The Belfast Maskers summer internship program was started by artistic director Aynne Ames in 2006 after she decided to mount an ambitious outdoor production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a large cast, music, songs and dancing. She knew she would need help and knew where she could find it.

Ames drew from her many connections throughout the theater community in Maine, New England and beyond to bring in four interns to complement her ensemble cast, as well as perform technical work. Interns painted, constructed and dressed sets, assisted with lighting and sound design, then performed alongside local talent as some of the principal roles in the show. The production was a spectacular success, as was the next year’s “Carousel,” for which she again brought in interns. The following year she expanded the program to include some mostly technical internships, continuing this year.

A Belfast Maskers internship is a symbiotic relationship, as the students and recent graduates bring the benefit of their recent training, education and experiences to share with the community theater and take away work experience in a practical, supervised theater setting — not to mention a summer spent in beautiful, coastal Maine.

Interns are given a stipend for living expenses; local Maskers volunteers and supporters provide a place to live for out-of-towners. Interns have come from Belfast, other parts of Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Washington, D.C., and as far away as Ireland. This year’s interns began arriving from a variety of locations in mid-June, ready to dive right into the work required to present the first play on Belfast Maskers new Festival Stage, William Inge’s “Picnic,” which just concluded. They joined a cast and crew of local volunteers, both seasoned Belfast Maskers performers and relative newcomers, to make the Pulitzer Prize-winning American play a hit. Next up is Rogers & Hammerstein’s “Cinderella,” which will preview Thursday, July 22.

“As talented and generous as our local folks are, they still have to hold jobs in the summer and they have family responsibilities. Yet, putting up (now) two shows in this kind of time period requires that we have some folks who can be dedicated to only the theater — both tech and performance, and all interns do both,” said Ames.

Elise Morrow-Schap has returned for her second summer with the Maskers. She shares a love and a proficiency for singing, dancing, and acting – sometimes referred to in the entertainment industry as a “triple threat.” Last year, she supervised Belfast Maskers Children’s Theater Camp, understudied the role of Nancy in “Oliver!” and choreographed and performed in some of the dances and sang solos. She finished her senior year at Catholic University in D.C. but her thoughts remained on the fun and challenges she had in Belfast. In addition to running theater camp this year, she played a lead role of Madge in “Picnic” and will play the title role in “Cinderella.” Following the close of “Cinderella” on July 31, she will travel to Chicago to take on a position as a nanny and explore her options in the vibrant theater scene there. Film and television also intrigue her, so she might continue from there to the west coast.

Joining Morrow-Schap on the Festival Stage as Prince Christopher is the charming Nick Abounader, a theater student at SUNY, Potsdam, N.Y. Abounader also played her spurned boyfriend Alan in “Picnic.” Abounader is a natural performer with a love of musical theater, admitting he has little more than that genre on his mp3 player. He was excited to expand his already impressive theater resumé to a summer stock-style internship.

Reid W. Conell arrived from Fitchburg State College in Massachussetts, where he is entering his senior year as a double major in film/video production and English theater. He appeared as hunky heart-throb Hal in “Picnic.”

The technical aspects of producing a show are of the same importance as on-stage talent. Overseen by technical experts Tom Sadowski and Neal Harkness, interns Randy Nichols, Jr. and James Knight took on the challenges of operating lights and sound, among other duties, for the outdoor shows. Ames, characteristically not satisfied letting in letting someone dwell in their comfort zone for long, has thrust them both upon the stage in chorus singing, dancing and speaking parts. Both tech interns share a love of music; Nichols can be seen on the streets of Belfast, singing and playing guitar.

The difficult role of stage manager for “Picnic” was undertaken by Rebecca Stuart, a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College studying theater arts and Latin American studies. She has her sights set on the publication and performance of an Alfonso Sastre play she began translating last semester. An accomplished stage manager, she was ready for the challenge of an outdoor show with a very short production turn-around.

“Each show I stage manage is completely different, so I have to learn how to adapt to things like the director’s style and the theater’s expectations. The most important thing for me has been learning to be prepared; unexpected things are going to happen and I have to make sure they get fixed,” Stuart said.

Stuart will stay on through the run of “Cinderella”, assisting with makeup and where else her talents are needed.

The talented team of 2010 interns is rounded out by Clare Olson, a high school student from right here in Belfast and another theatrical triple threat. The gifted young singer, dancer, and actress is filling many roles in the Summer Theater Festival. She appeared as the Tom-boyish Millie in “Picnic” and assists Morrow-Schap with the Theater Camp. She is a featured dancer and singer in “Cinderella,” as well as performing the task of dance captain. She said she was attracted to the Belfast Maskers internship program because it offered her the chance to do theater at a more intense level than she had previously experienced.

Belfast Maskers is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has provided quality theater for, and with, the community since 1987.  Cinderella” will run for 10 consecutive nights. Belfast Maskers will resume its indoor theater season at the Waterfront Theater, 43 Front St., with “Deathtrap” in late September.

Tickets for Belfast Maskers shows are available at their venue one hour before performances; by calling the box office at 338-9668; or at Yo Mamma’s Home, 96 Main St.

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to dernest@villagesoup.com.