Credit: (Illustration by Emily Flake)

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Lurana Bader, a recent graduate of Salisbury University in Maryland, arrived for the first day of her internship last fall carefully clad in dress pants and a collared shirt. She was no stranger to the internship routine, and she knew what to expect: a little filing here, some research there—and maybe, just maybe, a chance to dance with Diddy.

Bader was a participant in Fur Nightclub’s internship program, one of several that area clubs offer. At first, Bader says, the three-month internship seemed pretty typical. “I started off just by answering phone calls,” she says. But the kinds of calls Bader received were relatively unusual. “ ‘You’re going to give my daughter alcohol!’ ” she remembers one woman screaming. “No, ma’am. We have security,” she replied. “She has a fake ID!” the distraught mother wailed. “They’re trained professionals,” Bader assured her.

Fur’s internship program, which launched in 2005, is the brainchild of Ahmed Shah, the club’s director of marketing and public relations. Shah got into the nightlife business the old-fashioned way, by throwing parties while he was in college. “It was easy money to throw a party,” he says, so he decided to make a career out of it.

A couple of years ago, someone called Fur to ask if the club had an internship program, and that got Shah thinking. “It’s kind of cool [to work at a club] if you’re 19, 20,” he mused, and “if you’re not going to get paid, why not do something fun?” Plus, Shah says, an internship affords prospective club-owners insight into the business side of nightlife. “I have the interns market the venue,” he says. “Not as a nightclub, but as a venue to hold events.” Fur has had three interns so far, each for about a semester, and Shah chooses candidates based on how outgoing they are. He wants them to receive college credit for their work and says that in the past he has partnered with his alma mater, the University of Maryland. Shah also encourages interns to take ownership of a project. “If they can focus on one thing, they can learn a lot more,” he says.

For example, last fall Shah wanted to boost revenue by hosting a party during one of the club’s off nights, so he challenged Bader to contact every organization holding a conference at the Convention Center and convince one of them to sponsor an event at the nightclub. “Oh my God—I must have sent out over 100 e-mails,” Bader says. Some organizations scoffed at the prospect of a professional event at a club better known for its foam parties. “They would say, ‘Why the heck would we consider you?’ ” Undeterred, Bader offered skeptics tours of the club, explaining that Fur is more than a place to bump and grind. She ultimately booked a reception for a dermatologists’ association and ended up overseeing every facet of the event.

According to Shah, one of the strengths of the Fur internship is how hands-on it is. “You’re not going to get coffee for me,” he says. “You have an office, your own desk. We give you a laptop to use, your own phone line, your own e-mail address.” Then there are the perks. Interns can catch a glimpse of celebrity culture—Diddy, Jay-Z, and the Black Eyed Peas have all strolled through Fur’s door. Interns get free tickets to concerts and sports events, and while they’re interning “they can get in [to the club] free any night,” Shah says.

Still, Bader, who ended her internship in December, doesn’t think she’ll pursue a career in nightclubs—she hopes to work at the State Department one day instead. “I’m not sure it’ll help me, but I don’t think it will hinder me,” she says of her time at Fur.

Other D.C. clubs like Love, the Black Cat, and the 9:30 Club also offer internships, although some programs are not as clearly defined as Fur’s. The Black Cat occasionally hires unpaid interns, says owner Dante Ferrando, but he steers clear of the District’s overachiever types. “A lot of the interns [in D.C.] are college-age, and they’re a little too serious,” he says. Maegan Wood started interning at the Black Cat in 2002, when she was a graduate student at the University of Maryland. “I kind of started it on a whim,” she says. Wood spent a couple afternoons a week hanging posters, writing the club’s schedule, and updating files on bands. Now she’s the club’s publicist and does many of the same things. “This was more of a Type-B internship,” she says.

The 9:30 Club, on the other hand, has hosted a formal internship program for years, drawing as many as 30 applicants for the six to nine slots for each of its fall, spring, and summer sessions. Dave Kezer interned at the 9:30 Club nearly five years ago and never left. “I just kept showing up,” he says. “Then a year and a half later people started making fun of me, saying I’m the guy who never leaves.” Sticking around worked out well for Kezer, though: He now handles advertising and oversees 9:30’s internship program.

Unpaid interns work one or two days a week at 9:30, Kezer says, from about noon to 5:00 p.m. They congregate in the club’s offices, located in a converted convenience store across the street from the venue, and fan out across the city doing promotional work. Tasks include signing people up for the club’s mailing lists, putting up fliers at local stores, and updating the club’s MySpace page.

Lucy Dunning, a student at D.C.’s Field School, is currently interning at the 9:30 Club to fulfill Field’s mandatory two-week internship requirement. The program is designed to give high school students “real-world training,” says Carrie Johnson, Field’s work internship coordinator. Dunning says she’s learned “a lot about marketing” during her time at 9:30. “If you want to get the word out, you have to go do it,” she says.

Kezer says he looks for interns who demonstrate “team spirit” and are “enthusiastic about music.” What he doesn’t want is people who are looking to sneak backstage or pal around with rock stars. Former intern Jeanni Centofanti says the biggest mistake a 9:30 Club intern can make is to be too star-struck. She fondly remembers listening to Dolly Parton do a soundcheck and watching James Brown whizzing by on a golf cart backstage. But there’s a line between celebs and staff at 9:30, and some interns have been known to cross it. Centofanti recalls one intern who was smitten with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. “He made it back to the dressing rooms,” she says of the rogue intern, who even scored a T-shirt before he was “dragged” off. Much eye-rolling ensued. Says Kezer: “Even though we work at a crazy nightclub, we’re serious about what we do.”

Serious and strategic. Interns act “as a face for the club,” says Kezer—and sometimes, as a seductive head of hair. A while back, Kezer says, “there was an intern named Will, with long, lustrous hair.” Will was a magnet for adolescent girls, Kezer says, a character trait club management noticed. They loaded Will up with marketing materials and sent him out to the hormonal hordes. “The girls would line up around him, and we would hand out schedules,” Kezer says.

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