How a show is teched


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Re: A few ideas

Hiya and welcome.
Nice ideas...I'm sure our web admin will check those out for possible additions. To answer your question about how long it takes to tech a show--it varies upon the show. Whether its theater, corporate, a concert or touring show. The answer to that can vary greatly. For example: on a corporate show-you can have as little as 4 hours to tech in and set up a show rig of lighting and sound. How it all goes together is part preplanning, and part knowing how everything goes together in a certian order. A touring broadway show is not much different--sometimes you get 8 hours to load in and get it all running before curtain...other times you may have several days before a curtain. Again it depends on the show you want to hear about. Generally--trucks pull up, local crew loaders unload the truck pack, under the supervision and direction of the TD or tour lead(s) who call out for the number of hands on a piece of equipment due to weight, and while another tour lead directs each piece as it comes off to go to a certain area--stage left, right, wardrobe, downstage, upstage, etc etc. Meanwhile the tour crew chiefs are in the venue taking measurements, looking for problems, drawing with chalk on the floor for rigging points if needed, and getting some coffee cause it will be a long day. Loaders dump out the set pieces and they go either stage left or right or far down stage for assembly. Dimmers go to the dimmer location or "dimmer beach", while feeder cable tails to power the dimmers is handed to the venue electrician for tie in. Electrics go in, costumes, props and everything comes off the truck in a controlled chaos of bins and gear and boxes going in every different direction to where they are supposed to go. About half way thru the load in--the chiefs inside will usually each grab a person to help them position gear and open up cases while the rest finish unloading. Truck time to unload--about 15 minutes per truck, to 30 minutes per tractor trailer. Usually you have a group of crew and hands--the number depends on teh size of the show. The average concert tour may require 60 people for a 8 truck show, while the average mational theater tour may need only 40 people for a 2-3 truck tour. As soon as the last truck is unloaded, the crew is broken up into teams--carps, electrics, fly's, sound, staging, props & wardrobe, FOH--everyone takes their places and learns from each tour lead what has to happen next. Depending on the show--the stage or set may be built in the sceneshop or wings while drops/softgoods and electrics get hung and sound gets set up. Feeder & power is usually the first thing run from electrics, rigging and motors or flying pieces & drops get laid out on stage next and the riggers are already in the air or flying in battens for crew to tie onto. Once all the things in the air are up and gone, electrics and sound move in. After they are done and all cables are run--set and stage goes into position. On concert tours--the stage is on runners that roll into place--this allows a stage to be built while other things happen. On theater tours, the set is geared to be pinned, bolted and screwed together in pieces in an order. On all tours--concerts or broadway--the electrics & lights are usually pre-hung in a rolling truss or on pipes that can be clipped to a batten or dropped onto a motor point...each pipe or truss has a multipin connection to be dropped with a single cable to the dimmers. Everything is kept as simple as possible for time and ease of assembly.
Once set goes in, clean up and fine touches on carpentry goes next. Same for fixes...meanwhile this whole time the costumes and wardrobe have been laid out and set into areas for actors, for steaming and any repairs. Any cleaning/laundry that needs to be done is usually started at that time too. Cast usually will not arrive until much later in the day. While on stage--crew does fixes on set pieces and props that may need repair. As soon as the set is in place, lighting begins focus & dimmer check while the set is finished. Sound gets checked out and later on mic's will be checked along with the system. Usually everything else will need to get done first and foremost to get the stage and electrics done and ready. By this time--about 2-3 hours have past while all this work has gone one, and the crew is coming up on their first 20minute break in that 4 hour window. The rest--well its kinda obvious...once all goes in and is ready, props will lay out their tables of props. Quick change booths will get assembled, SM's will do line/com and crew checks for deck crew. Additionally the SM will get situated at their position and sned out runners for things they may need. Lunch is usually in one or two hours..but again depending on the set and the complexity of the show--it could very well take two days before electrics gets to focus. I routinely work on one show every year that has 2 walls and 3 drops and a 2.5+ ton back wall of steel griding that alone takes about 5 hours to assemble, balance and fly on two arbors and two 1 ton chain motors. Load in for that day is a long 8 hours... Next day we do electrics, focus and sound. Cast then gets to run and space the show, and the director gets time to do fixes to adjust the show to the space.
So as you can see there is no "one" way to do a show...cause it depends on the show, the show specs, and the size. Most concerts go up in 8 hours. Most broadway shows take anywhere from 8 hours to 2 days to tech in and get done. The standard industrial show can take anywhere from 4 hours to 4 days to prep and it depends on the show. Generally speaking on a rough order--a show goes in as power & rigging first, drops & softgoods next, electrics and set placement next, focus & sound go next, Effects and pyro go in, props and then cast for rehearsal and spacings. Wardrobe & costume go in at the time the truck gets unloaded..but given the amount of costumes, the road boxes may not get opened for a few hours. Many times on concerts where sound is just as crucial as lights--electrics and sound will go at the same time after rigging. Same for video--with electrics. Key to all this is to break up the crews into teams to do things and prep things so no time is wasted when its your turn to get things done. Many times, various crews are doing two or three things at one time in different locations.

Hope this helps to sorta answer your question about how it all gets done... a combination of teamwork and doing things in an order. No task done that follows another task done will be in the way of the next thing to go in. Its like a all goes in order so no peice has to get removed or changed to do something else that should have been done first. Hope this clears up some things...

Re: A few ideas

MissD said:
How to tech a show- a specific show- from top to bottom, in two situations. One, where money is no object , and two, for the exact same show, on a tight budget, where we can see how to achieve the same or similar feeling without anything fancy to rely on.

I definatly like this idea!
Re: A few ideas

Thank you so much for your detailed reply, wolf. It makes it easier when I can envision it, as opposed to something hazy in the future.

It sounds like you can make a show on just the setup itself. A big ensemble production with different dance numbers weaving in and out of each other, and four letter words accompanying the music. And for the grand finale everyone together sings “Halleluja!”

If a show takes, let’s say, 8 hours to set up and tech, where does mentoring come in? I know if everyone were relying on me to get it right the first time, it would take twice as long, which could be a problem with only 8 hours. And even then it may not be perfect- after all, I don’t know everything, far from it. So how do I get experience without messing it all up on the way?
Re: A few ideas

MissD said:
Thank you so much for your detailed reply, wolf. It makes it easier when I can envision it, as opposed to something hazy in the future.

It sounds like you can make a show on just the setup itself. A big ensemble production with different dance numbers weaving in and out of each other, and four letter words accompanying the music. And for the grand finale everyone together sings “Halleluja!”

If a show takes, let’s say, 8 hours to set up and tech, where does mentoring come in? I know if everyone were relying on me to get it right the first time, it would take twice as long, which could be a problem with only 8 hours. And even then it may not be perfect- after all, I don’t know everything, far from it. So how do I get experience without messing it all up on the way?

Well getting experience on the job is not going to neccessarily hold up a show. It would also be unlikely that you would be placed in charge of such a task without first having proved your abailities in such a crucible of pressure. For learning purposes--a crew member who was a newbie or had no experience would be placed with a seasoned crew person who knows the ropes, who can do his job twice as fast as everyone else--and still have time to advise in detail and supervise your actions. I get myself into a lot of these situations where I get tossed the newbie to supervise and advise...its not that difficult to do-and patience is the key to this. Some guys get a newbie and have no patience..others do. So if you were to get on a crew for a project your job would be to watch carefully and do what you are told to do EXACTLY as you see it being done--that is the best wasy to explain it. During that time you wouldn't be pressed into work you did not understand, or put in harms way. You would be given thesimplest of projects and observed. Projects such as "roll out this cable to the end of this.." or "tie these on here as such..". or Stand by with a bolt and nut and two washers to hand to the crew guys. As you do these small tasks you learn how things get put together and work and the fast pace it works under. It can get overwhelming sometimes at the speed in which things happen--its a lot to digest in a short period of time without a moment to think sometimes. But its stil one of the best and most fun jobs around because you are given a challenge, a deadline and a goal. If none of these are met--the show doesn't happen and a shitstorm fly's....unlike where if someone is late with a report in an office it can still be submitted later on with a bunch of grumblings and 'oh well's'. Doesn't happen like that on a show. Key to things when you are on a show is to ASK questions and double check things when you do stuff. Its is no sin to not know what is going on and be in a learning IS a sin to say you can do one thing and not be able to. Always double check things with your own work and with the person supervising you to ensure that a minor detail which could be critical is done. A supervisor will check your work behind you--its not to scold but it is to look and see that you understand and are doing what you were shown how to do correctly. If there are any mistakes--a good supervisor will point them out and then have YOU check your work again before he inspects it.
So on a show load in or set up, you're being a newbie wouldn't halt the production--there are always ringers and folks who have done this a trillion times over who pick up for the slackers who work slower or not at all, and for the newbies that need to be taught while OTJ. Goal with all that is to teach the newbies and get them up to speed and get them to do things fast, so the crew can lose the slackers they want to get rid of. Happens all the time--when a new person comes on board who is eager to work, the slackers get cut out slowly. Its kinda like cutting away a cancer on a working system to always make itself better, and newbies can be like medicine. So its easy to get mentored on a show--but understand that its not ALL about fact you may only pick up a very basic idea of things while you do grunt labor and stuff. The show is always the top priority...but as you do more and more of these you will figure things out, be taught more as you go on, and see how things go until you can anticipate the next things needed to happen. When you get that--then you start to see how the whole picture goes together..and later on after you have mastered a lot of things, and know how fast you are at doing those things, you will see where 8 hours is MORE then enough time frame to get things done for fast non-slacker workers. You see that while the call may have 50 persons, if they were all top dogs who are usually the equivilent of 2 normal workers, or 3 slackers, then you could do the same load in with 25-30 top dogs alone and not need 50. So the crew calls are usually padded to cover folks that are no-shows or late or get sick. As well as having a few slots for the newbies to come in and learn.

When it comes to industrial shows (corporate events--speeches etc) the time frames may be tighter--4 hours usually is minimum, and teh crew clal will usually be less--under 10 people average (1 lead, 1 driver, 2 assist and 4 pro's, and room for 2 newbies). But the pace and speed and order things get done is the same. Only the equipment required will get less, or the equipment set up will be more streamlined for speed if you can imagine that.

hope that helps.. feel free to ask any questions that come to mind. This BB is all about the newbies learning from the folks who have been doing this a while or more. As for details on a specific show--again it comes down to the type of show and the amount of equipment needed.
And don't forget to always report back to your crew cheif when you are done.

Don't make them search for you. It's a way of impressing them that you have the drive to get stuff done and the recognition that they are busy also and don't automatically realize that the task they send you on will get done. There is always something else that comes up that they progressively will need you for, if for nothing else but as a runner to find the missing crew. The more you are needed the more you learn and the more you are depended upon.

The best leaders are the best followers - just sweep the floor already it's not below you. Indipendant party/Rogue 1 positions are ones that you should strive for but only after you are one of the team that is depended upon. Those people seemingly that are sucking up by reporting back even if only one of the masses on a crew when the rest hit the refreshment stand and those that ask at that time any questions or observations on what was done or that you noted, are by far more valuable to the crew chief and will be taken under wing by them than the pro crew that gets stuff done but you have to find them and check up on their work. Hmm what did they forget before they took un-scheduled break will always be on the mind of the crew chief.

Which would you rather be, the person that learns stuff by hard work or one of the masses but makes friends with the slackers? Hard question. Don't bunk the chain of command. If there is a lead crew person on your crew don't jump in front of him or her to report back or ask questions to impress the lead, but try to tactfully stick with them when they do report back or check on things - that is when there is one in charged of your crew and you are working under. Ask that lead crew person your questions not the crew chief much less lighting designer - it's all a military thing, don't bug the officers if there is a NCO in charged of you, don't ask the platoon sergant if there is a section chief telling you what to do. Don't make that person in charged of you find you or be seen smoking and joking back at the gear if you want to learn stuff. But don't tactfully hold onto his or her leg by sucking up. You still do have to become part of the crew. The goal should just be to eventually lead it. “They are going to eat you alive” is the quote to all the young crew chiefs I see, but eventually if they were a good follower thus learning by it, and than learned how to lead they always find their own way of not being taken advantage of and getting the show done.

Ask questions while reporting back, why did I have to figure 8 this feeder cable? It will open up an instruction time for you while the crew chief is getting ready to send you out on your next mission and be very timely instruction and appropriate time for the crew chief to check your work and gauge you for further projects. Such sucking up or Union breaking at times lets the crew chief know, once done and right that you are ready for more responsibility and tasks. It's only a 8 or 12 hour day after all, certainly one can make it thru it by working hard to make the day go by faster. On a gig, never be late! Others you will find don't have that show philosophy and that's why they are slackers. Don't avoid them - they still have things to teach you during the down time but look to the big picture. What other elements is your crew waiting for before such seeming slackers go balls to the wall again? Don’t jump the gun and be over eager, but don’t be a slacker.

But again, that's touring and industrials. It's a load in with a time limit. Most high school or lower theaters could benefit from the organized chaos but are not able to. Depends upon the situation. Being a crew chief for the most part means that even though you can get stuff done faster, your time is better served in just thinking one or two steps ahead of your crew and just gathering the gear for their next step. Prepping the show is the key to any quick load in. I balk as the buyer about the need to wrap differing colored tape around truss in matching stripes and numbers of them, much less covering them in clear tape so they last more than a few weeks, so it's childish or idiot proof for a crew of highly paid tech people to assemble the components quickly. But as a crew person, the easier or simple the install, the quicker you get to the problems with it than get it all done on time. Last year we as one of those large lighting companies bought more rolls of black gaffers tape than HPL 575w/C lamps. That’s astounding that the tape used to get a show done or loom a cable for an easier install could add up to more than the meat of why we are here. All of that doesn’t even equal 10% of the amount of throw away electrical tape I buy, like 9,000 rolls a year for just taping stuff together not proper electrical connections. I buy better tape for that if I’m even using it - electrical tape unless as part of a specific splicing system - and the expensive tape at that does not rate for use. Can anyone believe that I buy about 9,000 rolls of electrical tape per year? I can’t but do. Very impressive to the vendors trying to sell it to me but really sad when compared to what everyone else in the world uses.

Back when I did theater, I did some of this in pre-marking gear for a quick installation and assembly but I also depended upon the lighting plot for the most of it. Sure, a E-3 label on a Leko after it’s prepped and cleaned for a show will speed it’s install and insure it will probably last the run, but these crew chiefs I work with even go so far as to mark the truss with two stripes of colored tape on to the truss with what specific location that C-Clamp needs to be installed at. We in theater always had much more time to tinker with the plot such as most high schools will find. It’s not the case with professional lighting companies. A week of rehersals allows for the ability to movement a fixture slightly for artistic purposes. Now, in “entertainment lighting,” the entire show is programmed and designed before hand on a program such as WisiWig and every light is tried and tested on a huge video screen in literally watching the entire design and show played out on computer before it ever leaves the shop and before it's ever plugged in for that rehersal period common to normal theater. That's why there is less time needed to tinker.

Plus, time is literally a lot of money. A lot of it. In high school, you can keep the crew an extra hour. So the actors occasionally have to switch to the rehearsal hall occasionally pushing back the schedule. On a production, that extra hour you need, on a tight schedule means everyone else - lots of people have to adjust their own schedules. Even an hour past 8 hours on a crew means that your show looses thousands of dollars in paying the crew for an extra 4 hour minmum call. Fair pay to them, but that extra hour means four for say a hundred people! That's a big thing and why the organized chaos that magically gets done. The show will go on, and those crew people that work effectively much less can lead or especially estimate the time accurately that it will take to do something are sometimes the most valuable above the most artistic on the staff.

Now that I'm teaching the new bees at least in the shop how to do it, I understan to some extent the need. Learning in the shop, and during the rehersal setup is a good way also to learn your trade. That time when stuff is figured and worked out for a tour is both important for the gear and for the crew to learn their job. I train them in the shop before they leave for a tour. It's always surpprising the changes to the young crew people a few months later after they get back in their mission focus and understandings of why you torchered them. Those that have gotten beyond “I have a college degree, why am I stuck pulling cable”, if they have a brain are the ones that make it in the industry. Much less in my case, why I send them back if they don’t tell me specifically and accurately what lamp or screw they need. After a tour, those kids I’m picking on seem to find a new found respect for my methods.

Than someday, your boss goes on vacation for a week and you are stuck in figuring out if it’s permissible to swap out the Mac 500s he assigned for a show for some Studio Colors as per how it will effect the gear for dozens of other shows leaving or gone in the same period. Time to leave the stage for a desk and real hell but at least a decent dependable living. I don’t do shows, load trucks or even work directly on shows anymore. Sure, I made the Par Cans Peter Gabriel used as a flash light during his last tour, but in the end, I have a 9 to 5 job and it was just another special project. That’s a good thing in this industry - a career. The people that enjoy climbing ladders and focusing a light just right, or the thrill of a really cool set or dropping the drape perfect on time will eventually find that with age, they just can’t do it anymore. Have fun, but keep an eye to a career not just a cool job now if you want to make it. Older Master Riggers at a theater are still involved with the production, but they have kids to stack the weights for them. It’s in the end not just the show and the fun you had with it, but you that makes your way in a career in it that keeps doing it in the end.

Nuff for now. Wolfe's description above mine is very much what I remember from pro industrial or rock much less theater. Similar to my own experiences be it carp, rigger or lighting - organized chaos. Far different than school theater. Fun still but a profession apart. Learn what you can in school, than it's time to learn the rest of it.
Once again, thank you for the detailed descriptions.

It’s nice to know that space for newbies to learn is built into the system. And I do tend to jump the chain of command, so I’ll have to watch for that in future.

From what you describe, I can see how essential preplanning is. I never knew there were such computer programs for lighting design. Is it only for places where time is of the essence, or is it common in all theaters? I would love to play around with a program like that.

I have more questions, I hope you guys don’t mind.

How is the crew chosen for a show? I know it depends on the type of show. If it is in a theater, does the crew belong to the theater, or do they come with the designers or tech director? If things are rented, does the crew come with the equipment and they take the place of the crew in the theater?

I just want to organize everything in my mind. Thanks.
MissD said:
Once again, thank you for the detailed descriptions.

I have more questions, I hope you guys don’t mind.

How is the crew chosen for a show? I know it depends on the type of show. If it is in a theater, does the crew belong to the theater, or do they come with the designers or tech director? If things are rented, does the crew come with the equipment and they take the place of the crew in the theater?

I just want to organize everything in my mind. Thanks.

Crews, and who supplies what in crew, are as varied as there are types of shows. Theaters have their own crews--but obviously they cannot afford to staff their theater with 20 or 30 persons--so they wil have "call lists" of workers and freelancers with various skills. Tours will carry a minimum of crew--usually one or two or three "chiefs/techs" per area (lights, sound, pyro etc) that needs to be handled, and rely on local crews at each venue to suppliment their needs. This goes for concert tours as well as broadway and professional theater tours. Production and rental houses will have a small in-house crew, and suppliment with folks on file (freelancers) they can call to work. Again for the reasons of cost and insurance--most companys have lists of people and a minimal staff. Even large tour company's will have a list of people they use--not always considered "staff" with a regular pay or benefits, these people will be the core folks who go when tours go out--they go out, and when tours are done--they will work in the shop or prep work or do installations...or they made enough off the tour they don't need to work for a while. These people are core people--meaning they are very valuable to the company's so they will do their best to keep them busy and so they don't go elsewhere.

If a company hired out gear to a show--depending on if the renter wants help setting stuff up, or if the company renting the gear is also producing the show for the client, will depend on if they send a crew & loaders & doa design and run the show, or if its just a driver in a truck and thats all there is. Some prod/rental houses offer help and crew for rentals--but in general most don't have the time to spare their driver spending more then 15 minutes at each place dropping off or picking up equipment...and in my experience--most drivers have no idea how to hook up or use the gear that they are delivering. Some do--some are crew guys making a few extra dollars...but most others--hah! Most can barely find thier house on a map, not to mention the place they need to deliver the stuff to---then ask them if they know how to use a binary dip-switch on a fogger remote for DMX addressing, and its deer in headlights time. "b..buh..Binary..i gots me a CANary..but dats a bird.. :idea: " =)

In general tho, most places have crew lists and folks to call--and a minimum of staff that is full time. IATSE is the standard "labor union" of folks who work in the entertainment industry. Generally speaking--its a giant call list of crew people of various skills, and these organizations are located in cities and regions all over--known as "local's"...a local union. IA members pay the union "dues" and in return they get representation and work at set rates, and other benefits. The IA office in turn handles all the paperwork, tax forms etc and makes sure their staff gets paid a set rate that is guarentee'd for certain hours, and fairness of getting meal breaks and rest breaks during a work call--or the person hiring the IA pays a hefty fine. A big perk for many freelancers who can get screwed on money sometimes--in IA you don't have to worry much about making sure you get paid...least thats the IA's story<g>. IA is made up of folks who are generally freelancers of all skills that the entertainment industry may need--and members may go wherever there is a call around their area, or they may be stationed at venues who have union contracts and thus they usually go to the same venue daily for their work or responsibility's. Almost like a regular job. It varies... You do NOT need to be union to work in the industry in general...but depending on what area you would want to go into--becoming an IA member could be helpful. If you wish to do TV, Broadway, Movies, some tours--union is the only way you can do that, and in some states being union is almost the only way to go, while other states do not require you to be a union member to do the same work for the same pay scale as union members. Again tho--it is NOT neccessary for all work in the industry. "Local one" in NYC has a cool website that gives an example of the wide variety of skills in their union...and the TV shows and events they provide persons for.

Nearly every venue--from your local theater to the big arena's have in general a crew list of some sort--or they hire IA, or a crew company non-union, to provide staff & crew they need. In regards to directors and designers--I have run into very few of either who have their own crew. They may have a name or two of folks they work with or see a lot of (or"involved"..with<g>)--or they bring in a "gopher" or assistant of theirs.. But usually those people do as little work as the designer does in just giving direction and answering questions. In general theater--the tech directors and theater managers are the folks who will have the crew lists and manage them. At venues like arena's--there is usually a production manager who handles crewing events. In rental shops and production houses--there is a human resource person or a production / rental manager who handles various crew needs. Whether you are doing an industrial show, an arena or a theater--the chain of command in each of these is the same, and they all look for and expect the same professional manner, compitent skill and self motivated worker, and mutual respect for everyone from all their crew folks. Least thats the way its supposed to be...results vary from place to place<g>.

Hope that helps...ask any questions you have on your mind and we'll be glad to answer. =)

While you wrote yours wolfe, mine was similar but different.

"How is the crew chosen for a show? I know it depends on the type of show.

If it is in a theater, does the crew belong to the theater, or do they come with the designers or tech director?

If things are rented, does the crew come with the equipment and they take the place of the crew in the theater?"

Yes and yes and no and no and no. In other words, depends upon the theater, and the production.

Most simple, a theater company that has a theater and staff does a show. If the crew is sufficient to mount and run the show or needs to have the talent help build and mount it, it's all done. If they need help, they might acquire a few indipendant contractors for a few days to help where needed, or they might hire someone to build and install the show and just run it themselves. With lots of more things that could happen.

If the theater has a space but not really a production install crew, but is producing, for a crew, they might do some hiring temporarially for the install plus strike and those people might also or the best of them might be retained to run the show to bulk it up Say the Light board operator and fly man work for the theater directly, the rest are hired, or they hire all the crew for the show, plus pay to have scenery built and installed if they don't have staff in that area or such people have other things to work on.

There is lots of other exceptions and ways to do it, but for the most part, if it's a company generated show, those positions that require someone mentioned on the insurance policy such as one person backstage on a proper stage, or at least house manager, and perhaps another from the house staff elsewhere just to make sure the place doesn't burn down and stuff doesn't walk are there. More than that depends upon the show and theater company as to how many people are staff for the insall much less the running crew and there is a definate distinction between the two.

What did I forget? Lots. Lets say your local hotel has a theater and mounts it's own productions. They don't have a scene shop or other shops so they hire some local scene shops or costume shops to build and install sets, than hand it over to the house production crew to run them. The Lighting is paid for and the hotel running the theater pays a crew that is hired by the LD and ME for the install and run out of their crew lists - the LD being hired herself, and the ME working for the house. Than the crew, kind of works for the hotel, but as part of their indipendant contractor clause. In other words, they tell you when to be there, and what to do - that is while paid to be there for shows = otherwise laid off or working elsewhere, but since you are not true house staff, you pay your own taxes and insurance as a temporary hire. Same with the actors, sound tech people both for the run and those required if any to set the show up and the run crew.

For rentals, again it depends upon who is renting and the space it's in. Some shows hire the staff box office crew to do front of house and perhaps house manager, than just run the back stage and show, or even have a house staff person for insurance and theater fire marshal purposes backstage as part of the crew or not part of it, if for nothing else but to open the doors, or they could even mount a production as if part of the theater using it's crew, but take the profits but pay salaries and rent while using the theater's crew as if a home production. Or it could be all the way that you rent an empty hall with seats and rent or bring in crew and stuff to do your show. As above there are very wide margins. Could be as far as a touring show hits a theater, hires the local crew plus some as part of the rental but is paying them directly, than rents the equipment and people to if not pays the install people where ever they come from, at than least supervises the local crew in it's installation.

For instance. The Radio City Rockettes used to do a local Christmass show by me. They brought in their own lighting designer who was himself freelance but hired on a contract for the production thus part of the production company and the rockettes talent that obviously came with the show, but were not part of the main crew - local hires or others on a contract to do the touring show with perhaps a few leads from the company staff to tell them what to do. The crew on site was union some of whom worked for the theater more or less specifically, others were there bulking up the crew for the in.
On lights, they hired my company to provide a ME for our equipment or assistant designer as it were to adapt and install our lights and make them comform to the space and the designers design. Than direct the local crew both hire and staff in installation of it to the designer's wishes with touring scenery that was contracted out and innitially installed by the company who made it, than it was bought and installed by the staff crew. Our ME had assistants of his own from our company all of which were provided with the rental of the lights in seperate from the lights provided by the theater. The ME for the run of the show as a problem solver for our equipment and more or less as part of the production staff, and his help for the in and out to lead the local theater staff and hire crews.
The theater had it's own ME to ensure that the house equipment worked and just keep an eye on the space and what was going on or open doors that was paid by part of the rental in additon to the more or less house Union staff that both worked directly or more or less on retainer for all the theater's shows, and was an indipendant contractor to work on his own stuff in the industry or be paid by the individual renting production in this case the Rockettes at this theater.

To complicate matters further, At one point for this production, I as an electrician for the company that rented special gear not provided by the house, was brought into the production but on the side of it to install as a non-union contractor working for a contractor on a seperate part of the contract to do the show, some multi-cable outputs on the house distribution equipment again as an electrician as if from a electrical contractor in installing gear at a theater but paid out of the production's budget. It got trickey there. The rental paid to have the company they paid to provide lights, have their own staff person come into the theater space they were renting to install something perminant in that space for use with this production but as approved of by the house ME to stay there and be used for other rentals or productions. In other words, in some places, I had to have a union psudo staff person that was working on the show drive the lift into position for me to work on the house distro box, than climb down to do other things while I punched the wall of the box and did my connections, or lower down drop boxes for similar stuff. At some point, I was even repelling down from the grid as a non-union person woriking in a Union house for a production by a contractor hired to perminantly install some stuff at a reneted space, but not part of the crew or staff, much less could I touch a light or un-plug an instrument in the way. There I am in the air asking for a non-dim to power up a drill that someone else had to plug in so I could perminantly install some stuff for a rental that would become perminant but also had to be be approved of by the staff ME/TD.

In other spaces I as house staff was paid by a rental to install other things such as a spot line or upgrade the house equipment to make the rental go more smoothly. All depends upon the situation and contract.

In other words, it's all in the contract, production and space that defines how many people are hired for a rental if any and what they are doing. Could be as simple as a rental company providing all the labor and equipment for a house or most of it with a paid rental of special equipment from another source that the house or rental of the space crew could install, much less that the rental of the equipment company provides a crew just to install a component of the entire rental. Some smaller touring shows might hire a more local production company to hire and run a crew for install for them that you might become a part of. An example of a sub-hire of this might be that a rental company rents a theater. They have staff or hire it, but with say a Lycian 1290 follow spot need as part of the rental of the spot, a tech person come out with the spot to install and more importantly install the lamp for it which is above the abilities or liability waver for the local crew. Than afterwards, blow my evening to crap to go back and wait in a dark room by myself because even though I was a service tech for the fixture I as a non-union person and not part of the show official was not allowed in the booth to even watch the show much less service the fixture should something go wrong. The show was running late a hour or two late and I just had to sit and wait remove it.

In another instance on the spot or special gear requireing a trained tech person to install it, After that show, and due to the fact that the lighting company that rented from us was our brother company - union or not, I later trained some of their people in installing the lamp so they on future rentals could install their own lamps, much less take them out given they and the company they worked for could be trusted with the $400 to 500.oo lamps each that are explosive.

Even been to a few reneted gigs that the lighting company providing leadership for a indipendant contractor crew hires another lighting company to provide certain elements of it such as that spot above requiring that second lighting company to send out it's own tech person to install the lamp as above. Very complex, and that's just with lighting. Could be the same with sound, video, set, pyro and costumes too with all these factors such as even hiring a local video taper to shoot publicity photos. All depends upon the contract etc.

IT all depends upon the show as you theorize and who is responsible for what. Is it any wonder why desing and tech are so well defined and timed out, besides labor costs - just availing the space for a sound check when nobody else was around is a challenge in schedueing and things being padded enough to stay on time/schedule. Is the designer hired for the production acting as a production manager hiring, is the stage manager from the company hiring the local or at least bulking it up, is the master carpenter or TD for the shop doing the overhire, etc. At some point, if not part of house staff, and you need people, someone by contract will act as production manager in hiring crew for the run much less production or tour or at least the install. There is lots of lists both with production managers and with companies both theater and companies providing gear that all need bodies in the short and long term.

Than above all, there is union verses indipendant/non-rate. Some companies or theaters are union shops and for the most part only deal with them, but sometimes bulk up crews with non union people, or have people on union wavers as part of staff, and others will go directly to the union and what I hate about unions in that they are acting as if a business to provide so many bodies for crew calls depending upon how much is paid to them to provide you with bodies - a "A" crew or other. Than the Union hires the people and it's shop stewert to manage the crew for you - you work your problems out with either the shop stewert or crew stewert - not with the crew itself. But depending on the crew, at least you are assured of at least so many competent workers to install much less run the show. If your crew is also union, they might be able to pay off the local and at that point run their own show, or it might be necessary to hire local people to fill most of the positions in the run at that place. Given your union people are not with the local or the union agreeement does not allow other than local people to fill key positions there.

Otherwise, the production manager if competent will have a list of possible sources to fill a crew and more importantly that list will rate those contacts on skill and availability and they will hire and be incharged of the crew for the company. Other places will have overhire call lists for use to bulk up company productions. In about 1999, not as a production manager, I kept a overhire call list of at least 50 names to help in filling a crew or if I needed an assistant on a job. People that make part of their living by hiring a crew will have many times that, and even call each other to trade names. The list could include Union people that are safe to work the Union gigs, and can also work the non-union ones by simply taking off their button if you can meet their pay, and non-union people that can only work in non-houses or as crew chiefs on the union gigs as long as they don't do much more than lead the crew again depending upon the local.

Very complex it all and I'm sure I'm forgetting stuff such as when a theate does it's own production and hires a Master Carpenter-set builder and designer, and other staff to basically mount that part of the entire show with or without staff help. For the most part, if you don't work directly for an employeer be it a theater or production much less rental company, you are called "Free Lance." Free lance people are anyone from a designer and director to the day labor used to move a bunch of stage weights around the theater and are all Union and indipendant defined.

Doesn't matter if it's a "Right to Work State" or not, if the union wants a place as a strong hold such as all the best theaters and shops, they lock out the non-union people from working there without a waver and payoff to them. Usually 6% of your paycheck going towards someone else's retirement for the pleasure of having a job in a union shop. That's if the tour doesn't just give the pay off as a one time thing or give even more as required to have it's crew join the local in bypassing the normal requirements and points to join. Should you get on union gigs, some might or might not count on points for joining the union. Might or might not - depends upon how much they want you for the most part, who you know, and how well known you get to be or sponsored - "good old boys club." Could spend years giving your money to the union and not get in for most of the major cities.

So the key to getting gigs as a Free Lance person is getting on lists. Production companies, rental companies, even get on the union list as a overhire. Walk right in or mail in to give them - all of them a resume and card to get on the list. Get some business cards and at least a pager to ensure that you will get work after the current job. Hard life when starting out, lots of time between gigs. Say you are not available for too many gigs - especially union ones, and you are off the list. You are much better off working somewhere with a steady paycheck at least until you are a known person/quantity in the industry and on a lot of people's minds before you go indipendant. Remember that list of 50 people I had? When a production manager needs more bodies, I handed over the list of my friends in the industry to them and thus I got to work with my friends. They in turn got on another list for more potential work. The industry is a small world. Know that saying that you are 3 people away from knowing anyone else in the US? It's more like two in the theater business. Get a bad name for yourself, or as I did here, union bash too much and it might force you out of the industry once word of mouth spreads or you are taken off a few too many lists. Can't even re-locate for long before such a thing would catch up to you. The best way to become successful Free Lance or staff is to keep up at the top of your game and don't be a screw up. As a production manager, you can't get a bad name for yourself in not being done on time, as a crew person, ...

Once on a crew, you are pigon holed into say set/show/run, carpentry install, Lighting install/run, sound..., Costumes, rigging etc. as what you can do during and before the curtain opens. Than it's a question of both your skill level and your attitude. "A" list or "B" list, qualified to program the light board you are using or not, union or not, crew chief or not, have your own tools and the compentancy to go your own with quality in using them or not etc. Designer/Tech person, Actor/Tech person, has a full time job or a gig and only available in off hours or always in search of work. Lots of things on a list that could define a person. At times it becomes hard to cross crews especially if you have not been doing say rigging for a while but can while primarially working as a carpenter. Those lighting tech install people that install and focus lights are not always the same people thought of to run the follow spots much less able to take on the light board.

Design, it's even harder to get into. Those in college with rosy eyes thinking I'm going to become a world famous designer berfore I hit thirty are about to run into a brick wall. Yea you, me and the hundreds of other designers much similar to actors that might make a living but don't hit the National Enquirer. But design is it's own subject. Here, to get on a crew, you get on someone's list. They need bodies, and they hire you either full time staff or for the production. They call you, even your friends call you to see if you are available, and if you are - you get the job. Impress those you are working for and those you work with, you get more jobs with them or those you work with. If not, you did a gig here and that's about it. I a union shop in a key city, unless you are on the overhire list, or brought in with a company doing a show there, forget it. Can't just walk up to the Chicago Theater and say I'm looking for work. But on the other hand, you could walk into a smaller theater such as Goodman was before they went Union, and if they needed people you were hired. Steppenwolf in Chicago at least I think is still able to hire an individual directly instead of a union person in general. There are other places here and there across the contry that are the same. Your shop goes local union - given they want your shop, you might be lucky to get in for free even with out an apprentiship, or you might find yourself replaced by someone they bring in and having voted yourself out of a job. More what the union wants - you can try to unionize, but unless they want you or your shop, you might probably end up on the short end of the stick. IATSE is working on changing for the better, but at this point on the major city local level is very corrupt - if you are part of a local but not one in the large city you are offered work in, your membership counts for nothing in another local if at a major city without a waver. Kind of a job security program. Good if you can get in, them projectionists union people brought into the stage union have their pick of jobs - more qualified than you or not, screw everyone else - our non-rate brothers in the industry.

Good and bad, A crews and B crews with and without unions in this industry. That's all fine and good. Than you get into places that have other unions to do other gigs. Laborers to unload the trucks, Electricians to plug in your lap top computer, Carpenters to screw together scenery, IATSE to rig your show and run it, Decorators to hang the banners and drape etc. etc. etc. Cross one, you are kicked out or they file a greviance with you and or your company. They cross you and your grevieance might or might get nowhere. Work a gig that suddenly becomes a union gig because there is some kind of hole that didn't quite work out in the contract when the white hats notice you are are on site as a non-rate, and you get food taken off your table as your managers scramble to hire union people to finish the gig or pay off the other trades. Cross another trade, or work too hard in some cases and you take the food off one of their table. All kinds of ways to get over the walkie talkie a call for the boss to come to where a crew chief is when there is "Union Problems." Teamsters have extra bodies so suddenly they have a forklift assistant person riding against ther rules bitch on the fork lift - to adjust the forks for the driver. That driver dumps his load of lumber like an idiot, and neither he nor the "assistant" will pick it up. It's a question of if the Laborers or Carpenters given a load of lumber gets to be called in to pick up even five pieces of lumber that fell. As I said, "A" Crews and "B" crews and don't even get me started about the venu I absolutely will never enter again. Just you as a manager especially a non-union one had at best not be caught with tools or doing work unless it's in helping the crew do stuff like pull feeder cable - something they don't mind help with. That is unless the Stewert is also the manager and it's after 5 so keeping his crew costs money. Than all the help you want to give him in filling his contract is greatly appreciated and leads to a more easy out.

In other words, getting work especially as a non-union Free Lance person is interesting. It's who you know, how useful you are to what is needed and the contract much less union or not that determines if you get a show.
Well, that is one chunk full of information. It all sounds a bit complicated, in terms of union, non-union, who works on what part of whose contract, what equipment comes from where, who is in charge of it, and what else can that person do. Is it the job of the production manager to keep in charge of it all? No wonder marking cable is so important.

I have questions about IATSE, but first I want to finish with this topic. Let me repeat just to see if I have it. These are possible places of employment for techies:

A specific theater, as part of their regular crew
Freelancing in a theater, to make up the numbers for a show
Tour company, working in their shop or on a tour
Local crew for a concert tour (freelance)
Theater tour, traveling with the show (I’m not exactly sure who hires these people)
Local crew for theater tours, either working for the theater where the show takes place, or hired by them as a freelancer
Production/rental house, in their shop, or out on a show if the renter desires that
Assistant to a designer (but this is rare)
Local scene/costume shop, not affiliated with a specific theater
Did I miss anything?

And the way to get hired for a show/tour is to be on the list of the person hiring: technical director, production manager, theater manager, rental manager, or human resources person, or on the IATSE list. The way to get on the list is to send resumes everywhere, and make a great impression on every call.

How do I keep from being pigeonholed on the lists? How can I expand my knowledge if I’m hired for something specific?
MissD said:
Well, that is one chunk full of information. It all sounds a bit complicated, in terms of union, non-union, who works on what part of whose contract, what equipment comes from where, who is in charge of it, and what else can that person do. Is it the job of the production manager to keep in charge of it all? No wonder marking cable is so important.

How do I keep from being pigeonholed on the lists? How can I expand my knowledge if I’m hired for something specific?

So far so good. The job of the production manager is to oversee that each group is doing their job and stays on schedule for what has to happen. They also act as the go-between between the crews and the venue and client in making things happen and adjusting to any changes. They give the final word on how best to do something if there is a problem, and they make the call if there is something that has to be cut from a show and they authorize that after consulting their superiors. all in the chain of command....
How to keep from being pigeonholed? Well I guess you are referring to being "labeled" a lighting or sound or wardrobe person and nothing else is learned? well honestly you have to show you have interest and are able to do other tasks. Best way to do something is to master the tasks you are given--and then you will be given more. If you kick butt on one area and do well--and the person who hired you gets to know you some, you can express your other interests after a period of getting to know each other and the work ethic and professionalism you carry with you, and you can branch out into other areas and start from scratch. Its all just a matter of time...and after you have proved yourself a good valued person in one area, expressing the desire to go into another area. Its usually not difficult... One bias that I am glad to report that is NOT a major part of the production industry is being given "lesser" tasks because of your gender. I mention this because your name is "Miss D" and I presume you are a girl. If you are--Well good news--this industry tends to be fairly equal from my experiences in how men and women get assigned jobs. Least on my watch it does. I have guy AND girls on crew lists who can rig, hang lights and stack speakers just as good as the rest of the guys. One of the best rigging folks I know is a girl. Some places will tend to give female crew the "wardrobe" (especially in Theater) and other light duty tasks, but if you prove or display you can handle yourself and sling chain, hang lights and handle electrics and know your skills then it shouldn't be a huge problem. As with everything in the industry--its a matter of finding the right group of crew and folks you gel with at a job. Some venue's and places will do nothing but irritate you, others are a joy to go to work with...and those are the ones you want to target. Ot doesn't mean that the other places are not good...just that not everything and every place works for every person. Its like chocolate ice cream...if everyone woke up and agree'd that chocolate ice cream ruled then there would be no need for other flavors of ice cream. So to each their own.. =)

So expanding your knowledge base is simple--show interest, learn as much as you can on your own and ASK questions when the time is appropriate. When you find a local group you get good with, it gets a lot easier to expand things.

Hope this helps...keep the questions coming and I'll keep the answers coming as best I can. =)
I personally prefer a all girl crew when I'm instructing them on stuff especially with carpentery. Could say lots on the subject, but for the most part, when I'm giving instructions, or training them in new and potentially dangerious techniques, the testosterone doesn't get in the way of learning.
ship said:
I personally prefer a all girl crew when I'm instructing them on stuff especially with carpentery. Could say lots on the subject, but for the most part, when I'm giving instructions, or training them in new and potentially dangerious techniques, the testosterone doesn't get in the way of learning.

I would prefer an all girl crew also..........if only we had girl techie's. (sigh). lol
Okay I know I am a little late posting this as the thread has kind of evolved much past this point. I wouldn't mind sharing how tech works in a lot of the smaller professional regional theatres.
First off, for the most part we are entirely an in-house staff. We have our own scene shop that builds all of our scenery. Our carpenters get about 5 weeks to build every show. We do 5 shows in season and one summer show. Our season shows run for 5 weeks plus one week of previews. Summer show is ten weeks plus a preview week. our shows close on a sunday night. By the end of that night costumes, props, sound, overstage electrics, and backstage masking and carpets are struck. Monday the carps strike the set and start loading in the next set. Monday night electrics finish their strike. Tuesday carps have the stage all day and all night. Wednesday the carps usually finishup the new set, and electrics does their hang. Thursday the actors work on the scenery and electrics does their focus at night. Friday and Saturday we tech the show, Sunday is the day we start running the show non-stop and do our final dress sunday night. Monday off. Tuesday first preview audience. Friday official opening.
The Friday and Saturday rehearsals are called ten out of twelves. The actor's union allows us to have two of these where the actors are called from 10 am to 10 pm with a 2 hour luch break. The only overhire we ever do is for electrics calls and occasionally a stitcher.
That's the way we do things. :wink:

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