WATCH: Theatre Major Ka'Nayah Landers-Daniels on How the LAB Program Made Her Summer Possible

She was able to intern at the Berkeley Playhouse through Saint Mary's Liberal Arts Bridge Program Internship. She’s a first-generation college student and on the rowing team. And first recipient of the East Bay Performing Arts Scholarship.

by Hayden Royster and Francis Tatem | September 4, 2023

At the moment, Ka'Nayah Landers-Daniels '25 is trying to solve an incredibly theatrical problem.

The issue: syncing up a camera flashbulb sound effect and a quick burst of overhead lights with a two-second gap in the Newsies showstopper, "Seize the Day." Onstage rehearsing for the musical, two dozen middle-school-age "newsboys"—mostly girls—are warming up, shuffling through dance moves and running harmonies. Meanwhile, Landers-Daniels sits at her technical booth in the middle of the Julia Morgan Theater in Berkeley, cool and collected, a commander on the deck of her starship. Her gaze bounces between multiple screens, fingers scurrying across her keyboard. She's in her element.

"All right, let's run it!" the director calls out. The music track starts, and the actors fall into the choreography. Their voices and footfalls reverberate throughout the airy, redwood-paneled space. Then, the pause. The newsboys freeze for a photograph as Landers-Daniels clicks her mouse: Pop! flash! The music kicks back in, and the actors leap back into their dance number.

Landers-Daniels grins. It's a blink-and-you'll-miss moment, but to a seasoned theater tech like her, every seamless transition is satisfying. She has spent this summer interning at the Berkeley Playhouse, serving as both assistant director and stage manager for its youth production of the Disney musical Newsies. At Saint Mary's, she's a Performance and Technical Theatre double major. And the internship has been a bit of a homecoming for her: The show's director, Mel Martinez, was her theater teacher at her performing arts high school. Having the time and resources to work as an intern is an opportunity she wouldn't have had without the Liberal Arts Bridge (LAB) Program, she says.

Making It Possible

"Especially in the arts, it's hard to find a way to create art and get that experience while also making a living and being able to survive," Landers-Daniels tells me one summer afternoon. We're chatting outside the playhouse, located only a few blocks down from UC Berkeley. A handful of cyclists zip by.

As summer 2022 approached, Landers-Daniels was offered the same internship at the Berkeley Playhouse with a modest stipend. "It wasn't enough to find a place to live close enough to the theater," she says. So for financial reasons, she thought she would have to pass up the opportunity. 

That's where LAB came in. The program offers four years of comprehensive professional development for Liberal Arts students, including financial support for those pursuing unpaid or underpaid internships in their chosen field. This summer and last, the program scholarship helped Landers-Daniels pay for housing on Saint Mary's campus—only a 20-minute drive from the theater—and fund a meal plan.

"The LAB Internship gives me the cushion to be able to get the experience I need to go out into the field, make an impact, and create relationships with professional artists, without having to worry about where I'll sleep, when I'm going to eat, or where my next income is going to come from," she says.

Landers-Daniels is also the first recipient of the East Bay Performing Scholarship for Black Students or Students of African Descent. It's a full-ride scholarship presented by Saint Mary's to one student every four years. Finding out she won the scholarship was "insane," she said. Landers-Daniels had been looking for confirmation that this was the path for her. "I was like, 'I guess I have to do this now.'"

"The LAB Internship gives me the cushion to be able to get the experience I need...without having to worry about where I'll sleep, when I'm going to eat, or where my next income is going to come from."

Ka'Nayah Landers-Daniels working with a colleague at the Berkeley Playhouse
Homecoming: This summer, Landers-Daniels is working at the playhouse with Director Mel Martinez (not pictured), her high school theatre teacher / Photo by Francis Tatem

Like so many Gaels, especially those who lived through remote learning during the pandemic, Landers-Daniels is making the most of her time on campus. In addition to theater, she's also on the rowing team and a part of the High Potential Program, established five decades ago at Saint Mary's to support first-generation and low-income college students. All her activities are a lot to juggle, Daniels admits, but she feels like she's never left on her own to deal with the challenges that come along.

"I love that Saint Mary's has the community to support each other, so that when people want to try new things and branch out and do other things...they have the capability to succeed and manage all of those things," she says.

Our conversation is brief; the opening night of Newsies is only two days away, and there's plenty more to be done. But there's nowhere else she'd rather be. "I think theater has the capability to really change the world," Landers-Daniels tells me. At the very least, it's changed hers.

LEARN MORE about the LAB Program and its mission

Applications for the East Bay Performing Arts Scholarship for Black Students or Students of African Descent will open in the fall of 2024. FIND OUT if you qualify

Hayden Royster is Staff Writer and Francis Tatem is Digital Content Producer in the Office of Marketing and Communications. Write them.