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careers in theatre

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by ShadowPuppet88, Jan 15, 2009.

  1. ShadowPuppet88

    ShadowPuppet88 Member

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    So, i know this is probably not in the correct forum category, but i couldnt find the right one. Anyway, is there anything that any of you guys can tell me about actually making a career as a stage technician? Is there a reasonable chance of getting a job, is the pay ok, benefits, etc. Anything?
     
  2. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Can you give a few more definitions?

    For instance... are you a student looking into a future career? Out of school worker looking for a job? Looking to get out of freelance? Looking to get out of touring?

    Career in Stage Mangagement, I take it?

    You may want to check out this Collaborative Article: Getting A Job in the Industry

    Or these threads:
    Getting a Job after College
    Is it economically safe to pursue a career in Technical Theatre?

    And I'm sure more will chime in...

    From my point of view, if you don't mind teaching, you could attempt to get a certification and teach in middle school, high school or college...
     
  3. What Rigger?

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

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    I have always chased my goal of 'full time employment' with the tenacity of a telemarketer: aka, gotta get a gig by any means necessary.

    At the same time, (and I'm not being sarcastic I swear), I have always mentally prepared myself for a sudden and unseen transition into the food service industry.
     
  4. cdub260

    cdub260 CBMod CB Mods

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    The answer to all your questions is a resounding maybe. Theatre is a tough industry. Success is dependent on a combination of skill, talent, networking, perseverance, and sheer dumb luck. Is it possible to earn a living at it? Yes, but odds are it won't be an easy road getting to that point. In the early part of your career, you'll probably find yourself doing a lot of volunteer shows, and some for which the pay is so low that you may as well be a volunteer. But as you develop a reputation in the industry, the paid shows will become more common, the pay will get better, and if you're able to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, you'll reach a point where you are actually earning your living doing theatre.

    I've been working in the industry for nineteen years, I've been earning a living at it for the last nine years. I was right on the edge of leaving the industry back in 1999 because I was not earning enough to make ends meet. Then I was offered the Master Electrician position for the 2000 season of the Pageant of the Masters. I'm still there, and there's nothing else I'd rather be doing for a living.

    So, can you succeed in theatre? Yes!

    Will it be easy? Not likely.

    Is it worth the effort? For me, yes! For you? Only you can answer that one.
     
  5. ShadowPuppet88

    ShadowPuppet88 Member

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    thanx alot guys, that really helps alot. i will give u some more info though. 5 amgoing into college for tech theatre in the fall and no, i dont mind traveling, im probably going to specialize in lights/sound or as a stagehand.

    i have one more question. what is the deal with union/non-union work in this industry? should i join or did u guys get gong just on scab labor?
    thanx
     
  6. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    First, let's get some terminology clear. Non-union does NOT, necessarily, equate to "scab labor." See Scab Labor. A "scab" is usually defined as a person who crosses a picket line during an organized labor dispute, i.e. strike. "Scab labor" displaces pre-existing union workers. In the live entertainment industry, the ratio of union to non-union may be (just guessing here, corrections welcomed) 20%/80%.

    The decision of whether to join a union or not depends primarily in what venue(s) or what job(s) one wishes to work. Both Union and non-union have many pros and cons, but my advice is that joining a union is rarely detrimental, and in most cases will not prevent one from seeking non-union employment.

    Second, definitely follow [user]lieperjp[/user]'s advice and read the Collaborative Article: http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/collaborative-articles/9123-getting-job-industry.html. [Although I disagree with his phrasing of "if you don't mind teaching..." Like all vocations, wanting to be a teacher (instructor, professor, etc.) should be a passion and not merely "something to settle for."]

    Third, answering your first post: full-time, hourly Las Vegas stage technicians, both union and non-union, make between $40,000-$80,000 yearly, with full medical, vacation, and retirement benefits. The only other cities with comparable wages are NYC, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. Always have a back-up plan and alternate career, ala [user]What Rigger?[/user]'s sentiments. Only go into theatre if there's nothing else that makes you happy. Also take into consideration the ratio of "full-time" to "freelance" jobs in this industry. Again, I'm totally guessing, but I suspect maybe only 30% full-time jobs. Many freelance technicians make more than their full-time counterparts, but always worry about when/where their next gig will be. There are virtually no staff designer positions in live entertainment.

    Fourth (and please don't take this as a personal attack), unless you'd like to be solely a box pusher or janitor (both noble professions--no offense intended toward either), take some care to pay attention to details like spelling, grammar, and punctuation when posting. On the Internet, and in all written documents, the manner in which you express yourself is how you are perceived by others. We like to hold Control Booth members to a higher standard than most forums, so take the time to proofread and edit your posts. Use the "Preview Post" button before clicking "Submit Reply." (I just corrected FOUR errors in this post!) Better questions produce better answers. See these posts: http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/general-advice/10658-resumes-again.html?highlight=resume and http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/...um-english-class.html?highlight=english+class.

    Good luck in all future endeavors.:)

    [Thread moved to Education forum.]
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2009
  7. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    What was I thinking?!? What he said.
     
  8. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Warning: Long post! If you want, my advice is really at the beginning and end or read my post here http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/education/10698-what-do.html#post117830.

    Part of what you need to consider when choosing a career in theater is this, what kind of life do you want to have? I am married, with children (and not a shoe salesman), and the sole bread winner for my family, by choice. What does this mean, I probably should have chosen a different career. That being said, yes, you can have a career in theater.

    What do you want to do in theater? If you like doing plays, like you are doing currently in school, you will have an extremely limited career choice. Most likely, you will choose the path of working in education or work in community theater. I would say that neither of these will provide you with a lot of money in your pocket (and thus stress about paying the bills), but you may find that you will love what you do. On the other hand, you can take your theater experience and work in corporate audio-visual and make a better wage, but dread what you do (oh, and you have to love getting up early if you work in the hotel environment).

    I can fill you in on a variety of career choices with theatrical experience through my own choices. I loved working backstage in HS and even got some paid gigs (I skipped my senior prom to work followspot for REO Speedwagon). In college, I had plans on going into archaeology, but tech theater offered better scholarships, so that's what I chose. I worked on the school's shows as well as doing summer stock and continuing to work freelance (state fair concerts, worked with the activities council bringing in comedians and bands for the school, plus some touring productions). After 2 1/2 years, I took my Associates of Arts in theater and moved on to archaeology (and a new state).

    I would have been happy at that, I had done a lot and was satisfied. I went to a university where the touring Broadway shows played on campus. OK, now I knew where to get my work study. At the time, they found it easier to hire non-theater students to work at this road house than re-train the theater students. It's not that the program was bad, but working a road house is different than producing your own shows. Since I had worked outside of my theater, I was accepted to work there. Man was that a great experience. However, my paycheck fluctuated greatly since there was limited work for non-union crews on the Broadway shows, and there was not always other work to do. By working along side the union, I was asked to join. At first I said no since I was still planning on going into archaeology. However, I was married, had one child already, and needed work.

    I got my first hook by being a manager of a multi-plex cinema (25 screens). There I gained experience in running crews, running 35mm projection equipment (including splicing film and maintenance), but not much else "theatrical". Guess what, I still freelanced because it didn't pay the bills. After that, I was able to apply my theatrical and archaeoligical skills by building exhibits for a natural history museum. It was more my theater skills that got me the job (you can see one of my other posts about having "marketable skills"). Again, it didn't really pay the bills and I kept freelancing, and joined the union. Luck would have it, the month I was sworn in to the local, one of the older guys fell during opening weekend of Phantom of the Opera and I was put on for the rest of the run. I decided to quit the museum and try only doing union work. Well, in Phoenix, union work is mainly "industrials" which are also known as booth shows. That's usually in a convention center where the client is hosting a multitude of suppliers of a certain type of materials - home and garden shows, gift shop shows, or things like LDI. Needless to say, many of the stagehands didn't have as much theatrical experience. I wasn't making enough and supplemented my income in a cabinet fabrication shop.

    Next came my big break into theater. I was a TD (along with two other guys) of a two theater complex where there were five resident companies and we did rentals as well, this was non-union, but the union didn't mind me being there. This was great! I thought I was the cat's meow. And then I realized what regional theater was about. Most of their funding was from grants, suplemented by their ticket sales. The money they spent went towards the administration mostly and sets resulting in low paid technicians. Well, low paid technicians are usually inexperienced since the experienced people usually go elsewhere to get paid better. My first year was scary. I brought it to the attention of my administration that there was all kinds of safety concerns. I quit. Well, a few months later, they asked me back. They told me that things were going to improve. At first they were. We were able to start mandating new safety procedures, requiring the resident companies to come and have their employees and overhire to be trained in the facilities fall protection and personnel lifts. We turned the rehearsal hall into a blackbox performance space and had the pipe grid professionally inspected after it was installed. Well, there were still accidents and near accidents because the technicians were still untrained. I was allowed to implement a training program, gratis to any technician who wanted to work there. I convinced the theater companies to give a bonus to techs who took my class. I also convinced the companies to hire union stagehands to fill their calls for load-in and strike to ensure that there were qualified people working. Things were getting better. Now I focussed on the safety concerns of the building itself. I pointed out to my boss that we had OSHA violations and that they needed to be fixed. Nothing was being done, so I contacted OSHA to do a walk through. I got fired.

    I was in my rights to get my job back. I sought legal council but was told that I would end up getting my job back but losing money in the long run (long story) especially since wages were low (I was making around $30k as a TD). If I had taken the job under union protection, then the union would have fought for me, but since I didn't, I was on my own.

    I had enough of a good reputation in town, plus my union membership, that I was able to get enough work until I got another job. I went into corporate AV at a large luxury hotel. I learned a lot more about sound (most ballrooms are extremely accoustically different from theaters) as well as digital projection systems. I tried working my way up, but eventually I hated being at work at 6AM evey day so I moved on. I went to work for another AV company prepping and repairing their video equipment. I got a lot of new contacts in the industry since this was a more reputable company.

    One day I get a call from a former co-worker who has a job offer for me in Las Vegas. Now, having a family, I knew that pay was better here, but never really considered moving here. Well, I sent my resume off anyway and ended up being offered a lead position. Cool. Six months after I moved, I got a call from my old university, one of the TDs retired and they wanted me to apply. I didn't because I would have had to take a significant pay cut.

    What's the moral of my story? Well, it's kind of up to you. The short answer is that you can be successful in theater through a lot of perserverance and dumb luck. Your work ethic can be recognized and bring you some jobs even when ostrisized from others. If you really think about it though, there are probably as many stagehands graduating from all the colleges and universities and trade schools in the country each year as there are full time jobs in technical theater (not including the part-time/freelance work). That goes to show you that there are going to be opportunities, but many people use their skills in other fields. In addition, many of the high budget shows in LA, LV, NY, etc. are using more and more specialized people in hydraulics, electrical engineering, IT, and other non-theatrically related fields.

    I'm still paying on my student loans almost 15 years after graduating. I have had constant work (as you may have read unless you skimmed as advised) but it hasn't all been great paying. Union stagehands in Phoenix make about $18/hour. That is better than the non-union stagehands who make $10-13/hour. I made $17 an hour as an AV tech (plus tips). I was considered to be doing good making $30k a year as a TD. Unless you are with a large company (most theater companies are non-profit and are far from large), you will pay more for your benefits. When I worked at the museum, it was a city job and so my families health insurance was around $150/month. When I was a TD, I was paying about $600/month for my health insurance. Same kind of coverage. I have yet to be able to make enough to put towards retirement (as with many stagehands I've known who were married, with children). I never went out on the road, but have many friends who have. Sometimes you get a good gig, sometimes you don't. I was offered a job with the circus more than once, but always turned them down due to payscale. That's me. For you who are not married and have less responsibility, go for it. Like I have said many times, try to figure out what it is that's important to you in life. Theater isn't always the easiest thing to get out of once you are in it. I don't want anyone to be scared out of theater, just to know what they are getting into. We are still really trying to make this career choice to be seen as a reputable one. I have often been politely mocked by other professionals because they "did theater when they were in HS." With the help of Discovery Channel and A&E, some people are getting wind that there is some extremely technical equipment that needs very talented people to run it, but unless you work on a "named" production, you will probably end up getting treated as second rate outside of our community.

    If you are like me, however, theater is in your blood. I tried to turn my back on it for other desires, but failed and was drawn back in. It's what I do. It's what I am passionate about. It helps define me. I hope that I have helped the OP as well as anyone else who has put up with my ramblings. Man, it really helps me to envision myself in a rocking chair someday, repeating the same stories over and over. . . [media]http://images.meez.com/user06/3/8/5/3/6/1/8/3853618_bodyshot_300x400.gif[/media]

    Good luck to all of you and I hope you all make the best decisions. Time will only tell.
     
  9. cdub260

    cdub260 CBMod CB Mods

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    I am not now, nor have I ever been a union stage hand. I have, however worked along side union crews when groups using my venue brought them in. On the whole I have found them to be highly professional and generally pleasant to work with. Their work methods and procedures are a bit more strict and regimented than what I'm used to as the head of a three man electrics crew consisting of me, myself and I. That said, I've learned quite a bit from the handful of instances I've worked with IATSI crews.

    As far as pay and benefits go, while I will not go into details on a public forum, my compensation is within the lower half of the realm that Derek lists for full time Las Vegas union stage hands. My employer provides medical, dental, vision, life and long term disability insurance as well as a 403-B retirement plan. The only two that I pay for are the long term disability and the 403-B. With all that said, this level of compensation is not typical of the venues in Orange County, California. I have the good fortune to work for a highly successful, long running show which people come from all over the world to see. 2009 will be our 76th. season and we've sold out every performance for the last ten years. Unlike most theatres in the area, my venue does not depend on grant money for it's survival. We are supported by our ticket sales. This means we have a larger budget, and a more reliable stream of income than the community theatres which are the bread and butter of the local stage hands.

    A few years back, just to indulge my curiosity, I asked the ME at a nearby venue how much he made. at that time, he was earning about $8,000 a year less than my base salary. That, I believe is more typical of what full time staff positions at venues in my area pay. I work on one show a year plus the occasional outside event, while my counterpart at the other venue has the constant grind of one or two full productions every month, year round. It's just one of the harsh realities of our business that the community theatres that so many in our industry rely on for their livelihoods, simply do not have the resources to pay their employees what the higher budget shows and venues, such as mine, are able to pay their employees.

    What does this mean for your future prospects ShadowPuppet88? Nothing that hasn't already been said. Success or failure, and to what degree you experience both, are dependent on a large variety of different factors, many of which are beyond your control. The best you can do is to educate yourself, develop a good work ethic, and earn a reputation that places you at the top of potential employers' call lists. As for the factors that are beyond your control, let them take care of themselves, but don't blind yourself to them.

    There's no magic formula for success in theatre. If you ask 100 technical theatre professionals how they got to where they are today, you'll get 100 different stories, each a valid path to success. If you belong in theatre, you will find a way to succeed.
     
  10. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    On second thought, after reading this, I think we should all go into management.:lol:
    Complete story at Butts In The Seats.
    Hey Van, Alex, Sean, et al: Do the Executive Directors at your theatres make even one-tenth of that?
     
  11. cdub260

    cdub260 CBMod CB Mods

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    We don't have an Executive Director.:twisted:

    We had one a few years back, but he lasted less than a year.:boohoo::dance:
     
  12. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Wow! Lot's of great advice here already. I think it comes down to pursuing your passion. How much do you love doing tech work? For me educational theater has been a great experience. I have had the oportunity to share my love for theater with hundreds of young people so far which is very fulfilling. It's also been a very safe and stable career move with benefits and a retirement plan.

    I'm jealous of the jobs my friends Davin, Derek, Rigger, and Cdub have. I have a lot of fun in a well equipped small college theater but it's nothing compared to what those guys call "work". Unfortunately, Cdub's the only one in that group who is allowed to tell you where he works... but trust me the other three "work" in places that would blow your mind. If I was 18 and had it do all over again I would think very seriously about not taking the safe educational theater route. But I've got a stable family life. With the exception of a few weeks of shows a year I'm home in the evenings and on weekends. I work nice normal hours. It's a lot harder for those guys to have a "normal" life. If they say no, then they don't work. That's a tough world to live in.

    I always tell my students don't be afraid to pursue your passion. If you are hard working, good at what you do, and don't drive people crazy, you will find work. It's highly unlikely that you will ever own a Lexus, but having a job you love is worth more than a luxury car. You may have to wait tables for a while. You may have to work a 6 different theaters to put together a regular salary. You may eat a lot of Top Ramen. But if you love what you are doing it's worth it.
     
  13. ShadowPuppet88

    ShadowPuppet88 Member

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    Just one more question.
    Are there any classes in particular that i should bulk up on or specialize in while im in school?
    What i mean is, what will make me more versatile/hireable? Should i take some extra classes in lights & Sounds, or stagecraft...
    Help me out.
    Im really into the grunt work of theatre as well as light design, sound design, and backstage work.
    Thanks a lot you guys
     
  14. cdub260

    cdub260 CBMod CB Mods

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    Learn scenic carpentry. Just about every show needs carpenters to build the sets, and it's generally steadier work than hanging and focusing lights or loading sound systems in and out.

    Using the Pageant as an example, we have one sound engineer on staff, and one stage electrician, me. But we have three full time carpenters.

    Going back to the early years of my career, when I was freelancing I worked as a scenic carpenter far more often than I worked as a lighting tech. Lighting has always been my first love in theatre, but it was my experience that there was simply more, and steadier work in the set construction side of the industry. My lighting gigs would be a day here and a day there, while my set construction gigs would be a week to a month of steady work.

    These days I'm more of a specialist concentrating on stage lighting, but I still have need of the skills in carpentry, audio, and strangely enough, costuming, that I learned early in my career.

    The lesson I'm trying to impart here is that if you want to make a career of technical theatre, you will be well served by both generalizing and specializing. Find the area that you most enjoy and learn everything you can about it, but also try to learn a few things about other areas as well. You never know which set of skills is going to land you your next job.
     
  15. David Ashton

    David Ashton Active Member

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    A few options not mentioned, there are plenty of oppurtunities in self employment, I've been self employed 40 years and it has benefits, as to skills to learn, I think basics like fork-lift training and ariel platform training and rigging training will definitely give you an edge, as well as other options to make a dollar.
     
  16. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    While you are in HS, I would say focus on your experience and your portfolio. Many college recruiters that I have met are looking for potential and ethics. Ethics will come from your interview, but what you have done and what you can show of it will make a big difference in getting that interview. If your school is part of the International Thespian Society, you will have opportunities to audition for technical scholarships at the state and national level conferences. I highly recommend it.

    One of the areas of study that I would recommend in college is Technical Direction. From what I have seen of the students in these programs, they are coming out much more prepared for taking a role in professional theater than their peers who were studying design. Of course, as the article Derek mentioned, going into theater administration can be much better to your pocketbook, while less satisfying to your desire to be backstage.
     

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