1. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    A conversation on a job site yesterday got me thinking about who does a high school turn to for designing a system replacement.

    Certainly vendors have done this - actively or behind the scene - a lot but that has consequences. You get a focused view and range of expertise; there is a bias for the brands the vendor sells; and sometimes a tendency for the vendor to shape the scope to make them more competitive. Vendors are also risk adverse, wanting to stick with the way they have always done it, and sometimes taking risks and doing it differently is warranted. Easy and familiar are not always the best design. And while replacement is easier, repair is often much less expensive. I think of all the dimmer racks scrapped when cleaning and new electronics would make them as good as new for a fraction of the cost.

    Probably worse are architects and school administrators without the education and experience necessary nor the humility to admit they don't know, calling the shots. Lots of examples of this. I always think of two high school balconies from which you can't possibly see someone down stage.

    I've done some of this but frankly, very few professional theatre consultants take on this kind of work, a single system in a high school. And I'm not doing any more.

    So where does a school turn for good objective advice? What's a hs auditorium manager tell the superintendent?
     
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  2. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Custom Title Fight Leukemia

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    My biggest fear in life is a school or church having an audio or lighting problem and then throwing money at it until it goes away. I guarantee you can walk into any elementary school in this country and find some disused closet somewhere in the school that will have a collection that will most likely include a number of portable 2-way speakers, a couple of stands, and at least one 24 channel Mackie amidst an assorted amount of wireless microphones from either Nady, Samson, or Pyle.

    I've thought about trying my hand in the consulting side of things, but getting started with it is daunting. I don't have a clue how to build connections with vendors, so more often than not I find myself helping out friends of friends and untangling the mess they find themselves in. A lot of the time I find they can solve most (if not all) of their problems utilizing the gear they currently have and arranging it in a way that most suits their needs while maintaining the needs of the space. For elementary schools, that almost certainly means a super basic system with a mic and computer input for their primary usage and then designing a portable, but more complicated system for their special events (musicals, concerts, etc). In reality those spaces are used almost daily for assemblies and crowd management, but maybe 4-10 times a year for anything that would require multiple mics.

    My biggest complaints in cleaning up these messes usually stem from someone thinking that locking down a system will make it work forever. Either putting up plexi over mixer controls, writing on the board with sharpie to indicate levels or something along those lines. The other side is the vendor/contractor that usually spec the wrong gear or way over-complicate things. That's where you end up with users who can't spend the time to understand how to use your gear, and you end up with a closet of stuff that no one knows how to use.

    I absolutely love utilizing existing hardware in a way that makes it work for the site as opposed to buying all new stuff just for the sake of buying new stuff. New stuff is great. You throw enough money into lighting a stage and anything you put on it will look good, but the art comes from taking what you've got and using it in creative ways. That's where learning happens too. I think once I get too old for this gig I might try my hand at finding a niche in cleaning up these kinda messes.

    The biggest problem I face in being a HS TD is that you sometimes have to stand on the table and yell to get people to realize you exist and occasionally know what you're talking about. Case in point, we're in the throes of a new install of a system that will unify classrom audio, video and school-wide intercom. The system is neat, but they didn't do an effective site-survey to see what equipment already exists in each room or how the teachers currently use it, and the installer crew has no dialog with the end-users. The result is a system that doesn't work as well as what was there. Basic things like to play back a DVD the audio runs through this integrated amp that is POE enabled and networked. But there's no physical volume control. It's a fixed-gain amp that is attenuated via a software interface that we don't have access to. My good turns have lately been setting up teachers with their new gear. It's stuff like this that makes me wonder what they're thinking upstairs, but I know they put this together and spent a lot of time working on it with the hopes that it would improve the quality of instruction and whatnot. At the same time it's hard not to get frustrated at them for not thinking of the end-user or the long-term maintenance of a very complicated system of devices.
     
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  3. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    If you're designing and specifying equipment, the manufactures and vendors will find you.
     
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  4. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @StradivariusBone You're unleashing a torrent of the stuff of nightmares; I'll hit the first three or four that come to mind:
    - Back in the 1960's during my Installation & Maintenance Electrical apprenticeship, I was a third year apprentice on a project building a new high school from the foundations up. The Head of the school's English Department had pushed for a few extras to improve their basic auditorium for theatrical use.
    The auditorium's floor was raked to improve sight lines and a wide booth included across the rear. The booth's location necessitated access via approximately a dozen steps from a locked door near the lobby end of a corridor running parallel to the SR / House Left side.
    When you opened the door you found a switch immediately inside the door to illuminate the stairwell.

    Once you ascended to the booth, you unlocked a second door and found a switch for the ceiling mounted lights that BRIGHTLY illuminated the booth and, via the full width windows, half the auditorium.

    Once you were in the booth, there was no way to switch off the stairwell lights. Anyone entering the booth during a performance introduced the bright stairwell lights to the booth if you had the booth's ceiling lights off.
    No utility receptacles were provided within the booth, nor any lighting intended for use during performances.
    If / when you wanted to power a clip-on light in the booth, you needed to run an extension cord out the booth door, down the stairs, out the lower door and into a wall receptacle in the corridor. This resulted in extension cord(s) being pinched in two doors and often unplugged by passersby, including cleaners plugging in their vacuums.
    There were no provisions to control the house lights from within the booth, (only back stage on one side when you entered from the corridor) nor were there any provisions for any manner of intercom.
    In the booth there was a speaker mounted flush within a wall sourced from the school's office's paging system so you wouldn't miss class change chimes or any / all of the secretary's pages.
    No utility power nor task lighting BUT a typical 'Tin can on a stick' 1K or 1.5 K incandescent follow spot was added as an 'extra' since the lady in charge of the English department had requested a few extras to upgrade the auditorium for theatrical use.
    No utility power BUT one receptacle designed to accept a 120 volt, 20 Amp plug was provided to power the follow spot.

    One FOH cove was added with access via a ship's ladder within the booth then crawling on your knees with your head and shoulders low 'til you arrived at the one and only cove which was immediately in front of the pros' serving only to down light patrons seated in the front row.

    To further pound salt: The architect was a favorite of the school board and, in spite of many complaints about the aforementioned school, was selected to build another high school in the east end of the city FROM THE EXACT SAME SET OF PLANS, INCLUDING THE ADDED THEATRICAL FEATURES.
    Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh! I rest my case, this memory alone has me too upset to relate another two or three similar tales.
    To be continued at a later time and date.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
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  5. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I'm strictly consulting now but did a lot of K12 design/build at my previous job.

    We were always upfront with clients -- we were consultants first and were compensated for our designs. If you, as the owner, asked or insisted us to bid on our designs, we would -- but as a general rule we only did so if asked because otherwise it would hurt our consulting side of the business. If we were to always bid our own projects, other bidders would be deterred from bothering to bid against us, and quite frankly -- consulting was always more profitable than contracting so it was an important side of our business to preserve our integrity for.

    My feeling is that design/build with a vendor can be highly successful given the right circumstances, but also comes with risks. Risks that corners get cut or changes get made on the fly that don't go through a proper change order process to ensure the owner gets exactly what they paid for. Had at least a couple projects where for a variety of reasons there were a number of changes late in construction, some of which were quoted as sales directly to the owner outside of the construction project. When our consulting staff tried to audit what was in the final project install, it was near impossible to make sure they got everything they were supposed to. There were no egregious discrepancies and they certainly got their money's worth, but quantities of cables, rack drawers, and other items had no clear paper trail to ensure the quantities purchased added up -- because in some cases there was undocumented wheeling and dealing to give the owner more wireless mic's instead of as many stage monitors or something like that.

    On the other side of the coin, customers often got more than they bargained for. If something didn't work exactly as designed and needed additional parts/pieces, we often ate that cost rather than propose a change order. Hard to ask for more money for additional equipment when you're the original system designer, and you can't leave sizable gaps in the system functionality or that would hurt your reputation for pursuing future projects.

    Inevitably, a few clients ended up unhappy through the process because they didn't have a consultant in a position of authority to enforce the bid spec, contract docs, and installation timeline. The vast majority of clients had successful outcomes though which was critical because most of our business was generated by word of mouth reputation. Some clients wanted us to do both the design and install but their procurement process prohibited it. In those cases it was not uncommon to be paid more for the consulting, with the understanding we could always clean up after a a low bid contractor if they screwed the pooch on the install, programming, or tuning. Generally those clients knew in advance who the low bid would be and that there would be issues that needed to be resolved but that their procurement process prohibited them from disqualifying the bidder.

    My opinion -- If you're selecting a reputable vendor -- by other clients' reviews, not by what the vendor's own propaganda says -- generally I don't mind a vendor having allegiances to certain manufacturers. At least in the AV world, where most reputable vendors can get a dealership to just about any product, and their allegiances tend to be informed by their own previous experiences and not by who will or will not let them sell their product. If someone is trying to sell you Strand instead of ETC because they can't get a dealership with ETC, that's an entirely different beast, but that's generally not an issue in the AV world in the way that it is with lighting. Most everyone competent can get access to any product. Favoritism tends to come from prior success or horror stories, though occasionally preferred dealer pricing plays a small role as well.

    Off the top of my head though, the ratio of untrustworthy vendors to reputable ones is probably 5:1, and for every reputable vendor maybe only 3-4 of every 5 projects ends up being an unqualified success. Unless you have a really good relationship with a vendor already, the odds are statistically against you that a design/build project without independent review will be a complete success without any later heartburn.
     
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  6. RickR

    RickR Well-Known Member

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    90% of the HS staff I've met barely know that theatrical consultants exist.

    I've done 1 single system design in a school. The schools can't afford it unless building new. They'll go without lights rather than spend $20 or more! They also seem to think these things should work forever.
     
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  7. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    I believe the only certainty in design/build is the profit for the design/builder. If they made a mistake early, they substitute later to make up for it, and who is to know.

    I've probably done a couple of systems a year. Usually architect client referral or drama teachers talking. A new building finishes and it gets local attention and word of mouth. No av, but stage floors, rigging systems, lighting systems, and seating.

    I do know of a few part-timers - hs or college faculty or staff - that have dabbled at consulting. Irritating to have to compete with someone that doesn't need to earn a living doing it and who might be subsidized by their full-time employer, but better than nothing.
     
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  8. Scarrgo

    Scarrgo Well-Known Member

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    Do not have enough money to do it right the first time, but lots to do it over, and over, and over, and.......
     
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  9. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @StradivariusBone Chapter Two; Why would you want convenient access to your fly floor???
    A brand spanking new PAC was to be built in a nearby city.
    Many of the citizens had been urging the city for a venue better than the local secondary schools.
    - The dance studio owners wanted HUGE wings on both sides so they could corral forty or fifty 5 year olds prior to herding them up and heading them out onto the stage for their applauding parents to snap photos and shoot videos before they're lassoed and encouraged to exit SL while the next group 6 year olds are being corralled on SR.

    - The amateur musical groups wanted a 60' prosc' with at least 60' wings on both sides and at least six large dressing rooms to accommodate: Adult females, adult males, pre adult females, pre adult males and a couple more for chorus members, a few smaller dressing rooms for "Stars" would be nice too. They also wanted 50 or 60 single purchase counter-weighted line sets with the system pipes clearing 75' with a full grid with 6' clear above the grid for the convenient installation of spot lines.
    A trap room under the entire stage was mandatory along with an orchestra pit, with hydraulically adjusted depth and a removable cover / stage extension.

    - The city's world famous marching band wanted multiple loading docks and huge off stage spaces to accommodate members of their three ages of marching bands arriving during our Canadian winters needing to doff their heavy parkas and winter boots, don their uniforms unpack their tubas, clarinets, trumpets, drums, et al and march on stage, down into an auditorium aisle, around the audience, across the rear, possibly through the lobby, up the other side and back onto the stage.

    - The amateur drama groups wanted great acoustics, great lighting and SFX facilities and fabulous dressing rooms.

    - The amateur opera groups wanted a combination of all of the above.

    - The amateur choral groups wanted a concert shell.

    - The socialites wanted an elegant private bar and box seats to be seen by all patrons.

    You've got the picture: The biggest hurdle was conjuring one design that would appease all of the voters, all of whom were pestering their aldermen and city councilors for a new venue with enclosed parking and a drop-off lane to accommodate their limo's. ALL of the above on a small lot with nowhere to grow due the proximity of buildings on one side and an underground line pumping jet fuel to an airport well below finished grade on the other.

    Circling back to my starting point (and fortunately this was caught prior to the drawings being released for bidding).
    Approximately 30' above finished deck level on SR was a full depth catwalk for spot lines to hoist and locate LX multi-cables.
    At the same 30' height on SL was a catwalk for the fly system's operating rail with another catwalk / loading floor above it.
    THE PROBLEM:
    Access to the SR hemp rail was through a fire door in the prosc' at deck level DSR.
    Up an enclosed stairwell on the house side of the prosc' back in via a second fire door through the prosc' and there you are on the SR hemp rail.
    So far, so good.
    How do you get to the operating rail on SL (and the loading floor above it)??
    Up the same enclosed stairwell, out yet another fire door, across the first LX cove, back in through ANOTHER fire door and (finally) you're on the SL catwalk / slash operating rail.
    The loading floor? Same route plus a ship's ladder straight up the US wall (of course).

    FORTUNATELY two of us caught this prior to the drawings being issued for bidding, neither of us were getting anywhere with the architect but fortunately we were able to HOLLER at City Hall and convince a ranking staffer to intervene.

    One thing that made this all the sillier was the architects already had a stairwell in place on the US side of the US wall directly behind the operating rail; with only minor re-drafting, a fire door added at the US end of the operating rail lined up with a landing in the already designed and specified stairwell.

    The architect and GC argued that fire doors were expensive.
    We countered: Since this was all still a matter of shuffling paper with neither drawings released, bids received, nor shovels in mud, why not relocate the fire door at the DS end of the operating floor to the US end and call it a day.

    We almost won that one 'til the Fire Marshal looked at the drawings pre-release and withheld his blessings due to needing a second egress route OFF the operating floor. Initially NOBODY gave a rats rectum about how you got there but it sure became a 'show stopper' when it came to emergency egress.

    Sometimes end users' desires are difficult to meld with bureaucrats, socialites, civic officials, architects, interior designers, budgets AND fire marshals.
    I've got AT LEAST one more chapter for this novella.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
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  10. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    I saw that happen locally. Between acceptance of a proposal and delayed fulfillment, a venue found out that what they thought they were getting was not specified by brand/model/SKU but in the generic terms of the proposal. Both lights and sound. When budget push met budget shove there was a palpable drop in hardware quality.

    To say there is a gap between expectations and reality...
     
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  11. rwhealey

    rwhealey Well-Known Member

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    The consulting firm I work for does quite a bit of this kind of work. Architects drive us finding the work, because schools do not usually come up with the money for renovations without a bond issue or a grant, and architects are almost always involved in writing those or presenting conceptual designs. As part of that side of things, we offer comprehensive assessments and budgeting for systems. A school will contact an architect we are familiar with to create a budget for a bond issue or a grant, and we will be brought in to assess the condition of the theatre. This often leads to us doing the design if the bond passes or the grant is won. Most of our large school local school districts have construction management departments who we try to build relationships with.

    I suspect the most common answer is that the architect doesn't know who to ask and you end up with your friendly neighborhood electrical engineering firm doing the design! It's all just lighting, right?
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2019 at 5:08 PM
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  12. Ben Stiegler

    Ben Stiegler Well-Known Member

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    ===
    that's very disheartening, Mr. Bone. One can imagine the zillions of dollars being invested / in-wasted because someone's vision looked good with PPT slides. I have learned many humbling lessons about testing use cases and listening to how the person in the trenches uses technology over my decades in VARing, MSPing, and consulting. And the flip side is seeing people doing difficult, crazy things to accomplish a simple goal, and being able to give them an easier, faster, more reliable resource. Touch screen, macros, limited control access - understandable by the walk-in user. I hope that in your case, since its software, they might be able to allow a softclient or drop a small knob-on-Ethernet to allow local volume control. Of course, there's always taping lost and found garments up over the speaker grills, with a string to raise/lower them as needed. Rube Goldberg would be proud!
     
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  13. macsound

    macsound Well-Known Member

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    1. How do you become a consultant that isn't AV but isn't theatre but is both and more. (That's where I'm at.) It's hard to advertise yourself as a combination theatrical lighting designer and someone who understands networking, video switching and acoustics.
    2. When a principal of a middle school has 1 Nady mic, 2 mackie speakers and an integrated intercom/ bell system with each classroom having something between a CRT tv and a projector, how do they decide what type of business or professional person to call?
     
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  14. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    On q 1, I don't think one person can have the same level of expertise in both areas that two separate individuals each focused on one area of expertise.
     
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  15. macsound

    macsound Well-Known Member

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    I think what I was saying is someone who understands audio may be equally qualified to understand and recommend equipment and install for a classroom and theatre alike, but the classroom you'd call an AV company and the theatre you'd call a theatrical place.
    But what happens when the principle calls the AV company for the theatre and you get recessed 70v speakers in the ceiling and 12" JBLs for the classroom.
    I've seen it happen. And that's the dilemma right?
     
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  16. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    What I find most often are "designs" that were created by people who don't do what we do, and who never consult with line staff - the people that do the daily work of making presentations, meetings, plays & musicals *happen*. Kind of like the access hallway/stairway illumination that @RonHebbard mentions up thread - yeah, switches to turn on as you enter and leave, but not to turn off as you remain, somebody didn't think things all the way through and that is where I find most of the silliness.

    What is most often lacking is having concepts and designs vetted by someone who can see the "big picture" of how all the moving parts work together and can spot where these parts conflict, don't line up, or might not work or play nicely together. That's an important, and far from universal, skill that mostly depends on experience in both designing and working in performance facilities.
     
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  17. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    Tim I agree. Too many architects who don't know what they don't know.

    Acoustics, sightlines, structural framing for rigging, egress - they are integral to the planning and design of a theatre - and are not very successfully "added" on later. That's not anywhere near the case in other building types.
     
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  18. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    I started this thread specifically for the system design help for an existing school and I've participated in getting to general planning. A number of professional consultants will work on new builds and major whole building restorations. Some owners and/or their architects will choose not to, but not because they don't know they could get professional consulting.

    I'm just more focused on the system replacement, and I do more easily think of a rigging, stage lighting, or seating replacement (which almost invariably includes accessibility and egress issues in addition to sightlines and basic seat selection.)

    Sort of comes to who do I refer inquiries to, now that I'm not doing it.
     
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  19. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Custom Title Fight Leukemia

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    I feel personally attacked lol

    I think a lot of the issue comes down to the fact that most of these problems can be resolved by doing site surveys, sampling usage info from end-users and then before the first purchase order is completed demonstrating a proof of concept.

    Another example from this is a device called a ScreenBeam. Win10 has a feature that allows you to project your desktop to another device using Intel WiDi which is now integrated into the OS. Sounds great, but there's a problem with how the device receiving the casting handles the aspect ratio and resolution of the displayed image, and it turns out that the projectors can't auto-detect and try to display a 4:3 ratio with a 16:9 signal. Now you can switch the ratio manually on the projector, but of course all the screens are 4:3. There's no way to set it up to output a 4:3 ratio and maximize your screen area. I've tried every conceivable option, and we've found it to be a limitation of the hardware.

    It's also being connected via VGA since that's what is installed, despite the fact that the projectors all have HDMI (the aspect ratio problem exists with the HDMI signal too). It's a wireless device so mount it on the projector, right? Well as we all know HDMI includes audio, and there's no audio cabling running from the projector to the ports on the wall. So you wouldn't be able to playback video and audio using the new amps since they are mounted on the wall.

    Now, it's really neat to think you can simply click an output on your computer and wirelessly link your laptop to your whole setup, but it has taken a lot more wrangling to get it to work almost as well as what was there. All of these problems were discovered AFTER the installers began work. And of course, the installers are nice people but they are minimum wage, non-technical workers who only know how to install. The one I just untangled they hooked up the media center's 70v amp inputs to the low impedance 4-Ohm outs on the new amplifier they installed. They couldn't figure out why it sounded awful and didn't bother to look at the signal chain to realize their mistake.
     
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  20. mtodd2qq

    mtodd2qq Member

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    ITs not just High school and Church's. I would like to add to the list small colleges and tiny university's. They have very little in the way of renovation funds and have miniature programs some times only staffed by an acting and a 'design' professor and they have no idea who to turn to. Add the wrinkle that the Admin don't understand the field of 'DRAMA' and how specialized the infrastructure is, and its almost impossible to find the money it would take to any kind of consultant in much less the one you need. I living this right now at a small campus up in Montana. good little place but when something has broken they have been going with whatever the sales person at that time has suggested to them. Its miss match of equipment going back decades, so a lot of it is out of date, or just a poor choice.. and I am way over my head with some lighting dimmer issues. Can't convince anyone that we need outside help. we don't have the funds for it any way. So some of you are helping me out on another forum. But if they didn't have me right now I am not sure what they would do, but based on evidence, it would be not good.
     
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