Rachel Sherbill. Photo © Disney.
CalArts School of Theater MFA student Rachel Sherbill has been spending her summer as a producing intern at the Blue Sky Department within Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI), the Glendale-based design and development arm of The Walt Disney Company. WDI is responsible for the creation and construction of Disney theme parks and resorts, and at Blue Sky, Sherbill is part of a team that conceptualizes WDI projects for which, she says, "the sky is the limit."
How does a theater student end up with a WDI internship and what could she learn about theater from theme park design? Sherbill is a producing major, and at CalArts she concentrates on the logistics side of putting on shows. Practical experience is a large part of her education, so for a theater production at an office building in downtown Los Angeles last year, Sherbill had to work with the building’s management to make sure that sets met building code restrictions, arrange for parking and security, and handle marketing, among other duties.
Last May, a WDI producer attended the School of Theater’s portfolio review, talked to Sherbill and asked her to submit a resume for a possible internship. Before enrolling at CalArts, Sherbill had spent a year in New York working for a production management company, so she had significant working experience in addition to her CalArts credits. She sent off her resume, interviewed for the position a few days later, and two days after that she got a call from Imagineering offering her the paid summer position, which she started in June.
"If a group at WDI has a question on how to make something a reality, they start with Blue Sky, where we brainstorm and come up with ideas," she says. Although she can’t talk about specific projects, due to confidentiality, Sherbill says that for one project, she’s working with illustrators and designers to come up with story boards and visual materials to support a potential attraction.
"Teamwork is an important element to successfully accomplishing our goal of creating something new and exciting in Disney Parks and Resorts."—Rachel Sherbill, CalArts School of Theater MFA student
As part of the job, Sherbill has also gone on scouting missions to Disneyland, and figures that she’s been to Disneyland more times in June and July than in the rest of her life—one of the job’s perks.
Sherbill says that the internship makes sense in terms of her theater interests since WDI is constantly thinking of improving guest experiences, strengthening stories, and creating an immersive experience—factors that all relate to theater.
"It’s exhilarating to work in an environment where people take such pride and enjoyment in what they do."—Rachel Sherbill
Sherbill has met many WDI staffers during her internship and hopes that the experience that she gained will prove useful when she leaves CalArts next year to return to the professional world. "I’ve learned a lot about collaboration and the huge effort and thought that goes into every detail at Disney’s theme parks," she says.