks for tuning in to this STEAM Boston podcast. Be sure to follow STEAM Boston on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for all updates. Check out steamboston.com to read more current advice and stories of students and professionals in the STEAM fields. Thanks again for tuning in, and feel free to give us a rating on Apple Podcast. Thank you so much, and see you later.
Check out Brighter Boston: https://www.brighterboston.org/
Interested in donating? – https://www.brighterboston.org/for-donors
Partner with Brighter Boston: https://www.brighterboston.org/for-partner-organizations