HS TD's Existence Validation

Discussion in 'Stage Management and Facility Operations' started by StradivariusBone, Aug 17, 2019.

  1. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Custom Title Fight Leukemia

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    Occupation:
    Facility Manager/TD
    Location:
    Space Coast, FL
    So as the title might imply, I'm looking for rationale to mandate, require, or otherwise necessitate the role of a the HS TD/Auditorium Manager. I know a couple of you all on here exist in that realm with me. To be specific I'm looking at an employee at a public or private high school that fills (or exceeds) the following roles-
    - Manages bookings of a space for the school, surrounding schools, and general public
    - Manages a crew of students that learn the trade and run the building for events
    - Designs, plans and executes builds for the internal drama program's mainstages throughout the year.
    - Upgrades, maintains, otherwise cares for the building at large.

    I know everyone has their flavor of the above so if you're close I'd love to hear feedback from you even if you don't fit that mold exactly. I've got a person that is very interested in what I do and curious about why some theatres/auditoriums require a manager and others don't. For our situation, the ones with rigging systems have traditionally had managers whereas the smaller venues with dead hangs are usually overseen by a teacher or employee of the school, if at all.

    Is there any sort of guiding document or standard given that anyone knows of that would dictate (or at least highly recommend) having a competent manager/TD on site for a building?

    Lastly, and I don't know if this would fly, I would love to know salary information. I don't know if that would run afoul of the mods here. I'm hoping, given the present culture with sites like offstagejobs, it could be a beneficial discussion for our section of the industry. I'm happy to share my own or do a PM thing if it's not something the greater good feels needs to be aired out. Honestly, none of us make what we're worth so what is the big deal?

    Thanks in advance for any information you might share. This is not a conversation I look forward to having next week :(
     
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  2. Malabaristo

    Malabaristo Well-Known Member

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    I'm very curious to hear what others have to say as I'm in the strange position of needing to argue for the importance of my role as if I didn't exist--even though I already have the job :)

    I'm in a school district with 4 high schools that have theatres (to use the term loosely). None of them have had anyone knowledgeable in charge prior to me: scheduling is handled by the athletic secretaries, the director for drama productions is technically a coach position (sometimes also a teacher), and students end up doing way more unsupervised (and mostly untrained) work than is at all reasonable. Everything's a mess all the time and nothing gets maintained.

    One of the schools was recently renovated, and my job came about because the argument was finally won by saying, "The taxpayers just spent $4.5 million on this project, so maybe we should hire someone to keep it nice..." The other three are basically considered a lost cause and the current state of things is that we probably won't add my job at those schools until they too are updated. There are potential plans in progress for that, but it's going to be a few more years at the soonest. In the meantime, the one school that has a full-time TD is also the one that is by-far the safest to work in, while the others are still a chaotic mess falling further into disrepair.

    Obviously this has the potential to vary by jurisdiction, but I'm not aware of any code requirements or other outside rules that would put pressure on the schools to have a qualified person in charge of the theatres. My first argument is always safety. As I'm sure you know, the normal day-to-day activities in a theatre can be incredibly dangerous without the specialized knowledge required to do it correctly. On top of that, if you don't have qualified people using the equipment, you're not going to know about any problems until it they get really bad. It's easy for someone who only comes in 1-2 times a year to ignore little problems, or signs of future problems as long as they can work around them for their needs. Someone who's in there every day can track issues as they arise and take care of them before they become dangerous--and often more expensive. People who don't know theatre often don't understand the dangers, so comparing it to the wood shop, auto/metal shop, and gym/sports can sometimes be helpful for making them realize it's not just another room.

    The other big argument is the ability to fully utilize the space. Sure, the average english teacher with no theatre background can learn how to push a couple faders on the light board to make some light appear onstage, but most of them probably won't pick up much beyond that unless they're really interested in lighting. With someone knowledgeable around you can push the limits of the available equipment for better production values and better learning experiences for the students. You can also support other curricular areas: last year I reached out to the drawing and painting teachers to do some demos on light & color using some of our fancy new LED fixtures. I haven't pursued this yet, but there's lots of fun opportunities for applying math, physics, and other STEM related topics. Even at the more basic level, I'm almost two years into this job and I still get regular comments about how wonderful it is to be able to just walk in and know that everything is going to work when they need it. Organization is another aspect of this: the other schools constantly struggle with things being left behind on stage. Maybe it's a few music stands from this concert, a few chairs from that one, or this set piece didn't get fully disassembled and stored... After a while, there are just piles of crap building up that no single user is really responsible for.

    One way they've gotten around some of the need for a full-time TD is that some show-specific work for plays and musicals gets handled through people contracted by the drama clubs for lighting/sound/carpentry. This works in the sense that the shows can happen, but it creates a problematic liability situation where there are non-employees that are working with students--sometimes with no actual staff around to supervise. It also doesn't make for a very good learning experience because it's always a mad rush to get things done in time. That means it's all about specific tasks that need completion rather than general training and background knowledge. There's also very little oversight in selecting those contractors, so the people hired aren't guaranteed to actually have the necessary skills. As long as they can appear to know more than the (generally not technically-inclined) director, they're judged "good enough". Between that and the unsupervised students, it's kind of amazing there haven't been any serious incidents.

    So yeah, public school, 12-month/full time TD, the main thing on your list that doesn't apply to me is that scheduling here is currently handled by the drama teacher/coach for internal events and another district staff member for outside rentals. Either way, I still end up being heavily involved in that process in order to make sure technical needs are being addressed. I also have a very fuzzy "advisory" role for general theatre needs within the district, but it can sometimes be difficult to make sure I'm actually included in those discussions... My salary is technically a public record (though you would have to know some arcana to figure out exactly where to look), so I don't mind sharing if the mods don't care. As long as I make an effort to manage my time well, it ends up being not completely unreasonable and the benefits are the kind of good that is pretty hard to find outside of certain public jobs these days.
     
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  3. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Malabaristo and @StradivariusBone Two comments, neither of which will surprise either of you.
    In Hamilton, Ontario, Canada we have a Catholic Board Of Education and a non-Catholic Board Of Education.
    Some decades back the public board was building a new high school in the heart of downtown. Many amateur theatrical groups; dramatic, musical and operatic were pushing the city for a new auditorium with larger seating capacity, a taller grid, better lighting, counter-balanced line sets and more dressing rooms. As the new school was being built it was decided to add a wing purely to house the theatre. Thus it came into existence.
    - Prosc' 17' x 40'
    - Grid 45' clear, wall to wall including over the wings on both sides, with 3' of clear space above for adding spot sheaves anywhere.
    - 42 x 6 Kw dimmers controlled by a six scene preset board with 6 x 50 Amp non-dims and a 48 x 96 circuit slide patch.
    - Four dressing rooms each with a make-up mirror and table for four to six performers with a separate washroom accommodating two sinks and two toilets per room AND a separate two person shower per room.
    - 27 single purchase line sets.
    - 3 dedicated LX pipes.
    - 1 heavy lined velour house curtain.
    - 1 mid-stage black velour traveller.
    - 1 up-stage black velour traveller.
    - 1 20' x 40' seamless powder blue sky cloth.
    - Three or four black velour borders.
    - Four or five pairs of black velour legs.
    - Four more small acoustically treated rooms with acoustically sealed doors for music students to practice and warm-up.
    - A motor operated roll up door large enough to back a 26' box truck through far enough into the SR wing to clear the road, not the sidewalk but at least far enough to prevent blocking traffic and appease the police and by-law officers.
    For the first three or four years technical personnel from the various amateur groups operated the theatre, kept it clean, in good shape and well maintained. Secretaries in the school's office did their best to schedule and handle all rentals.
    After approximately four years of problem free operation, someone in the school board decided an employee should be hired to "protect" their investment.
    HERE'S THE PART I SUSPECT YOU CAN SEE COMING:
    Instead of hiring one or two of the amateurs who'd been caring for the facility as if it were their own, the board decided they needed to hire someone with a university degree thus they hired three students from an out of town university NONE of whom had degrees or experience in theatre OR vehicles and drivers' licenses to make the journey from their city or ours. The number of nights I drove one or two of the degree toters back to their town after the highway coaches quit running for the night only to have to drive back to Hamilton, grab a few Z's and pry myself out of bed for my forty hour per week electrical apprenticeship.
    One night I received a panic-stricken call from one of the new DEGREE toting baby sitters: The house lights were working but NONE of the stage lights, NONE of the 42 six Kw dimmers. Thus the young lady learned of the two position toggle indelibly labelled DBO. Another night one of the three learned the importance of inserting her key and turning on the motor operated three pole 400 Amp breaker which powered the larger portion of the dimmer rack; the portion housing the 42 six Kw dimmers. (The smaller main breaker only powered the house light section of the dimmer rack: Yes, you often needed to turn both on.)
    None of the three hirelings new what trim chains were for, how to tie a spot line to the pin rail. (Undoing some of their ties was a scary experience) or any knots commonly used in theatres; not a bowline, clove hitch, nada.
    The Board Of Education paid for these three degree toting students for a number of years while the secretaries were often calling several of us at home and asking if we could please find it in our hearts to drop in a few evenings and lend a hand for several of their larger, more revenue generating, events.

    Among the lighting inventory were four beam projectors. One production I wanted to use all four beam projectors. Imagine my surprise when I discovered none of them had mirrors. They USED to all have mirrors but not so any more. When we got to the bottom of this, we learned the Board had paid their degree toting minions to supervise a couple of afternoons of art students painting an approximately 20' x 40' non fire proofed PAPER back drop for some school show. The students had decided circles were the order of the day and the degree toting minions removed all of the mirrors from the beam projectors and used them as templates to paint around. Eventually we found the mirrors, still sporting blue paint.
    MORE than enough said.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2019
  4. Malabaristo

    Malabaristo Well-Known Member

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    Yup! I was fortunate in being able to partially steer the creation of my position before it happened. I'd been involved with the school drama program for many years prior, so that got me into the discussions on planning the renovation project. Some of it was sheer luck and timing that the right people were in the right roles at the time, but the job description posted was actually pretty well thought out and reasonable. It's a sensitive subject for me, as I was repeatedly burned by my previous employer due to lacking the "proper" education... despite my clearly demonstrated abilities over more than a decade working there.

    The first battle is getting everyone to understand the need for such a role to exist--especially if there's a long history of, "We've always done it this way..." to work around.

    The second battle is getting the right person to fill that role. Even without being hamstrung by arbitrary HR limitations, it can be very difficult to find someone with the unique mix of skills and personality required to succeed in managing a high school theatre.
     
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  5. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Custom Title Fight Leukemia

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    Occupation:
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    Location:
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    This all sounds very familiar, which is both comforting and alarming. Long story short, it ended up being less dire than my OP made it sound, but still a good conversation to have none-the-less. I maintain a building that is approaching 25 years of age and in many respects it is in quite good shape- at least compared to some of the unmanaged spaces I've encountered in my time. We took a tour of the fly rail and the pit elevator and that alone seemed to ingrain the need for a qualified individual keeping an eye on things. They were amazed too that for each and every event I'm expected to attend and supervise. The thought had been floated that business of renting could be expanded to possibly pay for my salary through bookings. I pointed out the only shop in our area that can accomplish that is a union roadhouse that employs a number of people to run and even then I have my doubts that it is a self-sustaining enterprise. It is attached to a college.

    The thing they kept coming back to was any code or reg that would necessitate a manger position- beyond just common sense. The fact that the building is utilized and in good working order with high uptime is due to the fact that I exist and live in it. I suspect that's the case with both examples above. The degree thing is an interesting argument too. I'm a music major, but my experience comes from freelance work and my lifetime of experiences with this sort of work. I'm a firm believer in the half of knowledge being able to find knowledge in the first place, but try putting that on a resume :rolleyes: I know of a similar situation where a place is looking for a TD and passed over a qualified person because of the lack of a 4 year degree.
     
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  6. macsound

    macsound Well-Known Member

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    I think in alot of school or community facilities, the role of the TD ends up being more secretarial than technical. Although I think the actual theatre staff should have a say in the scheduling of their facility so events don't pop up during their planned vacation, there should ideally be someone who schedules every other space in the facility who can answer the phone and transcribe the insurance information.

    The main roles of the TD should be to create and keep a plan of building and equipment maintenance, train and empower students or volunteers, and advise in the technical, logistical and esthetic use of the space.

    Someone who is qualified should have background in a similar environment, ability to think on their own and (most importantly) be able to lead a team.
    All too often community theatre organizations fail because they're so afraid of someone breaking the wooden railing from 1970 that they don't let anyone to help.
    They must be able to trust others, designate tasks, be community oriented and not be a know it all.
    Even if they do have a degree doesn't mean they'd be able to do what Ron mentioned and understand why there are two banks of dimmers that have to be turned on in order to power all the houselights. And they need to know why, not just rote.
     
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  7. TimMc

    TimMc Well-Known Member

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    I think in a lot of school facilities, the role of the TD expands or contracts depending on funding each year.

    One of the charateristics of a good facility TD is the ability to make it look as easy as falling off your bicycle... and that's part of what the higher ups notice when it comes time to evaluate the necessity of the position. "Why hire a TD when everything is in such great shape and nobody is complaining about the condition of the facility? It's all good, right?" :rolleyes::rolleyes::rolleyes: But Dahling, how long do you think it will stay that way?

    The TD represents the interests of the facility and its owners first. Protection of physical assets from misuse, unauthorized use or theft; protection from liability by instituting safety standards and work rules, and controlling access to the facility. Protection of clients/teachers/students from their own folly (no, you can't do your own flying in Peter Pan in my building). If the TD can impart technical knowledge to students, so much the better, but don't count on that carrying much weight unless you have a degree and some way to integrate your teachings into the curriculum path. Just sayin'....

    At any rate the budget determines what the TD can do. In a good funding year (maybe a grant) the TD might upgrade the hearing assistance system or repair the intercom headsets AND a big incandescent lamp order AND fix the broken seats in the house AND paint the dressing rooms. In a lousy year maybe just enough to sweep the stage and keep the heat on. In a way, theaters are like restaurants - there is *always* something that can be done (prepped, fixed, maintained, cleaned, etc) - whether or not those get done depends on having the human resources to prepare and the capital to spend.
     
  8. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Custom Title Fight Leukemia

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    Occupation:
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    Yeah that would be me lol. The way our schools work is there is an AP that handles facility use, but they are usually wrapped up in about 30 or 40 other things, so it's a lot easier to handle the scheduling myself. For our space it's been the norm, but it does make for a lot of extra work. This time of year in particular is almost exclusive desk work. I just stepped away for a bit to change out some S4 burner assembly sockets for a change of scenery.

    Truth.
     
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  9. BillConnerFASTC

    BillConnerFASTC Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
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    I was hired to do rigging inspections in a district with 4 HS. Each one had a full time non-teaching theatre specialist. (At least one is a regular here.) Among the best maintained, well used, and safest HS theatres I've seen. What more justification is needed?

    One of the projects I've been posting pictures of opens this fall. Was a 10% of time auditorium manager, will be 20%. I suspect it will become 50% time or more before long. A decent well equipped facility seems to draw users from all over.
     
  10. StradivariusBone

    StradivariusBone Custom Title Fight Leukemia

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    Occupation:
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    Apparently some sort of document from an agency with an acronym for a name. ;)

    It's been my experience that auditoriums with no clear "person in charge" will quickly become disasters. The first school I worked at (albeit as a band director, not a tech) we could not get stage lights on. We thought is was a control issue, swapped out controllers and nothing. Then we thought it might be a dimmer issue. Sensor rack, working normally. Come to figure out every lamp on the stage had burned out. No one had ever thought to relamp after they'd burn out for years...

    Another school I worked at had a beautiful 50x20 seamless white cyc. Dead hung and in the way of the workshop door. The solution was to prop the bottom pipe up against a pipe on the wall and tie it off. Stained the cyc on the wall and probably will eventually tear it too.

    I know we know we're needed, but it's a perpetual exercise to make sure other people know we exist too.
     
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  11. Amanda

    Amanda Member

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    Occupation:
    Performing Arts Center Manager and TD
    Location:
    West Des Moines, IA
    Hello! Let me throw in my two cents. I run a performance venue completed in late 2014 that serves a 1-high school district. We upgraded from a mid 70's 600 seat space to an 1100+ seat with 50' wide 24' tall pro, 65' fly house (no overhead grid unfortunately), with full scenic shop behind the stage. I'm a full time employee and last year my space did just around 90k of revenue from external events.

    - Manages bookings of a space for the school, surrounding schools, and general public
    • When I interviewed I stressed that I would need to have control of the scheduling. All of the other managers in schools in my area do not have this control and I hear about it constantly. No one else has the oversight to know how much time it takes for events to get set up, what might be needed to get that event up and running, etc. All events go through me. Period. Luckily we have a large meeting space where the teachers have their weekly meetings, and most groups end up using that space as well for a lot of class or activity meetings. Rarely do I get a "oh hey we want to use this space 10 minutes ago, can you get here?"
    • We primarily serve the 9-12 students, but fit in our performances of the younger grades as we have time for. The junior high schools have outgrown their own auditorium spaces. December and May are our busy seasons with other grades doing their seasonal performances. Priority is given to the high school students. It's tricky to not hurt the feelings of our younger groups but we've already outgrown the demands that this space can handle.
    • Outside groups go through me as well. We do have another person who schedules all of the other rooms in the district, but I specifically deal with our PAC and that seems to work well.

    - Manages a crew of students that learn the trade and run the building for events
    • This is crucial to the success of my venue. I can't do this job without the students. Two crews- one event crew which students can earn volunteer hours for, and the opportunity to work paid outside events. The other crew is my play/musical crew. They run everything and are trained by myself, experienced upperclassmen, and my husband (our ATD). I stress professionalism, but ultimately we are a school and learning facility. Mistakes happen, but teachers aren't always so forgiving of that fact if it happens to impact their event. I hire two students part time for the summer events as well. It seems to work well.
    • We are currently in the process of hiring out an additional staff member to help cover events and who has more audio engineering. My specialty is lights and the space events demands has outgrown what one person can reasonably handle. This will probably be a stipend position that is covered by the revenue I generate in the 7-10k range.
    - Designs, plans and executes builds for the internal drama program's mainstages throughout the year.
    • Fall play, spring musical, winter one act. Crew of about 40 kids for a show of about 100. Responsibility is lighting and set design/construction.
    - Upgrades, maintains, otherwise cares for the building at large.
    • That's what most of my revenue goes to support, along side paying for technicians and custodians. There were things done incorrectly at the install so we've had to fix that. But I'm working with the district on creating an long-term upgrade list, so when I need $250,000 to replace all of the seats but obviously won't generate that type of revenue. No one cared for our last venue and I want this one to stay as sharp looking as I can.
     
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