The above Ad will no longer appear after you Sign Up for Free!

FAQ: Recommendations about college education

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by gafftaper, Oct 7, 2010.

  1. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

    Messages:
    12,125
    Likes Received:
    2,171
    Occupation:
    Theater Manager & T.D.
    Location:
    Seattle, Washington
    Recommendations from the CB Staff about College Education


    Before reading or even thinking about a degree in theatre, please take some time to consider this:
    You will not get rich doing tech theater. You can put together a comfortable living in this career, but it will take you time to get there. It often takes 5-10 years (or more) of experience just scraping by to get a job that does provide a decent living. You will find it very difficult to have a job with “normal” hours. This means your career will always put a strain on your ability to spend time with friends, family, and significant others. There are many people in our industry who have no health insurance, no sick leave, and no retirement benefits. Finally, please read the Collaborative Article:
    Getting a job in the industry, and the thread MFA designer training. We don’t want to discourage anyone from following their dreams. But we want you to know what you are getting yourself into. Working in tech can be a lot of fun but it can also have a very harsh reality attached to it.

    The purpose of college for the theatre person:
    You go to college for theatre for two reasons. One, it gives you a place to screw up. Two, it gives you a place to try weird things that will lead to you screwing up. You are paying for the opportunity to work on a stage and learn in an environment where your next meal does not depend on how fast you get the show up. You are also paying for the opportunity to build a portfolio that you can then take out to get jobs and/or continue your education. No one will ever call to get a copy of your transcript; they don't care. What they will care about though is what you have on your website and in your portfolio. You also gain references who know you and can hopefully speak highly of you. They will also possibly be able to set you up with a gig or two or get you connected to people who can help you find work. Within five years after graduation, no one will care where you went to school or what degree you got. They will only care where you have worked.

    Factors in choosing a college:

    Do any NOT have a graduate program?
    Would a change in climate be good? Do you like oceans, mountains, or plains? East coast or left coast?
    Do you want to live, car-less, in a large city? Or in the middle of nowhere in a town of twenty-thousand, fifteen-thousand of which are students?
    Have you traveled to each campus and met representative faculty and current students?
    Which has the best meal plan? Dorms? Non-theatre campus activities?
    Cost is a factor to many, but for everyone: don't put yourself in the position of having a to pay back a $100,000 student loan while making $10/hour after graduation.
    College should be about needs (education) and opportunities (experience/contacts); wants can interfere with success.
    Does the college have an associated professional program? Attached road house with IATSE crew?
    Where are recent graduates and alumni working?

    On the importance of real world work vs. advanced degrees:
    Your degree will not get you a career. Real world work is what gets you a career. However, to get to real world work it takes a degree. Your degree is what gets you your first gig. A program that gives you as much experience as possible to add bullet points to your resume’ will help you more then anything. Also, your professors and alumni should be able to help you to get your first, second, and third gig. It has been said that the networking and contacts you make in college are just as important as what is taught in the classroom. Do not ignore the power of who you know and who you impress (or don’t impress) along the way. There are many careers either made or destroyed by impressions established doing some summer stock or volunteer work in college. You need one big break to start creating real world experience and you never know who will be the person to give it to you.

    On what type of degree to get:

    BA= A more generalized degree program. You will get a taste of everything including more general education classes. Roughly 50% of classes in major, 50% outside of major. (4 Years)
    BS= Similar to a BA. Many universities are phasing this degree out in favor of a BA. (4 Years)
    BFA= A degree program that specifies in one area such as acting, musical theatre, technical theatre. You will get a taste of everything but will specialize. Roughly 80% of classes in major, 20% outside of major. (4 Years)
    BFA Conservatory= A degree program similar to a BFA but usually involves even more specialization. If you go for scenic design, you will only be doing scenic design. Likely 95% of classes in major, 5% outside of major. (4 Years)
    MA= If you want to teach and work in educational theater this is probably your target degree. Not the ideal degree for designers. (2 Years)
    MFA= Highly specialized degree. A terminal degree that essentially puts a label on you as either a designer or a technical manager. Almost always 100% of classes in major. (3 Years)
    PhD= A degree rarely seen in the technical theatre world. Usually PhDs in theatre are in dramaturgy, theatre history, education, or directing. (5+ Years)

    Just found this quote from Tom Skelton's obituary, full text
    here:
    It jives with Gilbert Hemsley's thoughts (previously discussed in this thread:
    http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/education/10913-college-university-technical-theatre-major.html ):
    Which degree do you need? How much can you afford? As established above, education is important to get your first job, but quickly becomes insignificant compared to the work you will do after school. Do NOT say, “I have to get an MFA and I’m going to go in debt $100,000 to get it.” You will never pay it off. Get as much education as you can afford then work. Work anywhere and everywhere.


    When to specialize:

    How many employers do you think will say, “I have a need for a widget-fitter. I plan to hire someone who has studied only widget-fitting in college, and has done nothing else besides widget-fitting in her professional career.” Specialization can be an attribute, but also a hindrance if it detracts from one’s well-roundedness. A show needs only one lighting programmer, but many electricians. Being hired as an electrician is an excellent path to becoming a programmer. As you move through your career you will naturally become more specialized. You might want to consider a college that will give you a strength but also allow you to view what other areas offer. You do not want to be a one trick pony when you are twenty-two. Be sure you take a costume class, a makeup class, scenic class, be a prop assistant on a show, try as many different aspects of theater as you can as an undergrad.

    What is important on a resume ten years from now:
    After ten years in the business, one shouldn’t even be concerned with one’s resume. A C.V. perhaps (required if in the Education field), but if you haven’t made enough contacts after ten years, consider an exciting career in the growing field of Multi-Level Marketing. Most professionals get their jobs by being personally recommended or by knowing someone. Ten years from now no one will care what university you attended or what degree you received, but if you don’t listen to our advice you could be still paying off that degree.

    On Finances:
    Be financially very conservative when planning for college. Don’t get more education than you can afford. It’s very likely that you will spend the first 5-10 years after college scraping together work from a variety of locations, many of which will pay very little. It’s very unlikely that you will be making $60K anytime soon. The latest figures show that recent BA graduates earn an average of $33,540 per year; it’s likely much lower than that for theatre majors. So don’t count on being able to pay off a huge student loan, buy a house, have a family, and race yachts in your spare time. If you are good, you’ll be able to put together a decent middle class living over time, but it’s not going to happen right away. If you are looking to get rich, you are in going into the wrong field.

    Apply for all the free money that you can get. If the scholarship/grant is only $50, that may still be a textbook that you no longer have to find the money to purchase. Do not take out more money than you need. If you are going to a public institution and you are offered in loans more than what you need for tuition/fees, books, and housing, we recommend against taking it. In the long run, it is better to get a job to pay for your extras than living off the loans. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so if you have difficulty paying them off when you are out of school, then you are out of luck. If you can go to school without needing to take out any student loans - which may mean going to a less expensive school - then it will make your transition into the workforce much easier. The less burden that you have after school opens more opportunities. Going to a less expensive, less prestigious school might not sound as impressive on paper initially, but it could make your life much easier in the long run.

    A collection of thoughts on the importance of equipment, facilities, and faculty
    Choose an institution of higher learning not by the quality or newness of its equipment or facilities, but for its faculty and program. All the state-of-the-art whiz-bang gizmos don't mean squat if the professors don't know how to teach, or don't know how to use the "toys" themselves. Besides interviewing potential professors and current students, a campus visit should also include seeing a performance. Now while it's possible a HS student will be impressed with any college production, it's not always a given.

    The best equipment means little to nothing if you are not correctly trained in how to use it. Also, there are so many more venues that don't use the most up to date equipment and there are many that are not fully equipped. The ETC Source 4 is probably one of the most used lighting instruments in the theatrical world, yet it's been around for some time now. As a lighting designer, I'm going to want an electrician who knows how to hang, focus and repair one of these instruments over someone who only knows how to program the most high-tech movers. Make sure the school has the basics before worrying if they are the most up-to-date. And even at that point, make sure that the work is quality with the high-tech gadgets. Go and see a show, take a tour, speak with both professors and students. That's the only way to really know what the program is like without actually attending it.

    The real red herring here is often facility, in that whiz-bang facility doesn't always make a whiz-bang program. Both times I was a theatre student it was in less than state of the art venues and in some ways I think that actually enhanced the experience.

    I would say it really is about the faculty, and to a lesser degree about the classes. Who are they, what have they done, what will be your access, and what are they actually going to offer in terms of education. At this point I don't think I could possibly recommend a program where there isn't an established, specific curriculum they can discuss with you.

    With respect to gear, in the more technical specialties you likely do want to be sure you will have some experience on contemporary equipment. So again, having it doesn't mean for sure it is the right place, but different from facility, not having it does make a difference. Keep in mind though that there are many avenues at school to using cool gear. Where I work now we own a good chunk, but we also rent often, and there are other organizations on campus with a good inventory as well. So if the answer to "Do you have the newest shiny thing?" is no, ask about other opportunities to get the exposure before writing them off.


    What about schools like Live Production Institute and Full Sail?

    These schools don’t have a great reputation in the industry. The general feeling is that they produce technicians who are book smart but not well prepared for the real world. If you do go to one of these schools be sure you spend a lot of time outside of school volunteering at a community theater or doing summer stock, building your real world experience.

    I want to be a_____ . What kind of education do I need:
    Producer- Gain valid experience by selling used cars, or working as a politician or lobbyist. Since you'll be writing/negotiating contracts, pre-law classes are beneficial.
    High School Tech Director (a VERY Rare position)- Make sure you get your primary degree in English or some other field so you can teach full time, in addition to your one or two “drama” classes per semester. See the thread
    Thinking of becoming a teacher.
    Community College TD- You need a Master's degree. Doesn’t really matter which one. You need to be able to handle every aspect of tech and be a good teacher.
    Arena Stagehand- Need to know the right “guy”. Possible meeting places are halfway houses, cell block C, or rehab facilities. Call your local IATSE office to find out more.
    Broadway Scenic Designer- MFA or possible luck designing for a show that gets picked up and taken to Broadway.
    Tenured College Professor- MFA and a lot of very impressive experience.
    Production Head Rigger- (Warning: Language)
    Video: Local Production Riggers. Get as much training as you can from places like NAAFED, Jay Glerum, and Ropeworks.
    Rock and Roll Roadie- Quit school now and get a job coiling cable for a touring company. These companies like to train their own people and promote from within. See
    this post.
    Community Theatre Designer/TD- No degree needed, but you need to prove you know what you are doing. A BA/BFA helps but isn't necessary. This is a position that often is open to the most experienced volunteer. Sometimes paid, sometimes not.
    Professional Theater Technician/TD- BA/BFA are very helpful to give you the broad background you need to start. An MFA for the TD job is sometimes helpful but, you need to prove yourself and those two extra years for the degree are years you could be working, building a track record. Many people get a part time job doing summer stock or over hire work and work their way up from within.
    Work for Cirque du Soleil- Try to get an internship at Cirque. Check the
    Cirque Jobs website. They like to hire people who are fairly recent graduates and have one or two really impressive gigs on their resume, having a Cirque internship makes this even easier.

    Please post requests below for additional jobs to add to this list.

    This post was created by Gafftaper, Footer, DerekLeffew, and Ruinexplorer with additional advice from other members of the CB staff. The rest of the CB community is invited to share their thoughts below.

     
  2. dbthetd

    dbthetd Member

    Messages:
    41
    Likes Received:
    4
    Location:
    Pittsburgh
    Re: Recomendations from the CB staff about your college education

    "Do any NOT have a graduate program?"

    I usually hold my tongue on this but I have to take issue with the way that the presence of a grad program is often bandied about as an automatic negative for evaluating an undergrad program. This just isn't the case.

    As with all the other factors you'll be considering, the grad/undergrad thing is something you will have to evaluate. I am sure it is true that there are programs where the support of the grad program is prioritized in front of the undergrads. I can also state for a fact that there are programs where the undergrad program is prioritized.

    What should I look at in that evaluation?

    Do I have access to the same courses?
    Do I have the same faculty (or are my classes taught by the grad students)?
    Do I get the same production opportunities (budgets, gear, jobs)?
    Do I participate in the same graduation activities (showcases etc...)?
    What are the relative sizes of the programs (will I get lost)?

    This is the same as location, facility, faculty, gear... You have to get the information and decide if it is right for you.
     
  3. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

    Messages:
    12,125
    Likes Received:
    2,171
    Occupation:
    Theater Manager & T.D.
    Location:
    Seattle, Washington
    Re: Recomendations from the CB staff about your college education

    I don't know exactly who wrote that particular line, but hopefully whomever wrote it will explain shortly what they meant. I took that line to mean something entirely differently than what you did. I thought it meant, all decent schools have a grad program so don't pick a school based on the grad program, pick it based on other factors. If that was not the original intent, then I think I would have to agree with you dbthetd.

    By the way I consider this FAQ a living document which is why this thread is not closed. Hopefully a lively discussion will follow here that will explore multiple other thoughts and points of view. My hope is that a student will be able to read this thread and find a wide variety of information which is both informative and challenging. If it doesn't always agree, that's a good thing because it allows the student to consider different points of view and make up their own mined. So please don't bite your tongue. Share your best advice.
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2010
  4. Blake

    Blake Member

    Messages:
    88
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    North San Deigo
    Re: Recomendations from the CB staff about your college education

    I would be be happy as a TD at a Pro theatre or Arena, but which makes more dough, I need to support myself!
     
  5. Focus

    Focus Active Member

    Messages:
    105
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Central United States
    Assuming all stagehands are Criminals and degenerates is disrespectful to those in the industry that are good at their jobs and professional. I don't think this Is the type of post that is becoming of a CB member. Surly you we don't want to encourage new students to look down their noses at stagehand, and view them as less than human.

    I'm sure this was meant as a joke, but to me, it comes off as pretty arrogant.
     
  6. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Fight Leukemia

    Messages:
    1,678
    Likes Received:
    299
    Location:
    Pawtucket, Rhode Island
    It's been said before, spend some time getting to know people around here. It was clearly a joke. If we're talking about people as model members of the booth, I, and many others, would hold gafftaper up as a shining example and a well respected member of the community.


    Via tapatalk
     
  7. DuckJordan

    DuckJordan Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    2,709
    Likes Received:
    257
    Location:
    Doesnt matter
    Focus, I believe you took this way out of context. Nor have you probably spent much time in an arena type space. Most of the hands that work at the local arena are just that, so while you feel it is claiming to be all stage hands I must ask that you re read that sentence. And try not to pull a set of words out of context.
     
  8. Focus

    Focus Active Member

    Messages:
    105
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Central United States
    Maybe I just don't get it. Based on the rest of the list of occupations(the context), it seems that being a stagehand in not respected, and that being a stagehand goes hand in hand with drug abuse, an being a criminal. That, or maybe stagehands commonly volunteer in the community helping drug addicts and former convicts transition back into society.
     
  9. Focus

    Focus Active Member

    Messages:
    105
    Likes Received:
    9
    Location:
    Central United States
    Anyway, I guess I feel like that was the one job listed that was not given serious consideration; kind of blown off like a joke. It may be funny to some people here to make fun of those suffering from addiction, but this is a serious affliction, and a medical condition. People need support not mockery. I just feel this is a closed minded view, and it perpetuates misconceptions in our society that leads to people with addiction getting written off as a lost cause, an inhibits their ability for recovery.

    You guys are entitled to your opinions and you jokes, but I am not laughing with you at the expense of the less fortunate. Just food for thought, I guess.
     
  10. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

    Messages:
    4,095
    Likes Received:
    2,487
    Location:
    Las Vegas, NV, USA
    @Focus, I can't help but notice you didn't take umbrage with Producer.
    One would think that the implied humor (albeit with at least a grain of truth) in the very first job definition would clue one in that others may contain (attempts at) humor as well.

    Not that he isn't (all the things you said) but for the record, @gafftaper didn't write the definition for Arena Stagehand. Either I wrote it and @Footer embellished, or the other way around--I don't remember. It is/was a Collaborative Article with contributions by many. No disrespect or denigration was intended, as both Footer and myself have made a great deal of money working as an Arena Stagehand over the years. He has a slightly more "jaded" view of Arena Stagehands than I do, so I suspect he wrote it and I provided the polish.
     
  11. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

    Messages:
    9,298
    Likes Received:
    1,694
    Location:
    Saratoga Springs, NY
    It might have been me, that was a few years ago. And yes, I do have a few people with federal or state prison time on my call list. All are great guys who I bring in rather often, one is on my first call list. Our BA in town has been know to fill out rather large calls at the halfway house. One local I worked with in the deep midwest used to do the same thing at the homeless shelter. While neither of these things are the common, they do happen. When you need a labor force who is willing to work sporadically, always be available, work late nights, have a weird need for free t-shirts, and needs very little real training you are going to get what you get...

    Lets face it, except for the guys building and pulling points you can plop just about anyone with two arms and two legs down in an arena and get a show in and out. The industry has made it that way... and expects it. It is a good thing because it allows show calls to get filled without a union going broke with training.
     
  12. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

    Messages:
    4,038
    Likes Received:
    572
    Location:
    Las Vegas
  13. jwatson

    jwatson Member

    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Santa Monica, CA
    Hi All!

    This is my first post to CB. I've lurked here for a few years, getting some very good info and finally just joined. I'm posting this here because I think it speaks to the spirit of the topic. I don't have a degree in theater, I studied at Berklee College of Music for 3 years, then left to go on the road playing in a band. I've always been that guy who is technically oriented and figures out how to do something. I have been lucky enough to land the 'very rare' position of TD at a fabulous high school theater in So Cal. Seriously, I'm a lucky guy. I was initially brought in as the Audio Engineer for the theater just before it opened. Music and Audio are my specialties, I've had 25 years composing, recording, editing and mixing in audio post-production here in L.A.

    During the 1.5 years before I became TD, I learned about the other aspects of theater, mostly by just keeping my eyes open and learning what seemed to work and what didn't. I bought some books about stagecraft and lighting ( I knew nothing!), because it seemed pretty interesting. When the original TD suddenly left at the start of the busiest week of the year (7 different shows in 6 days, the week before Christmas), I stepped in. It's been my gig for almost 2 years now, and the pay is pretty darn good! I have a happy crew and a great group of very talented people that I get to work with.

    Thank you to all the talented people here at CB who have shared your experience, thus enriching the knowledge base of technical theater.

    Cheers,
    Jim
     
    Blassiter likes this.
  14. Blassiter

    Blassiter Member

    Messages:
    13
    Likes Received:
    7
    Occupation:
    Tech Director/ Scenic Designer
    Location:
    University of Great Falls
  15. jwatson

    jwatson Member

    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Santa Monica, CA
    Hi! I remember reading the article at the link you're referencing, but I don't have that saved somewhere.

    This forum has a lot of great info for technical theater artists, good luck!

    Cheers,
    Jim
     
  16. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

    Messages:
    4,038
    Likes Received:
    572
    Location:
    Las Vegas
    Nope, but I wrote to the owner to check.
     
    Blassiter likes this.
  17. MarshallPope

    MarshallPope Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    981
    Likes Received:
    151
    Occupation:
    Technical Director
    Location:
    Texarkana, Texas, United States
  18. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

    Messages:
    4,038
    Likes Received:
    572
    Location:
    Las Vegas
    And so that doesn't ever go away:

     

Share This Page