Am I making the right college decision?

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by Andy Haefner, Jul 29, 2019.

  1. Andy Haefner

    Andy Haefner Member

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    This fall I'm planning to enroll in a dual major consisting of a Theatre BA (Concentration in Technology/Design) and an Electrical Engineering BS. Im worried I'm making the wrong desicion, overloading myself for the next 4-5 years without it benefitting me. I think what id like to do in the future is a mix of things, I know Id like to work as an LD, I enjoy doing audio (FOH or monitor positions), I know I want to work in rigging (theatrical or arena), and I love what I do now (working in local non-union venues for concert lighting/audio as well as being referred by my local for stagehand calls). And of course I don't want to spend my whole life on a grind, hunting for work, maybe spend most of my working career doing what i love with tours or local crew and move on to theatrical consulting or working at a major lighting company like ETC. My main question is if EE will benefit me and be more useful than I think it will, I know it could benefit me if I choose to work as a consultant or at a company designing something, but am I missing something with the other aspect? Will it make me more qualified for a job working on tours or in local venues?
     
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  2. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @EdSavoie and / @TuckerD Would either of you mind sharing the benefits of your college / career experiences with @Andy Haefner ??
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
  3. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    I'd drop the theatre BA. I'd maybe consider a BFA, but most BA programs are more selfguided where you get out of them what you put in... and with a double major you probably won't be able to get what you want. Sounds like you already got your foot in the door with a few local venues and maybe a union... if so, keep that going, get paid for working, and get that EE. Most smaller college theatre programs don't actually teach you how theatre is done in the real world anyway, so most are pretty useless beyond a few core skills. A good BFA programs with actual working professionals is another story.

    Pick up that EE, take as many theatre electives as possible, keep working for the venues you are working for, and go from there!

    FWIW, I have the BFA and really wish I would have gone after an engineering degree instead. Where I'd like to be is in a place that would require me to use either a mechanical or electrical engineer knowledge base.

    The only thing you mentioned that a theatre degree would help with is the LD thing. Rigging is not taught in most colleges anywhere close to the level needed in the real world. Same thing goes for audio. What kind of LD? If you want to do concerts a degree can help but not required. For theatre or dance you pretty much have to get an MFA to get your foot in the door with most large company's and producers.
     
  4. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    I agree with much of what footer points out about value of a theatre BA. The value of a BA to me was it did help get me into the MFA program at Yale (as wella s met my wife working on a show and some lasting friendships). Whether BFA programs go far enough, I don't know.

    I have no advice how but I feel you need to focus on fewer paths. You can always change later, but its hard to demonstrate passion for so many different disciplines all at once.

    FWIW I know very few theatre consultants with an EE or any engineering degree - just a passion and demonstrated excellence at doing theatre. You mention ETC - and I'm sure they employ some EEs but my observation is they employ smart people with a passion for theatre and entertainment technology and train them about manufacturing and product design and sales and such. I think of another large company and I get the feeling few there have ever pulled a piece of scenery across the stage, a serious defect IMHO.

    Focus and passion.
     
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  5. EdSavoie

    EdSavoie Well-Known Member

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    My college's Entertainment Technology program has taught a considerable amount of hands on skills covering the major disciplines rather well. I don't regret taking this program. We did / do get hands on lighting, sound, and rigging training of the course of the three year program, as well as our working at heights / lift tickets to boot.

    Plus there's also an ability to get your pyro license for about $150 because the training is given as a course in the program, so that's nice.

    (Unfortunately, my program is currently dead. So sorry if anyone was considering it. I'm part of the soon to be last graduating class)
     
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  6. TuckerD

    TuckerD Active Member

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    Thanks for the mention Ron. Holy cow. This is like my dream question to answer.

    @Andy Haefner The world is your oyster man. Engineering and Technical theater work can go so well together. I think it depends on what exactly you'd like to be working on but having a full degree in both leaves doors wide open. It will be hard. Especially depending on the school. Some schools will not like an EE with so much focus on some weak subjective -art- crap like theatre. But in the end, that opinion doesn't really matter.

    In the work I've been doing the last few years on some of the biggest LED walls in the world, having show technicians with a background in engineering, even a little bit, is amazing. Having someone that understands the client needs, as a theatrical person, and understanding the extent of engineering difficulties is irreplaceable.

    When I was in high school I had dual interests and I was in love with lighting design and also in love with computer science. Personally, I realized that I was a bit more interested in the actual technology than the design portion. I enjoy design, but for me, I also knew I didn't have enough passion for it to make a serious career out of it. Especially against people who would work much harder than me.

    It was still a hard decision, until a friend of mine wisely pointed out that lighting consoles don't grow on trees. There are engineers and people that actually make those things. So I decided to get my undergraduate degree in computer science.

    After I had sophomore standing in computer science I got in tough with some people at ETC to ask about working for them. A few months later I was at their office working on the Color Source PAR before it came out. Although I must admit that none of my work that summer has had a lasting affect on the CS line it was an invaluable moment both personally and in my career. I returned to ETC about a year and a half later, this time I took a semester off of school and worked for ETC from January until August on the EOS lighting console.

    After graduating and moving on from ETC I've spent the last two years at a company in Los Angeles as a software developer working on some of the coolest LED walls in the world. Because of my background in CS and a passion for industry standardization efforts I've gotten involved in ESTA (the people who author the sACN standard among other things) and recently have been selected to co-chair some efforts on new color control mechanisms. Next month I'll be starting a PhD program in Color Science. All the while, I've been in touch with multiple entertainment companies like ETC and Kino Flo.

    All of this to say If you like EE or Computer Science but you feel like it will take you away from the things you love about theater you couldn't be more wrong.

    For me, personally, I'm drawn to the actual technology and devices themselves. I want to make the best tools in the world for designers and integrators, so that they can see their visions come to life. But I have friends who have gotten degrees, even as far as masters degrees, in things like electrical engineering but stay heavily attached to the actual production side of the industry. They are now helping design lots of custom systems at theme parks, custom props for Broadway, interactive advertising exhibits, revamping old historic signs and marquees with new technology, and some amazing light gardens. If you are more interested in the "field" work and production stuff. I'd be happy to get you in touch with them too.

    Final note: I also agree with everything that @Footer said. I don't personally think that a BA program will bring you much value, it's likely that you already know much of what you would learn except for some minor things that you can learn by taking electives. The industry is adopting more and more mainstream computer and electronic technology so a degree in that will continue to be valuable in many years.

    I would do EE with a minor in theater, or something else, if I were you. I don't have any minors, but I got pretty close to a minors in mathematics, painting, and theatre.
     
  7. sk8rsdad

    sk8rsdad Well-Known Member Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    +1

    The theatre industry is looking more and more like any other business that would benefit from a STEM discipline. Maybe I was lucky but I worked in the campus theatres, at the PAC on the other side of town, and found other opportunities at summer festivals and whatever so that could be a possibility for you too. Just keep the student debt under control.

    @sk8rsdad, P.Eng, B.A.Sc EE and Management Science, etc.
     
  8. What Rigger?

    What Rigger? I'm so fly....I Neverland.

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    Engineering and tech theater coming together are the future of theme parks. You would not believe the amount of integration now, and how it's only going to ramp up exponentially in the near future. If you can speak both sides of these equations, you'll be very valuable in the places where the line blurs between "rides" and "shows". Take a look at Galaxy's Edge (yeah, I've been. I didn't wanna go home. Or to the rest of Disneyland. Leave me, I'll just live there.) All the people I know that are in high demand seem to have a "not quite traditional theater skillset", be it networking/IT, mechanical engineering....heck, even metallurgy.
     
  9. mbrown3039

    mbrown3039 Active Member

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    First question: what do you want to be when you grow up? Aside from "I like to do this, I enjoy doing that," your original post doesn't mention some things I think you need to know to determine your future. Do you want to get married and have kids? Then, at some point, you're going to want a "desk job" (whether it's a lighting desk or an office desk is another question entirely). Do you enjoy traveling the country/world for extended periods? Then maybe marriage/family aren't for you just yet.

    I know that the employers we attract at UNLV's EED program have told us they want graduates who understand the basics of both worlds (engineering and arts) -- the engineering side allows them to work problems out scientifically (and safely) while the theater side allows them to understand the aesthetic "vibe" that the event/attraction producer/artist is trying to convey to the audience. We even have two employers asking us to create a program that marries performing arts and business courses for their office staff.

    All that being said, an Engineering degree requires a fair bit of math skill. I would suggest -- especially given all of the real world experience you have/are getting, that you may want to consider moving the theater portion of your education to a minor. When combined with your resume/portfolio and an EE degree you should have no problem finding long-term work, starting your own firm, etc. Best wishes, m
     
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  10. Ted jones

    Ted jones Active Member

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    One thing to keep in mind: There are a lot more people out there that do/want to do lighting. There are a lot fewer that can do/want to do rigging or carpentry (including welding). Our world is filled with wanna be lighting designers and electricians. Many years ago, I got away from lighting design and electrics because there was a lot more work for people who are carpenters and riggers. And, rigging and carpentry/metal work usually pay more.

    T
     
  11. scenicsauthoff

    scenicsauthoff Member

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    @Andy Haefner a lot of this will depend on the school and the program. Smaller liberal arts schools can easily let you double major in different fields, while more intense schools, with a BFA program, might, but may frown upon it.

    I double majored with a BA and a non-related field and was still able to do a lot of theatre work in school in my liberal arts undergrad. Having and EE degree will definitely come in handy and get you bonus points in an interview, but isn't necessarily necessary. If you know you want to work in the tech theatre industry I would go for that BA or BFA, and if your work load at your program is feasible, tag on that EE. It will give you more of a jump-start than you already have.

    I would have to disagree with Footer in dropping the BA and just doing EE if you know you want to work in theatre. Yes you can still do it, and work in your schools tech programs as a student worker or volunteer, but why go for just the EE degree if that's not what you want to do.

    My graduate program offered much more of a variety of courses to both the MFAs, and BFA/BA than my liberal arts undergrad. We did have LD, audio, and rigging courses that were very useful. But as you are already working in arena venues, those may be seen more of an add-on to the knowledge you already know. I would make sure that your BA program offers a rigging course, structures, LD, and CAD drafting courses. If it is a robust program and it does, keep it. (some of them may only be offered to students in the major). If not, the BA may not be as useful as you think with your work experience.

    Back on the EE being useful. I agree with Bill that the consultants that I know have a background in technical theatre (TD/LD) rather than EE. Not that it wouldn't be useful, but not as necessary as you think. With your focus in lx/sound I would say your should definitely take EE courses, they will teach your things that tech theatre won't. A few courses would give you more knowledge to help with touring/areana work. I wish my undergrad offered (or I took) some mech eng courses to assist me on my TD route. Again, if your work load isn't bad - go for the double, if it is, maybe just a few courses or a minor. Unless you think you want to be A/V systems designer for a museum or amusement park, or build lx consoles, the full EE major may not benefit you as much as you think.

    TL/DR - take the BA with EE courses if your program has a robust BA
    - double in EE or just EE and work in the theatre as a part-time job if the BA is weak or you want to broaden your career path.
     
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  12. JacobRothermel

    JacobRothermel Member

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    I regret nothing about my MFA in technical direction. After ten years working professionally, I was in exactly the right mindset and exactly the right place personally to get the most out of all of it. I became so much a better technician, draftsman, theatrical engineer, and manager than I honestly could ever have hoped to become on my own. I made professional connections in graduate school I benefit from almost every day.

    I do, perhaps, have some regrets about majoring in Theatre (ultimately, with a focus in technical theatre) as opposed to engineering, mathematics, or something else along those lines - but I will also say that those were not at all my interests when I entered into college. Theatre is what got me interested in those things instead. Perhaps I'm not typical, but I can say that since then my experience in academia has shown me I was more typical than not.

    Your life is, with any luck, long and chock-full of opportunities. I wouldn't worry too much about "not getting it right" the first time but rather do your best to stay open to opportunities that reveal themselves to you as you progress. Heaven forfend you decide on, say, a double-major in technical theatre EE and then, halfway through discover you have an untamed and unrealized passion for, say, playwrighting that you now feel you should not - and cannot - explore. Of course you can.

    Most producing, the presenting, and the touring companies I know still seem to care less about a particular degree a candidate has and much more about their ability to demonstrate knowledge in their particular field; and a good deal of the life-long union folk (that I know, anyways) don't even *have* degrees, much less degrees in they're current field(s).

    At the end of the day, I'd agree with most others here that taking CLASSES in certain fields (like engineering or mathematics, etc.) is likely a lot more useful than MAJORING in any one of those for what you appear to be looking to do with yourself (as of right now, anyways...!).

    GOOD LUCK!!
     
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  13. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    *1 to Ted Jones comments.

    You could try working in theatre for a while before school.
     
  14. JohnHuntington

    JohnHuntington Active Member

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    I have an article coming out any day now in TD&T following up to an article I wrote many years ago that talks a lot about my thoughts on entertainment technology education.

    But my personal advice for your situation is that if you can handle the math (I couldn't), get the EE degree. In our business it's all about what you can do, and most people don't care about the degree. However, having that E in your degree definitely gives you more credibility and an additional skill set that would distinguish you and also give you access to career choices down the road where they do have degrees. (The most brilliant guy I ever knew quit MIT just shy of his final project to work in our business, then 20 years later had a hard time getting a job in traditional industry because he didn't have the degree).

    My big gripe with engineering degrees is that so few have real hands on practical components, but it sounds like you've got that covered if you're working local crew already.

    John
     
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  15. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Ya... but that never stopped them from telling the person who operates the wrench how it should be done... I thought they did that on purpose to keep engineers from actually being useful!
     
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  16. jm_in_tx

    jm_in_tx Member

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    All the learned and far more experienced professional people have had their say and I respect their opinions very much. As a non-theatre-professional, let me add my two pfennig:
    I am an electrical engineer (BS/MSEE, Purdue University, 80/81) with a minor in technical theatre. I spent 4 years in high school working backstage building stuff and running a ginormous rheostat light board. I have never worked in theatre professionally, but I have worked in lots of amateur/community theatres and have designed/built props/sets for the last 12 years. It is an intensely satisfying avocation. As a "theatre person" with an engineering background, I believe I brought a big measure of discipline and attention to detail to the work I did. Although much of what I have done had little to do with electricity/electronics per-se, my engineering mentality made my sets fit together better, my stairs not wobble or sag, my doors swing straight and latch cleanly, my soundscapes cleaner and fuller, my props more believable and interesting. Could I make it in a professional environment doing that sort of thing? Not any more. I'm 62 and missed that boat long ago. But the engineering mindset developed over many years of making medical imaging systems and power system protective devices enabled me to do better at what I did in my free time and to help those around me do better as well -- there are a great many teaching opportunities when you are supervising a bunch of amateurs building a big set on a big stage. In one of my community theatre gigs, I came on as technical director and was asked why some dimmers didn't work. To make a long story short, a licensed electrician had recently finished (and been paid for) a installation job he pretty much botched: overstuffed conduits, insufficient neutrals, shorted connections, blown dimer pack channels. The worst part was that he had left the dimmer pack fed from three 100A breakers --oversized to the point of being a fire hazard and code violation. I fixed it all and had it inspected and signed off by an electrician I trusted. As an engineer, I was in a position to understand everything that had been done wrong even though I was not an *electrician*.

    How does my experience relate the more professional theatre environment? As a non-traditional student, my wife, after being an extremely busy ("amateur") set designer for almost 10 years went off and got an MFA in Scenic Design. Through her experience, I came in contact with a great many technical theatre students at different schools and through USITT.

    I have been invited to give two presentations at USITT conferences in recent years, one on LEDs for props and costumes (co-presentation with some professors) and a hugely-attended session entitled Safe DC Design for Props and Costumes. What I learned through my local, university and USITT exposure is that there are a lot of people doing technical theatre work who have vanishingly little understanding about electricity, simple circuits (batteries, LEDs and switches) and what will set your actors on fire.

    Side note: I would quit my day job as an commercial/industrial electrical power systems consultant if I could get paid to teach basic electricity/electronics/programming etc. to technical theatre students.

    What does that mean to you Andy, the prospective student? It depends on 1) what you think you want to do with your life, career-wise; and 2) how much joy you get from working in the theatre. Let's face it, you'll be much happier and better doing a job where you enjoy what you are doing. Do you want to design stuff like moving light controls or lighting/sound equipment? Do you want to *apply* those things in an entertainment venue? Are you comfortable with (and good at) math/physics? Are you happiest when you are working with your hands and creating things?

    Electrical Engineering programs are by nature theoretical but most of them offer a strong hands-on component either through project work or co-op work-study programs (which I highly recommend). On the other hand, there are 2- and 4-year Electrical Engineering Technology programs where your emphasis is more on doing practical work than on, say, semiconductor physics. (I am an academic program evaluator and have seen EET programs that were spectacularly challenging).

    If you like understanding how things work, engineering is a great field and it will certainly not restrict your work in technical theatre -- on the contrary, it will most likely enhance your opportunities on the product-design/applications-engineering side. If you want to work as a lighting or sound designer, (or TD, rigger or master carpenter) you'd probably be better off with engineering technology -- especially if math/physics is not your strong suit.

    What you think you want to do today is probably not what you will be doing in 15 years so you need to prepare be flexible. If you want to get a foot in the door at ETC, engineering is the way to go. Even with an engineering degree, you can still do all that stuff you like doing, you'll just be prepared for the next career step.

    You are asking the right questions. Good Luck.

    --Jeff
     
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  17. FMEng

    FMEng Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I have a BSEET degree from the Oregon Institute of Technology. It's a state school with an enviable record of employment for its graduates. An EET is a lot more hands on with many hours spent in the lab designing, testing and troubleshooting circuits. I was never interested in making semiconductors, I just want to use them to do things. The ratio was about 2-3 hours of lab for every hour of lecture. There's nothing like seeing and measuring the theory on the bench. There is a bit less emphasis on math, but it still ventures into calculus. Generally speaking, EET's are more productive right out of school, due to the hands on experience with test equipment. My degree gave me a great foundation for my vocation in broadcast engineering. I occasionally accomplish things that my peers can't because they don't have a component level understanding of the equipment.
     
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  18. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    Sometimes the micro view and the macro view need to be seen simultaneously in order to make something new or fix something old. With or without a degree, people who can do that are rare, valuable, and hard to keep in your shop/theater/lab because they have the potential to go far.

    One of the things I've seen in students and adult employees is a failure to instinctively grasp how things work *together*. A systems analyst, kind of. These are the folks who can't troubleshoot quickly & accurately (or at all). I've found that skill is neither easily taught nor learned.

    For our OP - work, school, doing what makes you feel fulfilled... those things are actually tools that, for better or worse, determine what happens with the Really Important Stuff in your life - your family, your community, perhaps your faith tradition. I think @mbrown3039 presents this very well; you can change tools as long as you know *why* you're using them - to help with that Really Important Stuff. Take a stab at what you think you want from the next 10 years of your life and see how your various choices fit.

    There are lots of ways to work in live entertainment production, presentation, and design. You don't have to pick just one for your lifetime.
     
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  19. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Thanks everyone for your replies. There's so much good advice in this thread that I've edited the educational forum FAQ and added a link to this thread so it doesn't get lost. I'm so proud of my internet buddies who care about helping the next generation figure out life. This thread is such a great example of what makes CB a truly unique and special place. :clap::clap::clap:
     
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  20. KacyC

    KacyC Member

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    Hi Andy,

    I hope your first semester is off to a good start.
    I'm late to the party but wanted to add a few comments of my own.
    My undergrad was in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Theatre. I was a few credits short of a double major, and I decided it made no sense to stick around to get the extra BA. While studying engineering, I spent a good chunk of my time in the theatre department. I worked on every production less two while I was there and I worked most of the cultural events program (touring/presenting shows).

    It was the right blend for me. Part of what made it work was that it was also the right school for me. I attended a small liberal arts college with a strong engineering program. The education was good, but the personalized attention and ability to explore was excellent. My engineering professors were a little confused about the overlap between theatre and engineering, but they ran with it. The English department (at that time in charge of the theatre program) was ecstatic about the possibilities of combining the two. The technical theatre program was small enough that I had hands-on experience from the start. the values of your institution matter in how this all plays out.

    There are so many possible career paths in theatre/entertainment engineering right now, and I foresee that growing as we embrace more technologies still. (See John Huntington's article.) Best of luck to you!
     
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