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Is it economically safe to pursue a career in technical theatre?

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by rosabelle334, Jun 22, 2008.

  1. rosabelle334

    rosabelle334 Member

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    My mom has been pestering me. She wants me to choose a path that will make me happy, but also pay the bills. She doesn't believe that technical theatre is the way to go. Is she right? Is backstage work really all that bad?

    I live in a very high class town, in connecticut actaully, and we do ahve some of the best schools in the country. Obviously, its the standard of everyone here to pursue a career high up, and even go to an ivy-league college. Is it possible, if not to be come a full-time stage worker, to possibly to work on a show as well as hold some other white-collar job like our town expects us to do?

    What about New York? If I were ever to work there is it economical to commute, or find an apartment there?
     
  2. soundman

    soundman Well-Known Member

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    If you are good at what you do you will never have to worry about finding work or making rent on time. People will be calling you. With the condition of the economy today it might be tough going for the first few years but after you make a name for yourself you can stop setting up 120K rigs at county fairs and moving on towards more lucrative gigs because the rich will always want to be entertained.

    at least thats what I tell myself
     
  3. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Well-Known Member

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    there has been a post in the past about pay for backstage work...but why not have a backup? Buy some stock in a funeral planning service. People are always dying. stock can only go up...unless someone discovers the fountain of youth. But seriously. I'm just starting college so I don't have to worry about it that much yet, but I plan to invest in real estate once I graduate and get some money. Both my parents are investors and the money seems to be good (except for lack of benefits) Seems like a good plan to have in case you can't find work in those first couple years.
     
  4. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    I think it's very good to look forward, plan for the future, and make serious considerations before pesuing a career in technical theatre, or any of the "thechnical " proffessions. I have a friend from college that I recently ran into. He was the Master Carpenter for a broadway tour show, and was in town and looked me up. It was the first time I had seen him since college, I graduated in '89, he had been doing tours since then. I have a house, a wife, 2 kids, a mortgage, and no real money to speak of, He has all the money he can stand, he's been touring almost constantly since we all left college, he's got a storage building in the small town in Oklahoma where his folks live, where everything he owns has been stored for the last 20 years. He has a lot of great stories, could get a job in almost any theatre/tour/shop he wanted, and a girlfreind he sees a couple of times a year. What's the point of this story? Well it's kinda like the "production pyramid" " Good, Fast, Cheap, pick two."
    You can be rich and happy, you can be poor and happy and fufilled, but it's hard to be rich and happy and fulfilled.
    That's my two cents worth.
     
  5. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    To quote the words of one CB member:
    "If you can find something other than theatre that you want to do, do that."

    Otherwise,
    "If you really want to hurt your parents, and you haven't the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts."--K. Vonnegut

    I find myself more like [user]Van[/user]'s road carpenter friend, except that I own a house with a pool but had to give up legit theatre in Chicago and move to Lost Wages to attain it.
     
  6. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Truer words have never been spoken (and I can't remember if I have said that here, but its one of my things I say a lot).

    I am currently knee deep in a job search, I am flying to both the east coast and west coat next week for interviews at two different theatres. Now, I probably sent out 40-50 resume's to get to this point. I have turned down two gigs in the last few weeks, and if offered a job at either location, I will be happy.

    The money at one is livable, the cold offer from the other is not livable for me and my fiance to live on. If I get the offer, hopefully that will change. I personally don't want the road life, like Van I want to have my wife, my house, and who knows.... maybe kids. As I tell my friends who are out on the road with the stories, I like my things. You can make some mad money on the road, but its hard to get to that point.

    If you want a "traditional" life, where you go in a 7am and home by 5pm, this aint for you. Also, if you want to live in a certain area of the country, this aint for you. If you want the home life, you will end up going to where the work is. Unfortunitly, the work is usually in a large city center that is not a cheap place to live.

    Yes, you can make money, but you are not going to have the perfect american life. Jobs with benefits are hard to come by unless you are salaried or union, and if you are union work can dry up in some areas.

    You need to look at what you want your life to be, and is there anything else you would rather do. Its doable, there are plenty of us on this board that are doing it, but you do have to make some sacrifices.
     
  7. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    You probably said it here, or I may have.;)

    There must be a reason Harvard, Yale, and all other Ivy-league universities offer a major in theatre.

    Every community theatre, and many professional theatres, are filled with people who do exactly that. The stereotype of the actor whose career is as a waiter exists because it's true. Now a technician has employable skills. Myself, I'm glad I had theatre management courses in college. As a fledgling Lighting Designer in Chicago, I supported myself, (and made contacts,) by working in box offices. Upon moving to Las Vegas, my real job for a year was working for a ticket re-seller.
     
  8. TechSooth

    TechSooth Member

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    "Ah, youth. It is the perquisite of the young." No, and No and No. There are two problems with a theatrical career:

    1. Every job is received subjectively ie: "I like her work (or: personality, shoes, butt), lets hire her."

    2. There will ALWAYS be some one who will do it for free. Because they love it. Just like us.

    If you have NO financial requirements, you can try. My suggestion: summer stock. I learned more in 4 shows of doing than in 4 years of school. If you still love it after 12 weeks of a nonstop schedule with no budget and no sleep, it could be for you. If you want to have things (live indoors, eat), you will have to learn to stretch those $250 stipends until you have 6 months of expenses in the bank.

    Sound frightening? Just remember, you'll be spending time (lots of it) with cool people creating amazing things with virtually nothing and planting memories in your community that will last for the lifetimes of those who share them. That is the reward.

    "If you realize that you have enough,
    you are truly rich"
    -- Tao de Ching
     
  9. Chris Chapman

    Chris Chapman Active Member

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    I would say most definitly YES. But it depends on which avenue of tech you are looking at. Stagehand, no. Designer, yes. Stge Manager, Yes. Since you are on he East Coast, try to get into Yale School of Drama (Mom will love that) and you cn almost write your own ticket when you graduate. My professional experience is that for some reason YSD grads get a lot of good work. Might be the connections, I dunno. Lots of Regional and Professional Companies look at YSD grads with a very close eye.

    Will you make millions? Probably not, but you will be comfortable and enjoy what you are doing. Which is better than working in Walmart or having a job that you going to everyday. I love my job because it is never the same. Well, some of the concert load is, but everything else keeps changing and each show is a different challenge.

    -Chris Chapman
    TD, Greenville Performing Arts Center
    Greenville, MI
     
  10. Chris Chapman

    Chris Chapman Active Member

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    Really Derek? When I was in Chicago I found work to be pretty steady. I rotated thru Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Spotlight, Baliwick and some of the off Loop theatres, and never really had a problem. Did get burned out doing all that freelancing and not knowing what the next gig 2 months down the road would be though. :) And that was before I was married with kids, too. So I guess there's a difference.

    -Chris
     
  11. sobenson

    sobenson Member

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    To answer this part of the question. Yes you can commute. I knew a guy that did it from Orange, CT, just outside of Milford. I will say that if you are going to commute you will be spending a lot of time on train station benches. As you probably know that Metro North runs with limited service at night, which is when you will be getting off of work.
    As for living in NYC, yes you can pull it off. I did it as a stage hand.
     
  12. rosabelle334

    rosabelle334 Member

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    *nods* I live 45- 60 minutes by car or train from NYC right now, I go there fairly often. I was hoping I could stay in this town or one nearby and commute because I adore where I live now.
     
  13. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Yale only offers an MFA and Ph.D. as well as "certificates", so you won't be going there for another 5-10 years at least. It costs around 130-140k for tuition alone, and they rarely ever offer any type of financial aid (except for FASFA).

    That being said, if you can get in, it is the leading design school in the country. As long as Ming is there, it will stay the leading program.

    There is a stigma attached to "Yalies", but all of them tend to consistently work.
     
  14. TechSooth

    TechSooth Member

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    Only by Mellonites. But we won't get into that. Even if you can afford a year in the company of Ming, it would be worth it.
     
  15. SerraAva

    SerraAva Active Member

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    Van is defiantly correct in that if you want to make money doing this, you will not have a normal life. I have lost my social life completely do to work and now hang out with guys who are 10+ years older then I. While its not fun not having peers to hang out with or working all the time, the pay is great. I make way more then I should at my age, but do I work for it and make sacrifices.

    In high school, I looked into becoming a lawyer, or doing this. I choose this, because I enjoy doing it despite all the sacrifices and negatives that come with it. I have always being a behind the scenes person, the un-sung hero so to speak. I don't do it for the credit, I do it for me and the show. I don't expect thanks or anything like that doing my job, because it is just that, my job. All this and a wicked case of stage fright more or less made my path clear for me.

    Also, like others have said, if you are good at what you do, you will be in demand. Don't let it go to your head however, because there is always someone better.

    Just some of my personal experiences. All my work is mainly corporate stuff and not theatre however. Tends to pay better then theatre, but it steals your soul. Theatre is my release/reclaim soul time.
     
  16. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    We told all our actors in training to take tech classes because that way they could feed themselves while hanging out at the theater. The other option was food services.

    Can you make a living at tech? - yes, but as SerraAva pointed out, there are sacrifices and you will not work a 'normal' schedule as each show will have different demands. you might consider going into educational tech theater, where the hours can be more regular. My mother always told everyone that I was a teacher because she didn't understand what I did.

    Is theater an economically sound career? Depends upon where you are. Here there are only a few theaters, so competition can be fierce at times. The larger the city, the more opportunities, but also more competitors. However, I don't think any career is guaranteed financially sound any more.
     
  17. jwl868

    jwl868 Active Member

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    I’m taking a different tack about your post. Others who work in the industry have posted about their work, and I can’t possibly contribute anymore to that. [My participation in technical theatre is part-time, as a volunteer, and very recent at that. It’s not my vocation.]


    Economically-safe?

    As a general concept, I doubt there is anything that is “economically-safe”. Decades ago, getting an engineering degree to work in the steel industry was “economically-safe”. At one time, going to a trade-school for aircraft mechanics and maintenance was “economically-safe”. Wasn’t the mortgage industry “economically-safe”? There was a time when assembly-line worker at a GM plant was “economically-safe”.

    You state in your original post that [at your school] everyone pursues a career higher up. But things are not always as they appear. I suspect that there is stigma on one doesn’t pursue the “high” standards, and I suspect that one rarely hears about those who don’t. I also suspect that some portion of those pursuing the “high” standard do so begrudgingly because their parents made the choice for them a long time ago. You know your own classmates: Look around – I bet there are a few future literature majors or philosophy majors in the bunch. There are few who don’t know what they want to do.

    Parents push their kids toward bigger and better things – we can’t help ourselves. Problems can arise when parents’ dreams don’t match their kids’ dreams.

    There are no sure things, so you might as well aim for something you think you’ll like. Ninety percent of everything is below the water.


    Joe
     
  18. zapthatmonster

    zapthatmonster Member

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    My lighting design teacher from last term gave us some food for thought. He theorized this: In past times of economic strain such as this one, the world has turned to the arts to give them hope and comfort.

    My father works in the film and TV industry as crew, and he does fine and has always done fine. We could do better, but we could also do a lot worse. We moved to a city in a state that has tax breaks for film companies and a high film presence and he hasn't stopped working since. He has never not been able to support his wife and four kids, and he still occasionally has his perks. He is also now in the top of his department's ranks in the area and regularly has to choose between 3 shows who want to hire him.

    It'll be hard at first, but yes, it is possible. And there are indeed sacrifices. My father used to be away from home a good 6 months out of the year. Now that we live in the city this doesn't happen. Scheduling is tiring, on both theatrical and film projects. If you freelance you give up benefits for you and your family (unless this somehow gets fixed by the government soon) - we didn't have health insurance until my mom got it for going back to school. It's hard, but if it's what makes you happy do it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2008
  19. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    Lots of great answers already. The key point is that if you are good you will work. If you are not good, word will get around fast and you won't work. The choices you face in professional theater have been laid out pretty well already. Don't ignore educational theater as an option. I'm very happy with my teaching life. There are benefits, retirement programs, there are vacation days, there is also the personal fulfillment of opening a student's eyes to a new world.

    Finally there are also lots of interesting sidetracks that involve tech. I have a cousin who has done lighting at Seaworld for years. There are also lots of ways you can be involved in theater without actually doing theater. What about working at a theater dealer or manufacturer... remember you can always do tech as a hobby.
     
  20. Pie4Weebl

    Pie4Weebl Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Keep in mind you could always move into theatre and then shift into a desk job in the same industry if you find you don't like the schedule.
     

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