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Getting experience (and laughs)

Growing up in suburban Atlanta, Steven Walker, Thomas Yungerberg and Alex Middleton never imagined that they would one day get paid to develop their own award-winning comedy series while still in college. When Berry’s Work Experience Program presented just such an opportunity, they jumped at the chance.

As producers and stars of The Conference Room, a 15-minute comedy webcast on Viking Fusion (Berry’s student-run multimedia website), the three friends have earned regional and national acclaim – not to mention belly laughs from fellow students, faculty and staff.

“When I tell people that I actually get paid to do this, they are like, ‘Are you serious?’” Alex related. “It’s not every college you go to that’s going to encourage you and have the resources for this. We have access to the same type of equipment that’s used in Hollywood. If I had gone to another school, it wouldn’t have gone this way.”

“I came to Berry and stayed at Berry because this opportunity is so unique,” Thomas added.

Fittingly, The Conference Room was born in … well … a conference room, where the three friends sat down to brainstorm ideas for the perfect show. Concepts were tossed about and discarded late into the night. Finally, Alex had a revelation – “What if this was the show?”

That moment of inspiration was the launching pad for a successful comic enterprise resembling such mainstream television hits as The Office and 30 Rock. The plot follows the misadventures of three friends trying – and failing – to get a television show off the ground. The subject matter is particularly ironic given the success of the students producing it. In 2009, they earned a national award for top comedy from College Broadcasters Inc. Two years later, they claimed a Southeast Regional Emmy Award for their efforts.

In the years since that original light-bulb moment, the number of students working on The Conference Room has grown from six to more than 30 – all getting valuable firsthand experience to complement the knowledge there are gaining in their classes.

The true worth of The Conference Room experience became clear to Steven during a summer internship at a production company in Atlanta.

“Going in, I didn’t think I knew that much,” he explained. “But I realized I was so far ahead of the curve. Because I’ve been able to do this for the past three years, I can now be a functioning employee and producer in the entertainment industry. I have a better understanding of what I want to do for a career and what I don’t want to do. I feel like that’s really valuable.”

While it’s impossible to put a price on the experience they have gained, the students know that none of it would have been possible without the alumni and friends who provide vital support for Berry’s financial aid and work experience programs.

“Any sort of success we’ve had – we’ve won a lot of awards and entertained a lot of viewers – the ground floor is having the resources donors provide,” Alex stated.

Written by Alyssa Hollingsworth
Student Editorial Assistant
 

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