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Lessons From A Virtual Internship

1 Dec

As my time at the virtual version of 890 Broadway comes to a close, I find myself grateful for the opportunity to make a difference at such a pivotal moment.  This year has been a time of growth and challenges, but ABT takes it in stride.  With this growth, I learned some lessons working virtually.  I have got 3 pieces of advice: 1) you are your greatest advocate, 2) overcommunicate, and 3) be enthusiastic. 

For the first lesson, it is always important to remember that if you want more projects, can handle more, or have ideas then you need to be the one to bring them up to your supervisor/department.  Everyone is very busy, so make sure to be your own advocate to be heard.  ABT is a collaborative environment and values people who can step up and fill a need.  Advocate for yourself.  In my experience at ABT, if I wanted more projects, I made sure my supervisor knew where I was on current projects and my capacity for more.  This brings me to the second lesson, overcommunicate.  In a virtual world, it can be very difficult to learn the culture of an organization.  If you are unsure about how something is done or want clarity on a subject, just ask.  If you have the capacity to take on more, communicate that to your supervisor.  Lastly, be enthusiastic in all that you take on.  It can be hard to maintain an enthusiastic demeanor virtually, but if you can, it will transform your experience.

My supervisor during my time at ABT was Jon Haddorff in the Major Gifts department.  I had such a great experience being an intern in this department and loved being able to work with Jon.  He is open to suggestions and lets interns have many opportunities to grow.  I come from a program background and so very much appreciated his teaching me how the Major Gifts department worked, while also allowing me room to grow and take part in projects.

Hopefully, ABT will be able to go back to 890 Broadway soon, but in the meantime, I have found these lessons to be useful and adaptable to both virtual and in-person positions.


Sabrina Kesler

Major Gifts Intern

Fall 2020

It Takes a Village

22 May

My time at 890 Broadway was full of memorable experiences. My tasks included everything from donor prospect research to guiding donors through studio visits, basking in the beauty of excerpts from Giselle and Romeo and Juliet. Throughout my internship, I’ve marveled especially at the vast and vibrant teamwork taking place in the office, particularly within my development team and among organizational leadership.

When I joined ABT as the Major Gifts intern, I knew I was also joining a small team of development staff, having immediately received a warm welcome from the Associate Directors of Major Gifts, Diane Kuhl and Jon Haddorff. After our first department meeting, however, I realized that the team stretched farther than I could’ve imagined, encompassing not only major gifts, but also employees in membership, institutional support, database management, and special events. I was taken aback and inspired by realizing the massive number of people working towards the similar fundraising end goals. This team of supporters only continued to expand in my mind as I learned more about the organization.

A few weeks into my internship, we were visited in an intern meeting by Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett. She walked us through her personal journey, sharing anecdotes about early experiences post-grad, her time as a producer both on and off Broadway, her position at Lincoln Center, and the shift to her current role at ABT, all while juggling motherhood and other personal triumphs. We all laughed and chatted as we absorbed her powerful advice and experience. Following the meeting, I went back to my desk and prepared some ticket order forms before the weekly development department meeting. Not one hour later, we were visited in this meeting by Kara as well, but this time immediate work at hand took precedence. She immediately shifted gears, discussing cultivation strategies and ABT’s diverse Board of Directors. Watching the seamless transition from lighthearted advice to stern and clear leadership, while remaining upbeat and optimistic, was quite special.

One thing I’ve been taught time and time again in school is that “no one owns a nonprofit,” and its success is reliant on the work of all team members; as an intern, I’ve felt this as I’ve continuously been encouraged to share questions and ideas as a valuable member of the development team. However, I think ABT pairs this well-balanced team with inspiring leadership, from both Kara and Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie. I knew I would be grateful for the opportunity to work with world-class artistry right at my fingertips, viewable even on the walk from my desk to the mailroom. But even now with COVID-19 having shifted the office to a remote setting, I am grateful to work with incredible staff members, from executives down to my fellow interns. Everyone offers something to learn, and just being present at these various meetings has taught me an incredible amount.

Emmalie Tello

Major Gifts Intern

Spring 2020

The Nutcracker

28 Oct

Every December since I was 5, I have performed in The Nutcracker.Truth be told, I have probably danced every single role in the show. Those memories have stuck with me forever; the copious amounts of hairspray in the backstage dressing rooms, the late night sewing of dozens of pointe shoes, and even the not so well-received peer pressuring of my brothers into acting as extras in the “Party Scene!” At the time, young, naive me could have never imagined where she would be right now, sitting at her desk just a few steps down the hall from where Misty Copeland is rehearsing to dance the role of Clara as a Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theatre, one of the world’s premier dance companies.As I sit at my desk writing renewal letters for the Major Gifts Department or filling out dancer sponsorship sheets on excel, I can hear Tchaikovsky’s music chiming from the pianists’ fingers, and as I walk to the copy machine, I can peer into the window of the rehearsal studio where Misty is practicing her graceful pirouettes and powerful leaps.

While I was searching for an internship, I had one primary goal in mind; I wanted to LEARN.I wanted to be in an environment that would challenge me to learn things I didn’t know, try things I had never done before, and see things I had never seen. As a senior finishing up my Bachelor’s degree, I was tired of sitting in a classroom 60 hours a week. I wanted to jump in the water and go for a swim.

To say the least, my experience as an intern at ABT has more than helped me accomplish that goal. With every project I have assisted on and every glamorous event I have attended, I have met new people who have taught me new things about not only surviving, but thriving, in the developmental side of the performing arts industry.

Every day I show up at 890 Broadway, I feel grateful to be stepping into such a lovely work environment with people who have truly given me the chance to succeed. I am proud of the work I have been lucky enough to contribute to such a magnificent organization, one in which I’ve been passionate about unknowingly since age 5 when I stepped on stage for the first time as a snow angel in The Nutcracker.


Josephine Smolsky

Major Gifts Intern

Fall 2019

A Night at the Met

2 Aug

Growing up, my dream was always to be on the Metropolitan Opera Stage dancing for one of the most world-renowned ballet companies, however when I stopped dancing, that dream suddenly became unattainable. When I first started my internship at American Ballet Theatre, I quickly realized that I would indeed be working at the Metropolitan Opera House, just on the administrative side.

Working in the Major Gifts Department has presented me with so many wonderful opportunities. Whether it’s casually passing by Misty Copeland at the Metropolitan Opera House or doing hours of research at 890 Broadway, I couldn’t be more grateful. One of the biggest highlights was giving a sponsor a personal backstage tour and seeing her dancer’s costume, hair, and makeup transformation for his role of Von Rothbart in Swan Lake. Putting all the glamour aside, I would have to say that my favorite part about my ABT experience is how they treat interns as equals. I wasn’t given menial tasks and felt as though I was truly contributing to the company and the projects that I was a part of.


ABT is my first internship and administrative job and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being surrounded by people who share the same love and passion for Ballet as you do while working is amazing and rare to come by. Due to the amount of responsibility given to me, I have acquired new skills and I thank ABT, particularly Iosu, Diane and Jon for giving me guidance. ABT is truly a family.

Paige Stanton

Major Gifts Intern

Summer 2019


Gems of ABT

5 Dec

As I approach my final week here at ABT, I begin to reflect upon what an amazing experience these past 12 weeks have been. I’ve had the opportunity to work dress rehearsals, studio visits, the Fall Gala and assist in the day-to-day tasks of my department, Major Gifts. All in all, it’s been surprising, educational and above all incredibly memorable!

One of my most surprising, yet enjoyable, experiences was a closet cleaning project. Major Gifts is a sub department of Development and together we share a closet, or rather a small room. One day, all of the development interns were tasked to clean out said closet; clean being the imperative word, not organize! We spent the entire day going through boxes and files, cataloging, shredding and filing. Some of the gems we found include lost ABT water bottles, what seemed like thousands of plexi plastic cardholders, old programs, and dancer directories from years gone by! It was a fascinating to look into the history of this historic institution whilst simultaneously instilling order in the chaos caused by immense productivity.

To say that my internship at ABT has been an educational experience is an understatement – educational in the most delightful way that is! Dennis, the leader of the intern team and head of education makes every effort to teach us about the mechanics of a non-profit like ABT. During our weekly intern meetings we’ve had guest speakers from Kyle Pickles, the Company Manager, to Brendan Rosell from Marketing. Next week we’ll even have Kara Barnett our Chief Executive Officer! Our weekly intern meetings really make the experience holistic and have taught me how different departments work together to ensure ABT’s success.

A personal highlight for me this season was an exchange where we got to interact and befriend interns at Roundabout Theatre Company, a non-profit theatre group. We hosted them at the David H. Koch Theater and together saw a triple bill featuring Songs of Bukovina, In the Upper Room and a new piece by Michelle Dorrance. The night concluded with a backstage tour of the Koch Theater, it was amazing to see how the dancers see the audience from their point-of-view on stage; though, of course the theatre was empty!

I leave ABT having learnt so much about the non-profit world. Interning at ABT has been beyond terrific and definitely a dream come true; it is easily one of my most cherished experiences.

Lilli Wang

Major Gifts Intern

Fall 2018

Summer of Magic

1 Aug


This past summer, I had the opportunity to serve as the Major Gifts Intern with American Ballet Theatre. I was awaiting a summer full of intense learning of the non-profit performing arts sector and being involved with one of New York City’s most cherished institutions. As the days were counting down until my first official day in the historic 890 offices, I knew I had the opportunity to be surrounded by ballet during my experience working within the development department, but my expectations were greatly exceeded during this exciting and thrilling new adventure.

My magical summer of 2018 consisted of attending numerous captivating ballet performances, including the ever-enchanting Romeo and Juliet, catching glimpses of dancers warming up will touring the backstage of one of the most iconic landmarks in New York City, watching the interactions between gracious donors and accomplished dancers, and working numerous events on the majestic and classic Grand Tier lounge at The Metropolitan Opera House.

My first day at ABT was perhaps my favorite day while serving as the Major Gifts Intern. Taking place on the Grand Tier Lounge of the Metropolitan Opera House, The Golden Circle Luncheon, an annual event which honors some of ABT’s brightest stars, was about to begin. As the sun beamed through the floor to ceiling windows in the Grand Tier lounge over-looking Lincoln Center Plaza, the atmosphere was full of excitement as some of ABT’s most generous donors and beloved dancers graced the lounge all in support of the strong and focused mission of ABT. I had to opportunity to hear Executive Director, Kara Medoff Barnett and Principal ABT Dancer Daniil Simkin give inspiring and aweing speeches to the intimate balcony of loyal patrons. I was beyond impressed with the scale and design of the event, and how welcoming and passionate the staff and donors of ABT were to me on my first day. This was the ultimate welcome to ABT as I soaked in the magic of working at the historic Metropolitan Opera House while celebrating the tremendous fundraising efforts of ABT and an incredible and sensational 2018 Met Season.

Moments of complete awe, such as my first day with ABT, encompassed my entire summer. From hearing the piano music playing from the summer intensive rehearsals while I walk to my desk or passing by legendary ABT choreographers in the Met cafeteria, I absolutely enjoyed being around such creative and passionate individuals. What makes ABT such an amazing organization is not only these intimate moments, but the attitude and undeniable dedication that every staff member, dancer, audience member, student and employee obtain.

Working for ABT has taught me that with a strong and clear mission statement, nonprofits can soar and make enormous change in the world while providing endless inspiration for all. By working within the Major Gifts office, I had the special opportunity to witness the amount of generosity loyal patrons give to ABT to make these magical moments happen. From tracking ticket purchases to connecting dancer sponsors with their ballerina, there was no shortage of meaning from any task I performed. Whether I was working in the office or engaging with donors post-performance at the Met, I felt that my unique experience with ABT has provided me with the tools and skills I need to succeed in my professional career.

As my internship comes to a close, I will take away extensive knowledge about what it means to be a part of a team who makes magic happen for more than 300,000 individuals each year. I am so fortunate to say that I have worked for one of the most hardworking arts organizations not only in New York City, but in the world. I will cherish every lesson I have learned, from what it means to cultivate a new donor base from ticket sales, to understanding the signature personality of a Petipa ballet. I will take these meager and extensive lessons with me wherever I go, and always remember my time with American Ballet Theatre; the summer I saw magic come to life.

Margaret Farrell

Major Gifts Intern

Summer 2018

Major Magic at ABT

27 Jul

890 Broadway: a historic building in the heart of Manhattan where elevators are hand operated, live piano music is bound to be heard, and dance legends of past, present, and future walk the halls on nearly every floor. It is in this building that America’s National Ballet Company works tirelessly “to CREATE, to PRESENT,to PRESERVEand to EXTENDthe great repertoire of classical dancing, through exciting performances and educational programming of the highest quality, present to the widest possible audience.” Welcome to ABT.

I have long admired American Ballet Theatre for a wide variety of reasons: its vast and ever-expanding repertoire, its commitment to remaining accessible to audiences around the world, and its company of performers that are simply unparalleled in technique and artistry. This organization somehow simultaneously honors the rich history of the performing arts that led to its creation, and challenges the boundaries of tradition. I’d easily chalk it all up to magic, but these past four months as an intern at ABT have taught me just what is behind it all.

The quote just up above is ABT’s mission statement. This collection of words serves as a guiding light and common goal for every member of the company, and it could not be more apparent. Every person at ABT, from the dancers to the administrators and everyone in between, exhibits an understanding of and support for this mission. In the Major Gifts office, where I was lucky enough to spend my semester, it came through in every project we did. Here’s a particularly exciting one I worked on:

Every year, a select group of ABT’s Major Donors meets to discuss the state of the company, look ahead at plans for the upcoming season, take a moment to acknowledge just how much they have done to propel both ABT and the art form forward, and consider what they can do to help it along even more. This year however, in true ABT fashion of honoring tradition while pushing its boundaries, our team decided to make the occasion even more special. In addition to the usual agenda, we would present an engaging panel discussion. Being that this meeting fell during the week of Romeo and Juliet at the Met, the discussion would center on that ballet. The speakers? Robert LaFosse, Leslie Browne, Cynthia Harvey, Susan Jones, Kevin McKenzie, Isabella Boylston, and David Hallberg, moderated by dance writer Pia Catton. And yes, even months later, this list still gives me goosebumps.

The conversation was meant to highlight the way in which a classic piece of ballet repertoire is passed down through the generations, and how it maintains its integrity while also remaining relevant. Along the way, the panelists shared fond memories of working with choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, discussed their varied approaches to the iconic leading roles, laughed as they recalled comical mishaps with costumes or props, and enlightened everyone in the room on small yet crucial details of choreography that often go unnoticed. They did this all between viewings of archival video clips and photo montages put together in a presentation by, you guessed it, me! It was my responsibility to create all supporting materials for this meeting. In the weeks leading up to the event, my days were spent scouring archives, building PowerPoint presentations, writing talking points and cue cards for our speakers, and meeting with a crew at the Met to set light and microphone levels. When the day finally arrived, I took my place in the tech booth to control the presentation. It was in this tiny room at the back of the auditorium that I realized just how remarkable this entire event was.

Here we all were, discussing the CREATION of an iconic work of art, walking through and comparing its various PRESENTATIONS throughout the years, analyzing just how many original details have been PRESERVED through the care of our incredible ballet masters and coaches, and looking ahead to the future generations whose dancers will EXTEND the reach and push the boundaries of this work. This panel embodied every fiber of ABT’s mission statement, and it was on that evening in the middle of June that the words I had been reading for years on the company’s website, came to life for me.

It goes without saying that working at ABT is an extremely special experience, filled with memorable moments. Take a read through the rest of the magnificent posts on this page and you’ll get a sense of just how rewarding it can be. Whether you are sitting in on rehearsals in the studios, helping to run an educational program for young children, interacting with patrons at the theater, or coming across your childhood idols backstage, there is no shortage of opportunities to get involved and have your dreams come true at the same time. But there is one more detail missing from the list that makes this experience truly remarkable, and sets ABT apart: the people.

In my time with the company, I have had the pleasure of meeting and collaborating with some of the most encouraging, caring, talented, and hard-working individuals I’ve ever come across. They approach each project with confidence and creativity, they work together to successfully move mountains, and they support each other like one, big family. Simply being in this type of environment taught me more about how to successfully operate a non-profit than any academic course could. It taught me that at the heart of it all is a group of people with a shared passion—or mission, if you will. I am eternally grateful to have been a part of it. Now, as I sit in the audience, clapping as the curtain goes down and tears of wonder stream down my face, I see so much more than just the beauty on the stage. I see all of the work that goes into it, and the bigger picture it represents. And you know what, I still see magic. I’m not entirely convinced there isn’t a bit of that involved too.

Kate Pirtskhalava

Major Gifts Intern

Summer 2018

ABT-erning 101

21 Dec

My internship with ABT was nothing but great. I worked with the Major Gifts team in the Development Office and it was my first look into the administration side of dance. This internship was my first office internship and learning the ropes of a new place can always be hard. I spent a lot of time worrying about what office appropriate attire or when lunch break was.  I thought maybe there would be other people starting their internship with similar thoughts I had, and so below are just some answers to concerns you may have! I can only speak for the Major Gifts Intern position and this is all based on my experience. Every department is slightly different and experiences differ from person-to-person.

What you wear really depends on the department you’re working for. Working as the Major Gifts intern you interact with a lot with donors and so it’s always best to come dressed business casual.  That means no jeans or torn clothing; remember, you want to look professional and presentable.

The people in Development usually eat their lunch at their desk. I didn’t eat at all on my first day because I assumed there was a lunch break (like in The Office and Parks and Recreations), but people just eat at their desk when they’re hungry.

Everyone is very friendly and genuinely nice.  On my first day I introduced myself once, but by the time I was leaving they knew my name. When I heard “Bye Leiden!” I was very surprised and touched that they made the effort to remember who I was, even though they met me three hours ago. I asked so many questions and everyone was very willing to help and answer. My first few days I had to constantly ask the staff for directions to the bathroom or the mailroom and everyone was very understanding and helpful!

Through this experience I gained so much understanding and knowledge about dance and arts administration. Even beyond the work, I’ve had wonderful conversations with security, a company pianist, and donors. The whole place is brimming with talent, history, and remarkable people—it’s something I will truly miss.

Leiden Doma

Major Gifts Intern

Fall 2017


Beauty and Chaos- ABT’s Met Season

22 Aug

“Why ABT?”  This was the first question I was asked when I interviewed for my position at ABT. Bouncing from art galleries to museums to magazines, I admit applying for ABT was an anomaly among anomalies. But after a summer of working in the Major Gifts department, I can definitely say that I’m beyond grateful they took a chance on me. My first day was at the end of May and everybody was already deep into the hectic Met Season, a string of eight weeks where ABT puts on eight different ballets at the Metropolitan Opera House. If you get the chance to take a summer internship with ABT and experience the wonderful chaos that is the Met Season, do not hesitate to accept it. I dove in head first, working shows, luncheons, auctions, board meetings, backstage tours, you name it. I got to meet a few major donors and talk with them, tour the Opera House with my all-knowledgeable mentor who told me fun facts about the founding of the opera, the famous Met Opera chandeliers, and the inner workings of the immense building, and I got to step out onto the stage and see what the dancers saw every night. I got to walk backstage while Hee Seo was warming up, and see Devon Teuscher dance the Black Swan in Swan Lake from backstage and see her run off laughing, care free. Almost more exciting, I got to hear the news firsthand when she was promoted to principal dancer. I got to see Misty Copeland dance an excerpt from Swan Lake and see her perform in The Golden Cockerel. I went from having little to no exposure, to seeing six different shows and having daily interaction with dancers and dance fanatics. Admittedly when the Met season ended things slowed down. But my time was spent conducting research and walking through the studios amidst all of the summer programs while the halls filled with music and the sound of pointe shoes hitting the floor. How can work ever be boring when your office is half-office space half-rehearsal space?

ABT has taught me invaluable knowledge about ballet but they have also nurtured and grown indispensable skills. Research, writing, communication, Excel and Word efficiency, attention to detail, even learning how to use Raiser’s Edge, are all skills that I have had to use in the past and will need to use in the future. They are skills that one never truly masters but is constantly improving, and my experience with ABT has sharpened them immensely. Not only did I learn how Major Gifts operates, and for a company as big and renowned as ABT, but through the internship program and our weekly meetings I learned about the other departments as well and even got to experience some of the inner workings of the Roundabout Theatre Company and Pointe Magazine. An internship with ABT is all about growth, about learning new things, trying new things, and enjoying what you do. Dance is about passion from every angle, even those who work in dance share a passion for it and that is what makes working for ABT so great. Everyone loves what they do and they do it because they love it. Even those who don’t dance themselves (like me) can enjoy and treasure a position at ABT. There is so much more to the company and so much to learn and experience, you will not regret an internship here.


Baylee McKeel

Major Gifts Intern

Summer 2017

ABT: A Major Gift

23 Jun
As a Master’s student in Performing Arts Administration, I have found myself in a unique position interning with ABT. I have already made the commitment to the field by choosing this graduate degree, and from that degree, I have learned the industry in broad strokes. ABT has helped me to home in, however, on what a dance company does on a daily basis. In working in the Major Gifts department, I have been exposed to important and sensitive work that is making a real difference to ABT. While that comes with a fair amount of pressure, it also comes with a great amount of satisfaction because I have learned and accomplished some of the most necessary skills to keep a large and prestigious company running.

In doing this work, I have also had the opportunity to work with professionals who execute these vital functions as their livelihood. I wanted to pursue a degree and career in performing arts administration because I feel passionately about ballet, dance, and the arts in general. I grew up dancing and, while I did not want to perform, I did still want to ensure that ballet would be firmly integrated into my life. That passion is absolutely necessary in order to do this job. Working directly with Fallon, Jon, and Diane, and indirectly with the entire ABT Family, has confirmed for me that we are all here for the art. That is what inspired me to begin this career path in the first place and seeing the same drive and dedication in others adds fuel to my fire.

Internships at ABT are not simply about learning the functions of a position, but about fostering the interns to become capable people who will devote their lives to the arts. Once you add in kind and patient mentors, passionate staff members, enthusiastic fellow-interns, and the open culture of the organization, the outcome of the program is young individuals who have been readied to become young professionals in the field. Over the course of this semester, ABT has not only affirmed my preexisting desire to work in performing arts administration, but it has also expanded that desire to become a need. This internship, combined with the experience with which I came into ABT, have solidified my knowing that this field is not only where I want to be, but where I need to be. And for that, I am the one left majorly gifted.

Leora Graber
Major Gifts Intern
Spring 2017