High School Level "Certification"

AshleyB

Member
Joined
Apr 6, 2014
Location
Birmingham, AL
I'm in my first year of running a high school theatre program, which also means coordinating auditorium use for other school events.

Like most high schools, we have a small cadre of students who "know" sound and lights (meaning they've been asked to run sound or lights before and managed to get through a show.) Teachers will come to me and say, "Oh so-and-so is going to do sound for us" for non-theatre events. I am leery of granting booth access to students I haven't trained, but don't want to deny the opportunity to someone who is qualified and interested in helping.

Does anyone have a skills test that they use for prospective board ops to check that the kid knows the basics? What information would you want your high-school level board op to know?

Thank you in advance for your advice,

AB
 

Amiers

Renting to Corporate One Fixture at a Time.
Joined
May 28, 2009
Location
Phoenix, Az
An on the spot test IMO is the best test. Walk them up show them how to turn everything on and then have them do something for you. Sound Check, Lamp Check, etc etc. Have them explain what they are doing as they are doing it. Engage them personally and get a feel for who they are to make sure they aren't going to do something they shouldn't. After that give them the rules of your booth and say learn them and come back to me in a week and recite them or something along those lines.
 

seanandkate

Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
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Aug 29, 2008
Location
Stouffville, Ontario
+1 for what Amiers suggests. I would ask them to teach you how they would do the job that they have been asked to do by teacher x, y, or z. If it's just you talking to them, you have little confirmation that they are taking in the information for later use, whereas if they are talking to you, you have a really good idea of what they know. It also allows you to ask followup questions "in-role" as trainee to probe further ("...but can't I just adjust the preamp instead of the fader during the show?", "So if I did all that and got no sound, what should I troubleshoot?") You'll quickly get an idea of exactly what they know, and what their areas of need are. Gradually as you get a cadre of trusted technicians, you can have them shadow technicians that you don't know / that have been thrust upon you and have them assess their proficiency. Once you know the areas of need, then you can train them in that area if they're interested.
 
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TheaterEd

Renaissance Man
Fight Leukemia
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Jan 21, 2013
Location
Near Milwaukee
yeah, I have plenty of kids that have hit the Go button for me, but I wouldn't qualify them to run something without me.

Story time! At my last school, I was hired to run the PAC for a brand new high school. The athletic director had a meeting in the space before I was hired and his power point didn't work right and the microphone was acting up. Thus, before I was even hired, the PAC had a reputation among community members that things don't work. It made me look bad at my job before I even started.

My first year on that job and my first year at my current job, I attended EVERYTHING with an audience so that I could ensure that things run smoothly. Let Billy 'run' the sound if he wants, but be there to step in if he doesn't know what he's doing. I personally only let my most trusted students in the booth unattended (and even then, only for very short periods of time). If I don't know you, then I will be there to supervise. One stupid kid lights up a joint in your booth, or brings her boyfriend along to the show and you can guarantee that it's your job on the line, not the teacher that appointed him.

I don't think that there is any certification test that would convince me to trust a student I don't know. I also would echo what the other gentleman have suggested. Work with the kids and have them prove to you that they know what their doing.

All of that said, if you just need a person to baby sit a podium mic and they seem like a good kid. Make it clear to the teacher in charge that the kid is their responsibility and enjoy your night off! If it is just a set it and forget it kind of set up, I usually just train the teacher. They tend to have the same needs year in and year out, so if you can get them self sufficient it makes your life much easier.
 

Fountain Of Euph

Active Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2013
Location
Illinois
I would try to build up a crew of students that you trust. It will get to a point where the students are training each other. For example, my first "call" in high school was a setting up a dimmed stand lights system. The band director/Aud manager worked with me on it (and corrected me when I plugged the second dimmer pack into U2 as opposed to daisy chaining it). Other than showing me how to turn the sound board on, I learned everything from the other techs. In that regard, getting lots of time in the space (specifically for lighting people ) to play around with stuff was important. There were unwritten rules: ask first, be safe, don't use any expendables (sans gel), don't cause serous damage, fix what you break, and make sure the space is ready for the next event. Otherwise we could go in there and learn by doing. I learned a ton just going in every day with the crew at lunch and doing stuff. Lots of crazy lights shows and wild mic effects too...

On the crew side we had a auditorium club which was all techs. Nearly every event had a tech at it. Most of us (ok all...) of us were brass players from the band. There were enough of us that usually there one of us was somehow related to the events and would be there anyway, since our classmates/siblings/significant others were preforming. the big events were assigned, but anyone who wanted in would be on the call. I honestly got a lot out of from doing my sister's choir concerts and dance recitals, and the freshman band concerts. There were some perks: Lifetime reserved seating in the booth observation seats (to this day all techs, even off duty ones and alumni, get to watch the show from the booth), free admission to everything, and the opportunity to get to know and be on a first name basis with the school board, superintendent, and other administrators. I also helped that the most competent techs got paid for their time...

Finally, all the crew had a sense of ownership of the space. We all knew it was OUR auditorium, and we wanted to take care of it. We wanted to be making it better all the time. My last week of school senior year was spend inventorying all the lights. When I go back to visit I see my handwriting on the fixtures and remember how much fun I had crew. That sense of ownership makes all the difference when building a crew.
 

RickR

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 18, 2009
Location
Spokane, WA the great "Inland Northwest"
Several local schools have taken all this a step further. If you 'rent' the auditorium then you get a house technician or more as needed. Typically these students are paid, so there is both a real sense of responsibility and real repercussion if there are problems. The facilities manager trains and 'hires' the crew. Training, testing and interpersonal skills are all factors just a like any job.
 

DHight

Member
Joined
Mar 9, 2016
Location
Corpus Christi, Tx
I managed a high school auditorium for twelve years, I learned very quickly that if you're the manager you have to be the sole authority. When I first began my job, the venue was a free-for-all. Renters and our own Fine Arts departments all had access to absolutely everything. Anybody who cared to could operate the boards, but not only that, they all focused their own lights and the cabinets where mics, lamps, gels etc. were unlocked, and quite a few people had their own keys to the venue! People borrowed equipment at will and I spent half my time running down missing equipment. The first thing I did was to tell the superintendent that if I were to manage the place, and thereby be responsible for its smooth operation, then I had to have the final word on who used the equipment. There were only three entities that were allowed to operate the boards, myself, renters, if they hired pros out of the hall, and the Theatre Arts students, as lighting and sound was part of their curriculum, though I worked closely with their Director and the students. I was the only one to move or focus lighting instruments. My standard plot was a One-Act plot, a three color wash and fifteen areas, five downstage, five center, five up. I found I could do most shows with only minor changes to the plot. Except for dance performances which required more elaborate lighting. I also locked all the equipment up and wouldn't loan anything to anybody, not a mic stand, not an extension cord, not even a single gel. I wasn't very well liked by anybody, but I tempered this by always being ready and always being professional. I would always find out people's needs ahead of time, and have the stage set when they arrived for rehearsal. After awhile people respected the fact that I maintained a professional level venue. The alterative to not restricting use of the equipment somewhat, is it not being there or it not being operational when you need it, thereby making it appear as you're not a professional.
 

Henning

Member
Joined
Jul 26, 2014
Location
minnesota
Currently a high school senior doing exactly what your describing!

Our school district employs roughly 12 students across two High Schools and three performance spaces. We are responsible with routine setup and takedown for Concerts, lectures and outside groups. We are managed by two part time adults, one who is in charge of facility and equipment maintenance and another who is in charge of coordinating with user groups, scheduling techs and other paperwork. Our hiring process is a referral system, pulling Techs from our pool of lighting and sound technicians. We require prospective hires to have at least done one of the schools musicals and be at least 16 years old. This should give them some base knowledge to work off of. Each hired tech has a mailbox key with access to the single set of theater facility keys in our loading dock.

Your right to be put off by the idea of just handing your equipment to a student you've never worked with. A sound board op who knows just enough to be dangerous can destroy your equipment. Same goes for lights.
 

Fountain Of Euph

Active Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2013
Location
Illinois
I have also found that on the college level at least, teachers come to enjoy the "royal treatment" of having well trained staff there to ensure the success of their event. Arriving at the venue with the stage already set and a staff ready to work is makes alot of friends and supporters in the faculty. I always start pre event emails to faculty members with something along the lines of "I am looking forward to working together to ensure the success of your event." I then follow that up with asking for more details, and then close somthing like " let mr know if there is anything i can do to make your event run smoothly. "

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Fountain Of Euph

Active Member
Joined
Dec 16, 2013
Location
Illinois
There were only three entities that were allowed to operate the boards, myself, renters, if they hired pros out of the hall, and the Theatre Arts students, as lighting and sound was part of their curriculum, though I worked closely with their Director and the students. I was the only one to move or focus lighting instruments.
I understand the functionality of this, however, this dosent give the students the opportunity to gain valuable experience. Any lighting student who can't hang, focus, or design a plot is just as good as a deaf FOH engineer.

It may work (most likely does, since you have been there 12 years) for your district and venue, but in my mind that defeats some of the objectives of eduicational theater, Unless there is a real safety concern. Students are smart, and they will make mistakes, but so do seasoned pros, who tend to mess up in a bigger way in front of bigger audiences. The difference is pros can recover from it. That is were education comes in.

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Sayen

Active Member
Joined
Jun 13, 2008
Location
Phoenix, AZ
I run and manage a high school auditorium. I'm the final voice of authority, and I handle all events in the space. BUT - I've learned to relax, and frequently let other people have more freedom than I used to, as long as I still get the final word when necessary. One of my teachers knows how to run the basic elements of an audio board, for example, so there's no reason to lock them out of equipment. Other people are told to keep their hands off. For events however, my student crew MUST be onhand to operate things. For groups who rent the space and want to bring their own operator, that's fine - they still pay one of my crew to be on hand to monitor equipment and help out that operator.

I train the students to run things in my absence. One of my big training points is cross training - every student is expected to know basic operation of every piece of gear. So, when we have an event, I send a minimum team of 2 - 3 students, and they can assist each other. It also cuts down on needless rivals between areas, like lighting and audio. My crew regularly handles professional level events in my absence, although I'm usually only a text message away if they need help, and we do the setup/testing together.

For certification, I count two things. One is a subjective monitoring of them on a daily basis. Swearing? Screwing around? Disrespectful? You'll never get a job. Able to look up a manual on your phone all by yourself to solve a problem? Hired!

The second element for certification is a hands on test. For example, I'll ask a student pair to set up a mic, route it on the board to mains and monitors, and fix an eq problem. It's a pass fail test, but it covers most events. For lighting I usually ask them to patch a light, program it to a cue, group, and sub, and demonstrate hands on that they can focus the light.

The last step is our reputation - I've very careful about when I send students without me, and I usually show up or have a hand in the more complicated events. It took a while, but generally everyone trusts my judgement at this point, and when small mistakes happen on the parts of the students they know we will address and fix them.
 

dwardMICS

Member
Joined
Apr 1, 2016
Location
Mt. Holly, NC
I've taught high school theatre and technical theatre for 12 years. I've been pretty successful in all of my stops (so far so good in my newest school) thus far regarding student preparedness.

What I have done (once I get expectations established), is I will establish their knowledge base (like load in, load out procedures for staging, lighting, audio, etc), operation of all equipment and basic trouble shooting. I teach extended units on stage management and production (to the actors too!). By the end of the first year, I go from anarchy (which is usually how it was prior to my arrival) to a well oiled machine. Like our fall show took a day to load in and 6 hours to load out. My spring show took a 4 hours to load in and set up (and we rehearsed in the afternoon!); and concluded with a two hour load out. This is starting with an empty gym, to a fully set up show, and ending with an empty gym again.

This year, it's been finding the responsible students, the knowledgeable students, and pointing them in the right directions. I'm really big on student accountability and leadership. Next year, because we're going to have a new system (/headache), I'm going to set up a series of rankings based on their ability to do the jobs correctly. This not only denotes who can do what, but it's a point of pride for the kids. Sure we have some mistakes, but that's why I'm in educational theatre.
 

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