How Do I Learn In College?

NateTheRiddler

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OK, now that I have your attention thanks to my horrible title:

My question is more specific than that. I was forced (by life circumstances, ask questions if you want answers on that) to pursue a degree that is definitely non-theatre. I’m currently finishing up a senior year in Aeronautical Science (pilotage), and as I’m doing so, and my senior workload is kicking my ass, I’ve discovered that my theatrical skills are languishing.

crap.

So, I’ve run into an interesting problem. My current degree program is interfering with my ability to keep my theatrical studies (on my personal time) sharp and current, and I’m starting to feel like I’m taking a few steps backwards. I have a little free time that I’ve wrangled into every week with careful time management, but I’m unable to pick up gigs in my small town since they’re always during classes or on study days... or extremely late at night when I need sleep to study the next day.

For all the experts, and those educational peeps out there, how do you recommend I stay sharp? Combination of unrelated degree work + lack of work + small town is really cramping my efforts.

I realize that I might be asking either 1) personal question that I only I can answer, or 2) a question that shall earn me some righteous hand-slaps from the wiser of you, but hey, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Thanks!

P.S. Yes, I’m back. Summer studies kicked my ass and it appears fall and spring have taken sequential numbers to do so, as well. Also, hi @gafftaper. Just sayin’ long time no see.
 
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NateTheRiddler

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Focus on the degree you are paying for now and forget about theatre at the moment. You'll pick it back up if you need to down the line. No reason to put the degree you are paying for in jeopardy to go play theatre.
Here’s the problem, and where my situation is unique/complicated/extremely hellish and frustrating. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.
10 years ago I graduated HS and enlisted. The USAF said “go to officer training, college kid.” So I did. They sent me to pick up the degree I currently have. I did 2 years. Budget cuts were made, I was dropped from officer training. My scholarship money dropped with it. I tried to complete my third year but the federal gov denied my financial aid applications because I come from a high-risk family, so I was forced to drop out (my school tuition is $40K/yr, unaffordable). I took my hobby, theatre lighting, and groomed it to become my job. I got better at it, stayed employed in it. My employer then recommended that I “finish my degree” if only to prove I could, and close that chapter on life. I had a few options to pick from, the fastest and cheapest of which is the one I’m pursuing. It’s just to get the paper.

And please, I can’t beg enough, don’t get too hasty with “that was dumb” statements. I’ve had to make the best of my life decisions at every turn. The reason I’m pursuing theatre as a career is because 1) I’m passionate about it, 2) I’m decent at it, and 3) I have enough experience to make a career of it. My degree will be just that: paper with no experience to back it up. I’ll be graduating at 29 years old with no career options for that degree.

I could be defeatist, and complain about rewinding my career to zero... instead I’d like to make a go of theatre, put my passions to work for me, and make a difference best I can.

If you feel I’m deserving of lecture, feel free to privately message me and do so. I’ve accepted numerous over the past decade. My situation is stupidly complex, and believe me... I wish it weren’t. I’d give anything for it to be simple.

Thus my question. Trying to do what I can to make ends meet, yeah?
 
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MNicolai

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Summer/Winter Internships at places like ETC, Clearwing, Altman, Chauvet, wherever. Hard to really do much during the school year with the amount of time an engineering degree requires.

Possible that there are some relevant skills overlaps between your engineering program and what a manufacturer or a theater consulting firm may be able to use you for. You've also got Clearwing Productions in Phoenix. They often need seasonal staff and can put you to work outside of the school year.

If aeronautical science completely blows chow and doesn't interest you, I'd explore how to transfer to another engineering program that is at least a sidestep into theater. You have a ton of options with an architectural engineering degree or electrical/mechanical. degrees and your employment opportunities after graduation will help dig you out of any financial hole you may be in -- presuming you are interested enough to work in those fields instead of trying to survive freelance gig to gig. Whatever extent of officer training may be a good plus on your resume for working up toward a team or project management role within a few years.

Likely not local to you, an engineering background is also a good way to get in with the scenery/automation shops. Creative Conners, Tait Towers, etc.
 

NateTheRiddler

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Summer/Winter Internships at places like ETC, Clearwing, Altman, Chauvet, wherever. Hard to really do much during the school year with the amount of time an engineering degree requires.

Possible that there are some relevant skills overlaps between your engineering program and what a manufacturer or a theater consulting firm may be able to use you for. You've also got Clearwing Productions in Phoenix. They often need seasonal staff and can put you to work outside of the school year.

If aeronautical science completely blows chow and doesn't interest you, I'd explore how to transfer to another engineering program that is at least a sidestep into theater. You have a ton of options with an architectural engineering degree or electrical/mechanical. degrees and your employment opportunities after graduation will help dig you out of any financial hole you may be in -- presuming you are interested enough to work in those fields instead of trying to survive freelance gig to gig. Whatever extent of officer training may be a good plus on your resume for working up toward a team or project management role within a few years.

Likely not local to you, an engineering background is also a good way to get in with the scenery/automation shops. Creative Conners, Tait Towers, etc.
You’ve actually nailed some ideas I’ve had fed to me recently, and I like them. My Aeronautical Science degree is actually the “vaguest” of the aeronautical engineering programs here at my school. It allows me the greatest number of open and general electives, and I’ve been using those to expand arts, electrical, and safety knowledge. Not theatrical, obviously, but I think a good step. As a senior, though, don’t think I want to take up underwater basket weaving since I’m less than a year from walking. ;)

Believe it or not, the overlap between engineering and entertainment is what has been driving me to study technical theatre simultaneously. The maths and sciences have all proven useful in theatre, and I love using the analytical side. The trick for me right now is that, as a senior, I’m looking to transition into the workforce once more, hopefully with a particular employer who has spoken to me. I want to make sure I’m not entering the entertainment workforce with stiff theatre muscles and brain cramps... know what I mean? :)

EDIT: Oh, and my horrible manners need work, geez. Thanks @MNicolai for taking time to reply with solid ideas! :D
 
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gafftaper

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Yeah I think @MNicolai nailed it. Embrace the engineering degree and find a way to accent it with lots of mechanical and/or electrical stuff. I've had several conversations with important people in the industry where they talked about how great it is to find someone who knows robotics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, etc.. and also knows the difference between stage left and stage right.

@Ford, care to comment about the value of people with engineering degrees and years of lighting design to your staff?
 

TuckerD

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Rochester, NY
I should have been more careful to read before posting. @NateTheRiddler it's not really a "believe or not" type situation about loving the intersection between art and engineering. That's a pretty common attitude. And it's a scale, somepeople like the intersection and use engineering as a tool to make their cool designs come to life. Others (like me) like to use engineering to make the tools for designers but don't do as much design work directly. There is a big cross section between the two.
 

Amiers

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Phoenix, Az
Finish your degree andthen try to get into a rental house. We have tons in Phoenix. dimension , concepts , ver , video west and clearwing just to name a few. If warehouse work isn’t your cup of tea then try to get in with IMT Rhino PSAV HELP and do setup and tear downs. Hand out your info to everyone and then some and start making contacts.

GOOD LUCK , it’s brutal out here.
 

Apmccandless

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Missouri
An option for after you graduate, if you want to stay in the Air Force, is to rehone your skills in one of the performance groups in the service. My cousin was an aircraft mechanic but toward the end of his time in the service he became more and more interested in techincal theatre. He applied and was accepted as the lighting and sound technician for Tops in Blue at Elgin AFB. After retiring he was promptly hired with the experience he gained through that and through his work at his church. He has worked for a production house in FL since then and always spoke about he loved his time with Tops in Blue. It may not work for you now but it may be an option for after you are out of College.
 

Starr T.

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SCC Sylva, NC
Ditto on all the kudos for Engineering focus...there is so much need & overlap in theater/ entertainment big & small. And far too few folks with the diverse mechanical/ engineering wizardry to repair/ design/ re-imagine gear, especially in smalltowns.
As to your studies, take the opportunity to learn CAD/ autoCAD softwares where someone else is paying for labs. Those skills will serve anywhere you go in future. I too went back for "the papers", and was able to ease back into theater work after...there's always community theaters & high schools needing volunteers, which works the rust off & gets ya networked around. Best of luck; and remember, life Happens to us all, and we adapt and grow from it.
 

mbrown3039

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vegas, baby..!
And please, I can’t beg enough, don’t get too hasty with “that was dumb” statements. I’ve had to make the best of my life decisions at every turn. The reason I’m pursuing theater as a career is because 1) I’m passionate about it, 2) I’m decent at it, and 3) I have enough experience to make a career of it. My degree will be just that: paper with no experience to back it up. I’ll be graduating at 29 years old with no career options for that degree.
Given the facts you've shared, I actually think that was the smartest course of action. My advice: buckle down, put theater aside for the next ten months and graduate with honors (or as close as you can get to it) then worry about theater tech stuff. All employers respect a degree (it shows you can finish something you started) and honors (it shows you're smart and can work hard).

The theater world isn't going anywhere -- i think the biggest mistake you could make here is A) quitting your current degree plan and/or B) half-assing it. Just suck it up and get your degree done in stellar fashion, then come back to entertainment. It will be waiting for you. m
 
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RonHebbard

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Quillons

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I graduated in May with a bachelor's in mechanical engineering, worked a summerstock show all summer, and I have orientation for a new job in a theme park on Saturday. It can work out.

It sounds like you have two semesters left, but you can probably think of it as only having one semester because I bet you have some sort of senior capstone project. For me, that was a big group affair and it took a bunch of time: give it that time and see where you can work your theatre background in. Something that I found interesting doing that project was how homogeneous my groupmates (and, really, most of the other students) were. Since they'd all had the same schooling, they all thought the same way and didn't know how to deviate from that. Be the rogue thinker and solve the problem.

Something you can do in your limited amount of free time is figure out where people hang out online. Obviously you know about ControlBooth: how about OffstageJobs, facebook groups, maybe youtube or instagram? I've been finding myself more and more in facebook groups because I can ask a question and it'll be blasted out to 3,000 kind people.

It may help me or hurt me in the long run, but specializing myself has gotten me in some cool places. My school has a master's in explosives engineering, and so I was able to take the pyrotechnic classes offered there, and that pyro knowledge has gotten me jobs where people have otherwise looked at my theatre resume and engineering degree and gone "huh?".

You got this. Remember that school is no joke and that as much as you want to keep working on your theatre stuff, sometimes you have three tests and a paper due the same week, and then you have to take care of yourself.

I think LDI would be too soon/inconvenient for this year, but look into USITT. If you book a plane ticket now, then you can just tell your professors/groupmates "Oh! I'm so sorry! I booked this months ago!".
 

NateTheRiddler

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Something you can do in your limited amount of free time is figure out where people hang out online. Obviously you know about ControlBooth: how about OffstageJobs, facebook groups, maybe youtube or instagram? I've been finding myself more and more in facebook groups because I can ask a question and it'll be blasted out to 3,000 kind people.
I am definitely open to suggestions. I usually keep off Facebook since I have a mental issue that makes speaking my mind a little too... easy, shall we say. But I’d love to network, since you can never have too many real friends. So, uh, hey yeah, invite me to the party?

It may help me or hurt me in the long run, but specializing myself has gotten me in some cool places. My school has a master's in explosives engineering, and so I was able to take the pyrotechnic classes offered there, and that pyro knowledge has gotten me jobs where people have otherwise looked at my theatre resume and engineering degree and gone "huh?".
I always am happy to point this out to employers. My experience these days is really random thanks to the degree changes, consisting of a miscellany of engineering, entertainment, and artistic content. But the “renaissance man” theory has actually aided me at times. I always try to put the miscellany to work for me... and more importantly, my employer.

You got this. Remember that school is no joke and that as much as you want to keep working on your theatre stuff, sometimes you have three tests and a paper due the same week, and then you have to take care of yourself.
Thanks for taking the time to encourage me! Never can get enough of that when things are going haywire. I’m a third through the semester but thus far the grades, my work life, and my personal life have maintained some semblance of balance. I think I’m doing all right. *knocks on wood and avoids whistling in the PAC*