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Unpaid Internships, or Getting Your Foot in the Door of the American Theater

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In the wake of the death of a camera assistant on a film shoot in Georgia, there’s been plenty of reflection in the film industry regarding the conditions under which crew members perform their duties. I keep reading these articles and thinking about how it all relates to the theater world and, in particular, the nonprofit system of New York City. Our circumstances certainly aren’t identical to those in film, yet there are a lot of problems with entry-level positions in many aspects of our industry. We could do with a little reflection.

What simultaneously impresses and upsets me is the fact that my generation (myself included) seems willing to do almost anything to work with or alongside the established theaters in the city. Yet, for the most part, the doors are heavy and difficult to open. There’s precious little paid entry-level work for aspiring artistic administrators, and for the actors, directors, playwrights, and designers, it can be even worse. There’s been a ton of ink devoted to this question: how can young people make a living in today’s theater?

For the most part production assistants (PA) in the theater are asked to take fewer physical risks than our counterparts in film, there are fewer direct occupational hazards (although there certainly still can be danger). Instead, we mainly fear the cost of living, the cost of working double-digit hours a day during tech week while making fifty dollars a day, all the while trying to brave finding an apartment in the city without a trust fund to fall back on. The psychological toll can be powerful. The practical effect is even more significant such a system invariably favors those who have independently wealthy means and creates an elitist stratification. We hear theaters talking about diversity all the time, yet they carry out practices on the most basic level that make it almost impossible for those who come from lower socio-economic situations (or have parents who refuse to pay the bills) to break in to the field.

Production assistants provide essential services to theaters and yet are often struggling just to get by. It can be difficult for PAs to assert themselves in the workplace; we’re viewed as expendable. There are a lot of young people trying to work in this business, and so if a PA makes waves or causes trouble, they can be very easily replaced. In my own experience, I’ve had difficulty with things like getting contractually guaranteed overtime pay. If you push too hard, sure you might eventually get that extra two hundred dollars in your paycheck, but you’re putting in jeopardy the possibility that you might get hired back by that theater in the future. They can find someone else who won’t be so ‘pushy’ to do the job. It’s this same mindset that can lead to young PAs putting themselves in physical danger. You get asked to do something backstage you may not be comfortable with; yet again you fear asserting yourself, so you just go with it and hope for the best. Under these circumstances, it’s only a matter of time until an overworked or underprepared PA ends up getting hurt.

Then, thinking about internships in particular, there’s the very basic issue which hasn’t gotten as much press in the theater world as I would have expected, although unpaid internships in other fields have been explored by mainstream media outlets. Many of the unpaid internships in the non-profit institutions are blatantly illegal, a fact underscored by a recent ruling by a Federal District Court in Manhattan. According to the department of labor, for an unpaid internship to be legal, it must follow a number of guidelines. I’ve listed the two that are most commonly broken below:

1. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff.

2. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded.

At a number of institutions, the roles interns now occupy were at one time fully staffed positions, which is an obvious violation. Many internships require interns to work upwards of thirty or even forty hours a week—all of it unpaid labor. It’s also clear that many of these internships are running afoul of this second tenet. Unpaid internships are supposed to be about training, education, and be for the benefit of the intern, not the institution. Yet imagine if theaters suddenly lost all of their interns? Who would be doing all of that grunt work? Here’s the (slightly altered to maintain anonymity) description of an unpaid literary internship with a prestigious non-profit:

Literary Interns read scripts, write reader reports, attend readings and productions to scout for emerging writers, help coordinate audience engagement initiatives, maintain the script database, manage our reader's group, and, on occasion, correspond with writers regarding individual works. Literary interns also help prepare dramaturgical support materials for our season productions.

This sounds like a job, not an internship. Is there room for education and hands on learning? Absolutely. However, the vast majority of the work required is essential to that theater’s mission. For example, what would a theater that actively pursues new and engaging work do without someone to update their script database and oversee submissions and readers? The work is necessary, and yet the intern is paid nothing for their time and effort. It’s important to note that there is no union for interns or PAs. There is no contractual protection. While no organization (not even TCG) seems to collect data regarding the number of unpaid interns or PAs working in the non-profit sector in NYC, we can assume just about every production at a major non-profit has at least one PA on board.

A sampling of some of the major non-profits suggests that there are at least, on average, 8 to 10 unpaid interns working at any given time in the average mid to large sized non-profit theater. There are over 300 non-profit theaters of varying sizes in New York alone. Even with conservative estimates, there are at least a thousand interns, (probably more) working tens of thousands of unpaid hours for the non-profit sector. There are hundreds of PAs. We’ve created a system that’s built on the backs of unpaid young people who just want to be a part of things.

PAs and interns are essential to the operation of institutional theaters.... They deserve protection; interns deserve and are legally required to be paid.

Look, we all know that many theaters are hurting financially. Costs are rising and there’s worry about sustaining current audiences while developing new ones. The truth is, though, that PAs and interns are essential to the operation of institutional theaters. Few, if any of those who take on PA type positions aspire to be career Production Assistants. These are the artists and technicians who will be running the theaters in the future. They deserve protection; interns deserve and are legally required to be paid. With some financial security hopefully production assistants will feel more comfortable standing up for their health and wellbeing in the workplace, and will be able to pay their rent. It’s a simple way of looking at a complex and nuanced issue (and the how is definitely up for debate), but at the very least, this should be the baseline: nobody who is putting in forty hours a week or more at a nonprofit institution should go without pay or a living wage.

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This kind of discussion is exactly the thing I need to see. I have been working at a small brand management agency and I need to make something. Even though my portfolio is looking much more promising doesn't mean that I don't have things to pay for. Thank you for bringing this to light

I feel fortunate that through 8 different contexts, I've only been affiliated with internships as an intern or intern supervisor where the interns were somehow compensated. For some it was supported by the organization itself, some received external funding to support the internship, and others had worked out an agreement that the intern was support by their univeristy to be able to join an organization which otherwise couldn't afford to pay them internally. This is unacceptable and I wouldn't point my students now to take unpaid internships.

Hi! I'm a Community Editor at ProPublica, an investigative news outlet in New York. I don't want to be spammy, but after reading, I think this thread might be interested in our ongoing internship investigation: http://propublica.org/inter...

This week in particular, we're doing an in-depth exploration of internships in arts and entertainment. We're asking current and former interns to rate and review their experiences in a crowd-powered we built: http://projects.propublica....

Whether you share your story, or read others', I hope you find it useful! Most of this information has, as you said, not reached mainstream media, so we're hoping to change that.

Thanks,Blair

At the bottom of the exact article you cite:

*The FLSA makes a special exception under certain circumstances for individualswho volunteer to perform services for a state or local government agency andfor individuals who volunteer for humanitarian purposes for private non-profitfood banks. WHD also recognizes an exception for individuals who volunteertheir time, freely and without anticipation of compensation for religious,charitable, civic, or humanitarian purposes to non-profit organizations. Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitableorganizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation,are generally permissible. WHD is reviewing the need for additional guidanceon internships in the public and non-profit sectors.

Not that I don't agree that a full-time internship where someone is expected to have a certain amount of experience previously does feel like it takes advantage of the above clause.

I am so glad so see a discussion of how this current system locks middle and lower income people out of the theater establishment by making early-career positions financially beyond their reach.

And the children of wealth produce plays about other children of wealth at prices children of wealth can afford.

And theater becomes irrelevant for the vast majority of people.

The dirty little secret of the non-profit arts world is that once one gets to the more well-heeled organizations, the top officers receive six-digit salaries while many of the artists, upon whose work the organizations' reputations are based (thus justifying those high salaried positions) are being asked to work for little or no compensation. We are talking not just about interns, but experienced artists who might be more fairly compensated by smaller, less prestigious organizations.

I noticed this last year when Boston's CitiCenter asked me to perform for free at a festival they were producing:

http://www.clydefitchreport...

And lest I forget, let me also note the contemptuous treatment that Theater Communications Group offered its volunteers at its 2012 conference in Boston:

http://www.clydefitchreport...

Aside from the legal ramifications of failure to comply with the wage & labor laws (i.e, the penalties for not paying interns when they were improperly designated as "unpaid interns"), the underlying issue is that businesses of all types, be they not-for-profits or for-profits should not be taking advantage of people. Its really a corollary of The Golden Rule -- "Pay your intern, when they are doing something that you'd want to be paid to do." "Workers" -- a classification that includes interns -- should be paid. They are different from volunteers. The glamour and appeal of working in the arts has devolved into a system of internships that all too often takes advantage of those who want to enter the field. We need to put on our collective thinking caps and figure out how to take advantage of the glamour and appeal of the arts to raise the right amount of money so that workers get compensated for their work. An important side note -- I am involved with numerous small nonprofit arts organizations in NC -- most with annual budgets of $100,000 - $2M. While they almost all have some sort of interns, none of them fall into the category of abusing/taking advantage of their interns. They really do try hard to make the internships rewarding; in many instances the interns are getting course credit.

Joe Dowling at Guthrie made $900K ($600k base salary plus perks) in 2012 (http://990finder.foundation.... Guthrie interns, on the other hand, make $0. (http://www.guthrietheater.o.... However, that is perfectly ok, because Guthrie interns "receive other valuable perks such as industry contacts, professional development opportunities, complimentary Guthrie tickets, invitations to meet and greets, staff meetings and more." Yay, and besides everyone knows that it's also ok because Guthrie's mission is "diversity" and commitment to "social justice." No, Guthrie is a liberal institution and not at all like that horrible Republican Capitalist Walmart, which pays its poor employees minimum wage so they have to live on food stamps. No, Guthrie is not like that at all, with Joe Dowling's 3 yachts and multimillion dollar homes.

This is incorrect. Non-profits under different internship guidelines; volunteerism, including unpaid internships, are absolutely legal.

Does that mean theatre's shouldn't offer paid internships instead, or as well? No; in my opinion, a stipend should at least cover costs the intern would not have incurred if not in the position (gas, fast meals, etc). But interns are often as much a headache to administer as they are a help. Generally, they're so entry level that they lack the skills to do a paid job, which is the point of the internship. theatre companies shouldn't hire unpaid interns who are actually skilled professionals; that goes against the nature of a professional companies. Someone who hasn't ever hung a light but wants to help? Sure, come ahead, we can use an extra pair of hands but we won't be offering a professional wage.

Grouping everyone indiscriminately into broad categories to make a broad point is basically extremist; chill out. There are people who abuse the system. There are also producers with unpaid internships who are providing a useful entry point for inexperience students to form relationships and start to get a sense of how theatre in the real world works. That's a hassle, but it's valuable, and it should be encouraged -- not railed against.

Mark, read my post above about legality - just because you're a non-profit doesn't mean you have the right to not pay workers except under extremely limited circumstances, which I argue are not met in the theater. Here, actually, I'll repost it for you. And I'll add the bit about volunteeerism, which you say makes internships legal:

Volunteers may not:

• Replace or augment paid staff to do the work of paid staff • Do anything but tasks traditionally reserved for volunteers • Be required to work certain hours

In numerous internships, as noted, interns have come to replace formerly salaried positions. In addition, most of the work, having been done once by salaried staff, couldn’t be considered “traditionally reserved” for volunteers. And finally, most internships do mandate that interns work a certain number of hours, in violation of that last tenant.

Here's a quote from the department of labor:

"There is no section of the Labor Law that exempts “interns” at not-for-profit organizations from the minimum wage requirements." - http://labor.ny.gov/formsdocs/...

As a note - students may be considered exempt only if the work is exclusively educational. Exclusively is the key word here.

There is one way in which interns can be legally allowed at non-profits (there's only so much you can address in a one-thousand word article):

To qualify as TRAINEES, the intern must (amongst other requirements):

• Receive Formal instruction • Have limited responsibility• Last from 2-10 weeks

So let’s pick these apart. In my experience, interns receive instruction, but it couldn’t be considered “formal”, rather it is the same sort of instruction one would receive when hired for a salaried position. To be formal, one would assume regular hours of instruction in a structured setting. Nowhere in internship descriptions by any of the leading theaters is there any mention of such instruction. Nor has it occurred in my experience in any traditionally formal setting.

And then limited responsibility is difficult – what does limited mean? Can it be considered “limited” if the responsibility is essential to the functioning of the institution? Can it be considered “limited” if the responsibility requires upwards of forty hours a week to be met? In my opinion, that stretches any reasonable interpretation of the word “limited”.

Finally, internships must last from two to ten weeks. This means that anything longer than three months is prohibited. A significant number of internships offered by institutions are semester long or August-May. That's pretty obviously a violation.

Under circumstances in which these requirements/tenants are not met, the internship must be considered subject to federal and state wage regulations.

So there's that.

However, federal labor law does provide a certain exemption for non-profits- http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs...

"Unpaid internships in the public sector and for non-profit charitable organizations, where the intern volunteers without expectation of compensation, are generally permissible. WHD is reviewing the need for additional guidance on internships in the public and non-profit sectors."

NY State law may say there is no non-profit exemption, but that may not necessarily be true elsewhere.

Fair enough - a good point. I probably should be more clear that I'm referring specifically to the New York non-profit scene when I discuss these internships, because the laws ARE different from state to state.

Doesn't change the morality argument, but in terms of legality, it does matter.

Joe, I think the larger point is that, even if there are exemptions for non-profits, many of those non-profits are treating those exemptions as carte blanche for cost-savings and exploitation. They are stretching, and probably breaking, the very definition of "unpaid internship." They are changing "intern" to "employee" and still leaving it unpaid.

Greg correctly points out the violation of federal guidelines for unpaid internships which informed the recent legal decision. That was a ruling by a federal judge which means the federal guidelines held more sway than the exemptions clause you have cited. And the section you quoted hints at the currently precarious nature of the issue: "WHD is reviewing the need for additional guidance on internships in the public and non-profit sectors."

This sounds to me like the issue is very much up in the air, and someone is paying attention to its legality.

"Does that mean theatre's shouldn't offer paid internships instead, or as well? No; in my opinion, a stipend should at least cover costs the intern would not have incurred if not in the position (gas, fast meals, etc). But interns are often as much a headache to administer as they are a help. Generally, they're so entry level that they lack the skills to do a paid job, which is the point of the internship. theatre companies shouldn't hire unpaid interns who are actually skilled professionals; that goes against the nature of a professional companies. Someone who hasn't ever hung a light but wants to help? Sure, come ahead, we can use an extra pair of hands but we won't be offering a professional wage."

Also, I have to respond to this. If you offer ANY sort of stipend, you also negate any rules regarding unpaid internships. Once you offer a stipend, that intern becomes an employee, and all employees are entitled to minimum wage.

And you really think places like the Public, NYTW, the Vineyard, Atlantic, Roundabout, etc are hiring people who are unskilled for these positions? Most interns at non-profits in NY have theater degrees from reputable universities. None have no idea what they are doing, otherwise they wouldn't be hired. Nobody hired to be a costume intern doesn't know how to sew, nobody being hired as a technical intern doesn't know how to hang a light. It just doesn't happen.

Refer to the literary internship I referenced above - how are those responsibilities what you would expect of an inexperienced, unable intern? There's an incredible amount of autonomy and skill necessary to fulfill that job description.

I want to support Greg's point here about these companies in NYC. Internships at theatre companies with any sort of clout or history absolutely have their pick of extremely skilled, overqualified young people. Many of the interns I have worked alongside are MFA graduates or even Ph.D. candidates. It is not uncommon to intern or assist here in your late 20s or even early 30s. Sometimes the language changes from "internship" to "fellowship," but the wages and experiences are often comparable.

Before we can address the fact that interns in the theatre are being taken advantage of, we need to, as others have already commented, address the fact that the artists and low-level administrators are also being woefully, horrifically, underpaid. In most cases outside of Broadway, the artists are not being paid enough to break the poverty line during a year, and most administrators (below the top office) are being paid very low relative to their counterparts in other non-profit sectors.

And in some places in the country, artistic employees are not being paid anything, or are being paid at below minimum wages, which is as illegal as how the interns are treated. (Talking about pro theatres, not community theatres, of course.)

In all these cases, with artists and interns, it's a simple outcome from excessive supply. There are people willing to work for free or illegally cheap, and who are willing to sacrifice things like having children or a retirement, or who will rack up debt or have wealthy parents to pay for things. Because these people are willing to sacrifice themselves, employers take the easier route and let them do it to themselves.

Someone, somewhere, has to actually care that this is wrong. If the interns/artists/employees won't stand up for themselves, then it needs to be someone else - but the actual employers/producers are probably the last people who will be so motivated. Where is the government or the Labor Board? Where are the Board Members of the organizations? Where are the funders? If any of those three stood up and said "No, we cannot treat the interns/artists/employees like chattel any longer" then it would change. So why is it that the government/Boards/Funders don't seem to care about this?

Once upon a time, they did. But now, what do they care about? What are the stated values of the people who are actually in power?

And the irony is, many of those people in power at the non-profits are avowed progressives who post on facebook about things like maintaining workers rights and championing a higher minimum wage for fast food employees while continuing to not pay their own employees enough to pay their rent. The hypocrisy is startling, to say the least.

And the change does have to start from somewhere. The danger is, as I noted above - if you're one of these interns or employees, by standing up for yourself and championing your rights, you only make it less and less likely that you'll be able to make a career with these institutions. Imagine if you actually did pursue legal action - you'd never be hired again.

Totally. Of course, down this path lies the whole reason for having UNIONS, who I neglected to mention in my previous list. But unions are made up of members, and if the members want to work for free, then the unions end up helpless, which puts it back on the government and the folks with the money.

Ok, I like your post!

Never feel bad for advocating for more pay. Many of the PM's who are working in big houses in NYC are union and have people who advocate for them, so they don't have to.

If the theatre refuses to pay you overtime, then they are not worth working for, and they should have their standards and practices looked into by the law.

Look into becoming IATSE or joining whatever union you possibly can as soon as you can (IN SF it's Local 16 or IATSE) because they will advocate for you.

In second cities it's much more difficult to find work if you are union than in NYC. But the good news is that if the city doesn't return your love it is totally possible to come make it work in SF. The bigger houses love people from NYC and they have paid internships as well.

Actually, I feel the need to chime in on your suggestion that younger professionals should dive right into unionized work as quickly as possible.

I'm a young aspiring SM, and there are a large number of BFA programs that offer their stage managers a chance to join Equity when they graduate. But think about what they're actually doing: these programs are sending 22 year old kids out into the industry, largely with academic credits on their resume, who now have to compete with Equity stage managers who have work in Equity environments. NO ONE is going to hire these kids for anything more than the occasional 3-4 week one-off low SPT or Off-Off-Broadway minimum, and while I realize that timing for joining IATSE may not be as critical for technicians as there seems to be a bit more work if you're an electrician or stitcher than a stage manager, the fact is that you have to have some professional work before you can really dive into any unionized industry. You may be able to land one union gig, but for those who dive in immediately after college, it's a nightmare finding that 2nd and 3rd gig and so on to actually get their career off the ground.

This is one of the reasons that internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships are critical, and we should keep having these conversations, because it's not as simple as "join a union and they'll look after you". Look at Equity, there are easily 10 times as many Equity actors in NYC, with professional work under their belt, than there are jobs for them. Equity can't fix that problem no matter how hard they try.

What internships really do is offer a bridge for younger professionals to start to get work so they can eventually work their way into unions, you can't just jump into the already over-crowded pond and expect to get work when you're now in the same pool as 10-15 year veteran technicians who also have bills and want to work. Remember that work breeds more work, and you have to start somewhere.

Now I will say that I love what the unions do for the artists they come to bat for, because frankly if they didn't show their teeth from time to time, we'd be talking about the legality of bringing in freelance technicians and designers for "stipends and professional contacts" as compensation and "free beer and pizza" for actors. HOWEVER, it takes time to get union work even once you become a member, and we can't ignore what happens in those years that younger artists are clawing their way in to find a seat at the table by simply saying join your local IATSE.

I never said that internships were unnecessary. I have had two at two very high profile regional theatres, one paid with housing the other unpaid.

The author has clearly has experience working in the field, hence the talk about overtime pay. So he should go for it!

Merely suggesting that this individual look into a union, since he already has experience is completely different than suggesting some wet-behind-the-ears kid join IATSE. That's crazy!

Don't bring EQUITY into this, it's a shitshow of an organization that functions under the idea that all theatres follow a for-profit growth model. It doesn't help artists who want to work with small companies, and it does this under the auspices of what is best for the actor.

But I'm telling you, I don't live in NYC, I have friends who do, and something always happens. A SM gets sick or has a baby, and someone has to be there to pick up the job. If you are Union, you get the call, if not, no job. It's that simple.

Do you know what having internships taught me? That if you don't value your time then no one will.

Also how can you call people who have just graduated "kids" and also claim to be a "young aspiring stage manager?"

What internships actually do is exploit the talent and work-ethic of young adults who have been taught by their professors that it is acceptable to work for no pay as long as it gets you contacts in return. Does it work? Sometimes.

But tell me, what other industry doesn't pay their interns and gets away with it?

I could not agree more, as a young aspiring theater professional I saw the vast number of unpaid internships and low paying internships and on morals alone could not justify working for any of them. I am sorry but any employer that tries to use young adults to supplement there workforce and not pay them an entry level wage is not worth my time. Most of these organizations claim that they are struggling to produce the next generation of an audience into the mix when at the same time the industry does not want to pay anyone in that generation.How can we expect the youth to come and be apart of the audience if we will not pay them enough to pay their own rent let alone spend $35-$70 dollars on a ticket to a performance?

Then in a few years when a vast majority of these young artists are burnt out from having to work 2 jobs to support themselves as they try and break into the industry leave the industry because it is too taxing on their soul to continue living like this and there is no one left to further the Arts where do we go from there?

The fact is that we are hurting ourselves by not protecting our future, and soon enough the results can be catastrophic for many.

I couldn't agree more. Non-profits in NYC often run with budgets of millions or tens of millions of dollars per season, I often wonder how institutions that run with such a budget and pay "name actors" hundreds of thousands of dollars can justify relying on unpaid employees to get necessary work done. It is, as you point out, wrong both legally, but more importantly, morally.

Excellent article, Greg. Interns, like many actors and directors, playwrights and stage managers, often get little to no financial compensation for their skill, knowledge, and experience. Hubs of activity and opportunities such as New York City are particularly guilty of this, as there are literally thousands of people vying for any one of these jobs that will offer "experience," in the hopes of "getting a job."

When was this last true, however? I´d be curious to know what percentage of the time an unpaid internship leads to an actual paying-job, and I mean adequately paying one. Also, I´d be curious to see the average salaries for artistic staff, administrative staff, and other positions at these coveted not-for-profit venues. While other fields are growing exponentially and keeping apace with the cost of living, it seems that the cultural sector has stagnated for years. I hear this also from people who have worked at institutions (usually in administrative roles) for years, and that their current salary is still less than what they were offered as a starting salary in the corporate sector 10 or even 15 years earlier.

I know that the salaries of some of the people working at Non-profits are public record, and so could be accessed. I can say with relative certainty that the vast, vast majority of internships do not result in hiring with the organization they interned with. It just couldn't work - there can't be that much employee turnover, and when you have 8 or ten new interns every semester, well, there's just no way to sustain any sense of reliable employment.

That being said, I personally did benefit in terms of employment from my internship, only in the freelance world and very sporadically. Meeting other interns was probably the biggest plus, because I now work with some of them still with my company and elsewhere, and I have been recommended by my supervisor from my internship for freelance positions in the past. Look, my internship was a good one, as far as they go. Everyone I was directly working with was doing the best they could. It's a systemic problem, not an individual problem with any one person or theater. And again, I was only able to make it work because I was working thirty-five hours on the side at a restaurant while working thirty or forty hours a week at my internship while also trying to actually work on my writing and directing. And all of THIS was only possible because my parents are well off, and while they don't pay my rent or anything, if I were to run out of money or lose the restaurant job or just, hell, burn out - I'd have a place to go or people to ask for help. I'm very cognizant of the fact that most people don't have such a luxury.

Oh, and salaries are stagnating, absolutely, based on my own time working with administrators. In fact, at one of the theaters I've worked with, maybe ten years ago they fired all the high level management staff for each department and just shuffled their responsibility down the chain without giving the people picking up the slack almost anything to compensate for their new responsibilities.

I'm going to go ahead and post this here as well, because I've gotten some feedback where people believe that non-profits are exempt from rules regarding unpaid inters:

Here's a quote from the department of labor:

"There is no section of the Labor Law that exempts “interns” at not-for-profit organizations from the minimum wage requirements." - http://labor.ny.gov/formsdo...

As a note - students may be considered exempt only if the work is exclusively educational. Exclusively is the key word here.

There is one way in which interns can be legally allowed at non-profits (there's only so much you can address in a one-thousand word article):

To qualify as TRAINEES, the intern must (amongst other requirements):

• Receive Formal instruction • Have limited responsibility• Last from 2-10 weeks

So let’s pick these apart. In my experience, interns receive instruction, but it couldn’t be considered “formal”, rather it is the same sort of instruction one would receive when hired for a salaried position. To be formal, one would assume regular hours of instruction in a structured setting. Nowhere in internship descriptions by any of the leading theaters is there any mention of such instruction. Nor has it occurred in my experience in any traditionally formal setting.

And then limited responsibility is difficult – what does limited mean? Can it be considered “limited” if the responsibility is essential to the functioning of the institution? Can it be considered “limited” if the responsibility requires upwards of forty hours a week to be met? In my opinion, that stretches any reasonable interpretation of the word “limited”.

Finally, internships must last from two to ten weeks. This means that anything longer than three months is prohibited. A significant number of internships offered by institutions are semester long or August-May. That's pretty obviously a violation.

Under circumstances in which these requirements/tenants are not met, the internship must be considered subject to federal and state wage regulations.

So there's that.