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ADVICE, PLEASE... My asst. stage manager and scenic designer

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by tenor_singer, Jan 4, 2005.

  1. tenor_singer

    tenor_singer Active Member

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    I have a junior student who is searching for ideas for college. She really wants to go into scenic design (she is a very gifted, hard working artist as well as an incredibly organized young adult... hence her asst. stage manager title...). I was unable to answer the following and told her that I would post something here to get her further, more experienced advice:

    1. What do scenic artists make a year? She is concerned about paying for an art education and not being able to survive with it.

    2. Is there a moderate demand for them? Again the whole paying for an education and then not working within it issue.

    3. What kind of schooling should she look into and where?

    She has very good vision (for lack of a better term) and has designed an outstanding set piece for My Fair Lady. She will be getting her first big taste of scenic design in a couple of months (I will be letting her design the "outdoor farm scene" for our spring musical Oklahoma.

    Any advice you have for her? I will forward comments and hopefully between this community and our guidance, ACCESS Advisor she can get pointed in the correct direction.

    Thank you!

    Tenor
     
  2. wolf825

    wolf825 Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    Re: ADVICE, PLEASE... My asst. stage manager and scenic desi



    Hiya,
    Suggest you check out the thread in the General Advice forum under both "IATSE" and "$$$$$" topics. It was a hot topic last week or so. If Scenic design is her primary interest, she should consider strongly, after college, an apprenticeship and becoming a member of the USA (United Scenic Artists) union branch of IATSE. If she can find a good apprenticeship with a good reputable designer, she can go far. I posted a link to the USA website in one of those topics--and on the website she can review some of the base fee's that are charged for scenic design for professional and union contracts for shows, film TV etc etc. Note: the USA union will not find her work--it is not a referral service...but everything in this business is about self networking, meeting others in your areas, and promoting yourself out there to many theaters and producers.
    If she would rather pursue a career that is not part of the union, she can still do some wonderful and rewarding and well paying work for a variety of areas including colleges, local theaters, non-equity and small tour work, industrial shows, or seek a job with a design firm or production house that does scenic work for hire for shows or special events (there are quite a few of them--but the work is very diverse in what you end up designing and building). Many scenic designers also tend to have their own shops and studios for private contracts as well to select the work that interests them. Its a hard field to get into, but very rewarding and very good for making a living once you do. I would also suggest she seek a masters degree program in college so she can have a fall back plan as a teacher. There are many colleges that offer scenic design & theater as a degree program. A little research to colleges in New York, California, Virginia, North Carolina and Illinois goes a long way to finding what will interest her..

    -w
     
  3. Kate

    Kate Member

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    As a technical theatre student myself, those were some of the questions I was asking myself when I was searching for colleges. Although I do not have any answers to salary or demand questions, I do have a few tips about the whole college search thing.
    If you want to have an undergraduate experience that is actually meaningful and beneficial, make sure to only look at schools without graduate programs. Colleges and universities that have graduate theatre programs are good for the graduate students, but undergrads do not get the opportunities that they need too. I am currently a freshman at Longwood University (Farmville, Virginia), and although the theatre department is rather small, it is very professional and has given me great experiences already. This semester alone I am stage manager for a show, master electrician for another show, and asm on top of that. Going to a school without a grad program is a must if you really want good experiences.
    Paying for school is tough, but only for undergrad schooling. Most of my professors have told me that their grad schooling was paid for them basically, and actually had jobs in the theatre to help pay for living expenses while in school. Graduate programs will usually help you in anyway they can. Undergrad is harder, but the money is still out there. Although I have two loans out in my name, I also have federal work study jobs (one with the theatre), scholarships, etc... My advice to her would be to start looking at scholarships now. There are scholarships for juniors and seniors in high school. Also, make sure to keep those grades up. That will get you some money also.
    I wish I had more advice, but that's all I can think of. It's nice of you to do this for her, and I wish her the best of luck! :-D
     
  4. ship

    ship Senior Team Emeritus Premium Member

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    I'm going to offer hopefully a different view which with the above very important concepts expressed will help to fill in the rest of the picture about this. Too bad at this point no scenic artists have posted.

    Many decent programs that have a class or two specific to scenic artist. I had a semester of it and the goal of the course was not only to teach the techniques but to by the end of it, or final exam was the same test that ACE uses to test it's scenic artists applying for membership. I would think that this ACE exam testing standard would be something to ask about in any program specific to scenic art.
    1. Beyond that, I have met lots of art school people in having not found a real living, plying their skills in doing scenic painting. Artists and architects throughout history have done their scenic art for stage be it Inigo Jones, or many more famous artists. A few weeks ago in stagecraft there was discussions about what to do with some famous artist's backdrops.
    I would think that since most schools probably don't offer a lot of classes in scenic art, the student should balance her own education between theater design and construction with scenic artist classes offered by the school as a given. Than also say minor in a degree in some form of art. Remember that while sculpture is more frequently done by the scenic carpenters, even experience in sculpure given a full program of art will be useful.
    As for demand, both by way of IATSE/ACE union and free lance, there is a constant demand for them in any scene shop, if not perhaps to a lesser extent, scenic artists as opposed to those with more general training.
    1) What do scenic artists make per year? This would be years ago but I expect it's probably in the $10.00 per hour range for someone with only a year or two under the belt. I would think that standard no matter what part of the stage you take part today as yesterday.
    After that, and especially if they run the department, I'm sure any scenic artist is worth that of a carpenter in a scene shop by way of pay. Granted there are a lot more artists out there looking for work as opposed to carpenters looking to scene shops for the same. A theater scenic artist on the other hand will without a doubt be trained thus more useful than the art school major. While some scenic artists might have gone free lance and in demand can ask much more, I would think the numbers of them that pull in a great income while free lance as only a scenic artist would be in even less a percentage as those free lance as pyro or designer. Too many artists in general flooding the market and working cheap is my assumption. A degree specializing in theater scenery will however set her apart from artists, given talent and ability to get it done and get it done right in a timely manner of course as necessary. Perhaps in adding to the art and theater, a student might take some form of computer art manipulation classes in that while I have not been in a scene shop for a few years, I'm sure they have in many ways advanced beyond the opeg projector on a scaffold and have more gone into the computer based one. If not now, they will soon I'm sure.
    2) Moderate demand? Where I have worked in the past, there is a frequent turn over and constant influx of new artists coming in. Those that only want to do scenic art will probably need to find a big city and company, but after that as long as they can say for the fist few years as if a scenic carpenter deal with layoffs and low pay as a norm, they should eventually either get into the union or get constant work.
    Further and beyond this theater scenic artist use. With books like "Recipes for Surfaces" and "Decorating with Paint" came the household market of rich people wanting trumproy (sp) or what ever texture in paint. My parents just spent huge chunks of change in having someone rag roll if not spatter their walls. Something that by the end of even one semester of college, and some shows in practicing it I could about do in my sleep.
    As with entertainment lighting going more and more architectural for design purposes, an alternative or side job a scenic artist might look into is in working for a house painting company for special projects they learned in school such as my parents had done. Given the money spent, and a higher skill level needed to do so well for the budget, you would tend to be paid much more than the wall painter. This than when sent out with business cards and a resume in requesting a photo morgue and sample showing interview could lead to very much the financial security when not paid enough or working enough hours working also under someone's direction at a scene shop. On the weekends, one might become other than one of the masses in painting what's renoun for having been seen, instead they are the master in painting for someone's living room.
    All elements of scenic painting between Hollywood and scene shop are in demand, much less it has filtered down to buildings and houses in needing people to do so.
    I would say it's a good career as long as they at least at first don't rely upon all their income in the scene shop or movie set. After they become a master painter for the company or as free lance, perhaps they can devote more time to just doing scenery. Until than, intereior design classes might also be useful not only to budding designers but scenic painters.


    In my normal stance about avoiding schools without graduate students, I think for a scenic artist training program within say a medium sized graduate student program is needed. While the student needs the experience to design and work while within school, to a large extent, schools that don’t have graduate students that need more refined than basic classes don’t often offer the refined classes. If a grad student is able to teach the basic classes, the real instructors are than freed up to teach the more advanced classes such as this would be. Much less without grad students requiring a multi-program, there would not be these advanced classes in necessity. While you would want to ensure that while the school offers advanced classes, undergraduates have the ability to get these classes also, much less in general with the program, it’s not just the graduate students getting all the good positions, As with high school in ASM positions, understudying or assisting a Grad student on a production as the assistant designer say is also a useful stop gap between what you learn in class and learning the assistant trade and methods of reality.

    I might also recommend that if at all possible, the scenic designer get a teachers certificate and graduate school degree. While the bills later will be more, such qualifications and degrees will also help the career in getting more work anywhere or in perhaps after the apprentiship, advancing beyond the one of the masses part of it sooner. Stay in school as long as you can.
     
  5. bigmanofmagic

    bigmanofmagic Member

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  6. nygaff

    nygaff Member

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    This might be a little late for you, cause i see you posted this in january, but here is my 2c.

    first of all, the guy who said that designers get paid $10/hour is off his rocker. I, as a carpentor in a lower budget regional theater get paid $15/hour. Designers are not paid hourly, but are commisioned for the show. Each show is more in the 4-5 figure range (depending on the scope of the design, your experiance, your name and connecitons, and the venue).


    As for schools, i will put in my plug as always. She should go to SUNY Purchase. It is located 30 minutes from NYC. It is concidered one of the top schools in the country for its Design/tech department, and for good reason. All of the teachers are currently working in their fields, and most of them on broadway. Brian Macdevitt, David Gallo, Keneth Posner... they all teach there.

    Something like 95% of graduates are working in their desired field. And for the most part, when an employer sees SUNY Purchase on your resume, it is an automatic hiring. The "Purchase Mafia" Stretches all through out NYC.

    Plus, it is a state school. Even though she is not a NYS resident, it will still be lower than a private school's tuition.

    hope this helps

    Josh
     
  7. EWilliamsScenicArtist

    EWilliamsScenicArtist Member

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    Again, this may be a little late, but as a working scenic artist I may be able to also offer some insight. As far as making a living, I have a full time job at a production company that offers me 40+ and a nice benefits package, and I make a solid 20+ an hour. I graduated from The University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where your student would have the option to get her BFA in either Scenic Design or Scenic Painting. UNCSA is one of the few colleges in the country that offer specialty degrees like that. All of my graduating class is currently working in the industry. She could also look into Cobalt Studios. They have an outstanding certificate program, and because it is located in NY, she will get first hand experience working with professional NY designers and companies and will have a stacked resume before she begins her job hunt. Josh makes an excellent recommendation for SUNY, I have worked with several SUNY grads and they are competent and talented artists.

    As far as will she have work when she graduates- it has been my experience that your ability to find work depends largely on from where you graduate. The theatrical industry is a small one, and it can be difficult to get your foot in the door if you dont have a strong network. Going to a good theatre school with a good reputation will offer her the opportunity for summer stock work and apprenticeship programs where she will meet people who are currently working in the industry. She does need to keep in mind that theatre is a fairly location specific industry. If she wants to live in Iowa, it is going to be near impossible for her to find work. Bigger cities are the way to go. NY, Chicago, California, Miami, Atlanta, Seattle. Places of that nature. From one scenic artist to another, good luck and I hope this helps!
     
  8. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    This thread is almost 10 years old... if she has not figured out how to make it yet I don't think she will.
     
  9. EWilliamsScenicArtist

    EWilliamsScenicArtist Member

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    HA! Guess I should stick to paint brushes and stay away from blogs. Didnt look for a date. Thanks for pointing that out~
     
  10. TheaterEd

    TheaterEd Renaissance Man Fight Leukemia

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    Don't be discouraged. We don't see many scenic artists around here. Welcome to the Booth!
     

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