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MNicolai Here

Discussion in 'New Member Board' started by MNicolai, Mar 30, 2008.

  1. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    The name says it pretty well; MNicolai stands for Mike Nicolai. I live just west of Milwaukee, WI, by about 30 miles. I'm still a student of a mere 17 years of age, but have worked over 24 construction-to-production shows, not including the various concerts and projects I've worked on. I'm sort of the all-in-one kind of guy, having done audio design/ops/mentoring, lighting design/ops/programming/mentoring, as well as technical oversight, safety consulting, and stage management.

    A large portion of my resume is built from the nearby school districts and some school districts not as close as I would like them to be. (e.g., two months out of the year I practically live 20 miles away, which wouldn't be so bad if the pay justified the gas for driving that each day, but oh well, it's experience) With school districts my primary function is to mentor technical theatre, but I've also been brought in to serve no other purpose than to monitor the safety of the show or the load-in phase.

    Another house I've worked in is that of Theatre On Main in downtown Oconomowoc, WI, which is a non-profit community theatre. I don't do as much there now as I used to but I helped them get on their feet after they renovated the building and come in when they have special projects. Specials projects range from cutting tracks for a Christmas album to setting up a float for the Parade Of Lights. The Parade of Lights is probably my one of my most favorite shows to do each year. About 15-20 boats set up light rigs, usually Christmas lights and boom boxes...okay, we went overboard. We put up a 2000w sound system plus 1000w powered sub, few theatrical lights, and on the top of a double-decker pontoon boat had people in costume jamming to RENT tracks. Courteousy of Enterprise Lighting we borrowed $8000 worth of Color Kinetics gear and put on a 30 minute LED light show to it. Speaking of which; if anybody has heard of Enterprise Lighting out of Wisconsin, aka ETC's wholesale rep for the entire state, the owner Michael Beglar played the part of Tito in Lend Me A Tenor there.

    As of the past year or so I've been an overhire at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield, WI, doing a little bit of everything.

    My latest project has been designing a total renovation for Oconomowoc High School's smaller house, seating ~120. The deal has pretty much been that the audio needs to be replaced as well as the entire electrical and lighting systems have to be ripped out to bring the place up to code so I've been busy in meetings planning the electrical work that needs to be contracted out, and all sorts of fun stuff.

    Hello to all, and nice to meet you.
     
  2. porkchop

    porkchop Well-Known Member

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    Well holy coy for 17 that's pretty impressive. Basic hello gist goes about like this: Post any questions you have, answer anything you have input on. There's no stupid question except for one that we answered a week ago, so the search function is your friend.
     
  3. gafftapegreenia

    gafftapegreenia CBMod CB Mods

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    Wow, thats impressive. Again, hello and welcome.

    You're 17, have you begun the college process?
     
  4. Hughesie

    Hughesie Well-Known Member

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    From another 17 year old that sounds like quite a resume you got going there.

    do you have any official Qualifications because in australia it appears experience is great but qualifications speak louder than experience.

    atleast down here
     
  5. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Right now I'm looking at colleges. I'm still a junior so I have some time. I've considers UW-Whitewater, UW-Stevens Point, Viterbo University, and Millikin University. I already have a meeting with the technical theatre program director setup at UW-SP, and will be setting up a meeting at Whitewater within the next week or so.

    Whitewater and Stevens Point are the cheapest and closest, but I'm leaning towards Whitewater out of the two of them. Whitewater has an excellent program, but it doesn't include much audio because they only do straight theatre, unlike SP which does musical theatre. HOWEVER, I still have my roadhouse experience and would be able to work in the Young Auditorium at Whitewater and gain experience there. In the long run I don't think it matters if I go for one or the other because my overall plan includes a BFA in Tech Theatre/Design, work a year or so in the field, then a degree in Audio Engineering, work awhile again, and then finally at some point an MFA in Tech Theatre/Design. So one way or another I still would get the audio end of it, plus Whitewater is close enough to home that I'd be able to commute after my freshman year(they require freshmen to live on campus the first year). The 30 minute drive one-way sounds pretty bad at first, but the price of gas against the price of room/board favors gas. That being said, living at home and commuting puts me 25 minutes from where I currently work, the Wilson Center, but also 30 minutes from the Young Auditorium, both roadhouses which I could get a lot of work at. If I lived on campus at Whitewater then it's an hour to the Wilson Center so I'm locked in only to the Young Auditorium with only every other tech and student that wants to work there.

    I know for a fact that Whitewater has a program that sends people to high places; Dan Meyer went to high school where I am, and he graduated from Whitewater ~3 years ago and after awhile climbing the technical chain on cruiseships he was brought on the ASM for the touring production of The Wedding Singer and in the past 6 months was brought on for the touring production of Rent.

    The big thing is that I want work experience supplementing my education. I know I, as well as anybody else for that matter, can sit in a room and learn as much about theatre as they want, but when asked to produce results and make things happen fails miserably.
     
  6. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Depends what you mean by qualifications. I can get reccommendations up the wazoo, have light designs created from scratch on VectorWorks, am an active employee at a road house arts center, etc, etc. But I don't have anything official in the sense of a degree, diploma, or certificate of any kind.

    ----

    EDIT: I do have networking on my side though; Aside from Theatre On Main, The Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts, Oconomowoc Area School District, and Elmbrook School District, I am friends with the owner as well as the theatrical lighting specialist for Enterprise Lighting, same with the owner of GoAudio!, and have friends at ETC Corp HQ, connections with the Young Auditorium (my sister is employed there), the Schauer Center, and a few other odds and ends here and there. I like to think what I lack in qualifications I make up for in connections.
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2008
  7. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    First of Welcome to the booth Mike. You've got a LOT going for you at such a young age. Find a good college to really learn the fine art of the craft and you'll be set. Welcome to the Booth it's a fun place to hang out and learn a lot. There are some really brilliant pros here who know their stuff so ask questions and get involved.

    A bit of side advice... be sure you go into college with an open mind. Too often the young techs I meet with a lot of experience fall into the "know it all trap". It's an easy trap to fall into when no one around you in high school has a clue about tech. The know it all attitude works fine in high school but when you get around people who do know it all in the professional world you'll ruin your career in a hurry. (Not saying this is you... just saying to be careful that it doesn't happen to you.) The best advice I have is to never assume, always say, "I have an idea how to do that but can you tell me how you would like it done." That tells me you know something about the topic but you are open and willing to learning new things. Now that's a student I want to keep around.
    The other positive factor is that you will learn a lot of different tricks and approaches for accomplishing the same task this way.

    Hughesie this really isn't the case in the U.S. Experience and who you know are extremely important and until just a few years ago, there really was only one qualification available (the test to join the stagehand union). While it isn't exactly easy, there are many high school techs who could pass the union admission test without ever attending college (Possibly our new friend Mike here for example). Recently the theater industry has created its own national certification program for electricians and riggers. Both certifications are difficult to obtain. They require both expert knowledge and a large amount of work experience. So the first real qualifications are finally being handed out but it's going to be a long time until everyone who should be certified is certified. In many cities there are one or two riggers who are certified, then there are a couple dozen old riggers who know as much or more than the certified guys. It's going to be interesting to see how our certification program grows and changes over the next 10 years or so.
     
  8. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Not going to lie, I definitely have that mindset, at least with my high school crews. It's a problem I've had for awhile but the more aware I am of it the more I am able to deal with it. With this past show I did I avoided that and got a lot more respect out of the crew.

    Actually, a bit of irony, even after I, the SM, walked off the show the entire cast and crew were either begging me to come back or telling me to stay away as to not concede my point. That's a story in and of itself, but basically the TD(in this case he's is really the set designer, lighting designer, etc, but not employed to manage the facility, rather to instruct students) yelled at the entire running crew, making false allegations that they had been "deliberately mean and seeking revenge," which caused one our extremely emotionally unstable techs to quit the show. After he not only yelled at them, but specifically pointed to 4 people, I had enough of it. He sent 3 students into tears.

    I knew what the story was, and that specific person had been causing their own conflicts, plus the information that had been getting back to the TD was mostly false to begin with. So I called out the TD on it, told him I didn't think he was making the right decisions, and when he combatted that I tossed my script and quit the show. The next night he walked into rehearsal, and I'm told that one of the most tense rehearsals he said was "the best rehearsal yet" and "completely relaxed." I stopped at the end of the rehearsal just to check in on the show and the first thing that happened was the TD's informant walked up to me and flat out said that without me there was nobody left to help her overthrow the ASM. Wait, What? It gets better though, the ASM that this girl was trying to overthrow just happens to be my girlfriend. My ultimatum was that for me to come back the TD would have to apologize for everything he said, and the crew showed up for dry tech the next day prepared to say that if he wouldn't sit down and talk to them about what happened they would not work for him anymore. They didn't have to go on strike, but everything got resolved, I came back to the show, and everybody was happy.

    I know a lot of people may see that as unethical, but with a week before the show, and I hadn't been calling cues yet as SM anyways, it wasn't like my lack of being there would tear the show apart.

    All in all, I have my moments of arrogance, but I'm dealing with them better and better as time passes. When I work with professionals it's a whole new ballgame, I ask them how they want their cables coiled, what they need me to do next, etc. If somebody starts whining about focusing an extra set of lights at 3a, then I remind them we're paid by the hour. Another thing I like to keep in mind is how much worth there is in what I do. I certainly don't want to be the one to tell somebody their show is going to suck because 3a rolled around and I didn't want to take another 20 minutes to hop in the Genie and perform final focus on one extra electric because I was too tired. "I'm sorry, you're show's going to look like crap because I was too tired last night.

    I definitely had my own diva complex for awhile, but the real experience I've gotten at the Wilson Center has dealt well with that. First of all, you know you're in trouble when you're shift doesn't start until 8p, and in one night you have 10 guy available to strike an entire RC Car track on the main stage, strike the party in the studio theatre, plus two huge canopy tents outside, load out your audio company, plus restore the repertory lighting plot. I went for my timesheet to clock out, looked outside, shouted across the stage to my ATD, "Uhh..,Rollie, I think the sun is already coming up..."

    As much as it sucks at times, there are certain responsibilities that the industry requires, some of the perks of being in tech theatre double as the downfalls of it. Everyday you walk in you get to do something new...but everyday you walk in you have to learn how to do something new, and how to fix something new, and how to strike something new, and how to grin and bear it when something new doesn't work like it should. But that's just how the industry is; there will always be new gear that stagehands have to adapt to. I was talking with a coworker last night in his 40's with an MFA in tech theatre, and he said that it used to be he could do all of the audio and computer stuff, but a three year break from that and suddenly he could hardly plug in a microphone. We just replaced our Strand 300 Series console with a Mantrix and one of our best, but also one of the youngest, board ops had to be taught how to use a two-scene preset instead of submasters.


    Technical theatre is not for anybody too stubborn to learn something new; there isn't room for anybody with that sort of ego. "Your show is going to suck because I didn't feel like learning how to op on your console." I have trouble thinking of many jobs that require such a fast learning curve and willingness to troubleshoot and be open to learning.

    ------------------------

    EDIT: In what other profession do you have to have the answers for everything but be capable of learning more?
     
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2008
  9. LD4Life

    LD4Life Active Member

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    Wait until you get out there for the first time. The learning curve get very large all of a sudden. For example, you've always worked low-budget with an ETC Express and have a Hog thrown at you and told that you have three weeks to light the show and learn the board. Yeah, it gets fun.
     
  10. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    Welcome on board, Mike! You've certainly got a bunch of experience tucked under your belt, although I did have to chuckle at some of your comments. I'd love to have gotten you in my scene shop a few years ago.

    Your comment about 'there isn't room for that kind of ego' really amused me, but you're young and that will come to back kick you in the keister many times before you get to be my age. Man, there is nothing but that kind of ego in tech theater.

    IMO - It is unethical to walk out on any show - you are only as good as your reputation in this business and your rep is only as good as you last show. you get a reputation for being a hothead and walking out and that will be a death keen in the real world. I've worked some pretty awful shows and I've been so made I could spit neutronium, but I have always fulfilled my contracts no matter what to the best of my abilities. The revenge comes the next time they contact you...

    Three students in teares - wait until you see a Master Chef reduce an entire kitchen to them - that happened when I was FoH for a big winemaker's dinner. Some of these folks had years of experience and the chef reduced them to tears in a matter of minutes. He was later very magnanimous about it to the crowd, but none of those people will ever work for him again. So, it doesn't just happen in school that you will find people like this.

    Another word of advice, get as much training in as many fields as possible. True, you might want to pursue a career in sound or lighting, but if something happens to you in years hence, it's nice to have an alternative field (in theater) to fall back on. I worked as a master carpenter and scenic artist for years (like 30) until a shop accident permanently put an end to that. However, I had other experience, FoH and stage managing, that allows me to at least continue working in the theater. Otherwise, I would be stuck in some office, organizing files.

    You are right about being open to new ideas, new information, that's a basic tenet in tech theater, although you can work in a house that has old lights, an old light (or sound) board and still have a great career. We got a grant so we could get an over the top board and robotics so that our students could compete. In our hey day, we had a 93% success rate of placing techs in professional jobs - many of whom have continued. The program then bottomed out and I'm thinking the college is going to shut down the whole department any day now, but we won't dwell on that.

    Get as much training as you can, give every job as much as you have and you'll never want for work. you may not love the job, but you can still learn something from it.

    Charlie
     
  11. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    I want to repeat everything Charlie just said. She's dead on about getting experience, lots of training, and how to keep working in the industry. I think you'll find that most people around here agree that the only acceptable reason to quit a show is a personal medical emergency, or an extreme tragedy. Other than that you keep your head down and do your job no matter how bad the situation. Politics like you describe happen a lot in high school and some in college but they will destroy your professional career if you continue to be involved in them in the real world. The smart young stage tech starts learning how to stay out of the backstage politics as soon as possible.

    You see, where you are now, you are needed because you have knowledge that a lot of other students don't have. So you can get away with a lot of "know it all" stuff and even quitting a show. But where you want to go, there are lots of people with the same or even better skills and the same or better education. The key to getting jobs in "the real world" will be your personal interactions with others. If a technician or actor gets a reputation as being difficult to work with, annoying personally, or walking out on a show... they simply won't find work anymore. The community is small and word travels fast... maybe the director won't know the troubled tech, but the T.D. will have a friend who worked with him/her at a show where he/she caused all kinds of problems. Word of a difficult tech to work with travels like lightning.

    It sounds like you have enough experience and maturity to get what we are talking about. Like I said before I don't know you... but I have spent a lot of years teaching high school and college tech so I do know the pitfalls that you face.

    Think of it this way... EVERY person you work with on EVERY production could be the voice that whispers in the ear of a future employer/director/T.D. "I worked with him/her on a show once and..."
    How do you want that sentence to end? Even if you were the person in the right at the time, the other person may be the person who is trusted by the future employer/director/T.D. It's kind of scary when you think about it that way isn't it. That's how it works in the real world.
     
  12. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Last week I went to UW-Stevens Point to check out their theatre program. The verdict is that they've got an excellent program, their graduates never have problems finding jobs, and there are lots of connections there. BUT, the downfall is that it's 2-1/2 hours from home, and smack-dab in the middle of no where and they have no roadhouse.

    So now I'm faced with a decision...

    If I go to a closer school, UW-Whitewater, the education is only a new notches below UW-SP, they don't do musical theatre so sound is less focused on, but even the professor I spoke to at UW-SP said if he had a child going for tech theatre, if for some reason they weren't going to UW-SP, he'd want them at Whitewater. The benefit to Whitewater is that it's only 26 miles away, about 30-40 minutes of drive time. That means if I'm gutsy and commute I have employment both at the Young Auditorium of UW-W, plus my current job at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. However, the professor from UW-SP made the case that aside from earning money, being a labor-lackie doesn't give quality to my resume, only bulk.

    I don't know though, I'd rather go to Whitewater I think. They have a roadhouse, it's close enough that I've got employment there, and in another theatre. If I commute, despite 50 miles of driving each day I have class, it saves $12k (figuring gas @ $4.50/gal) over room/board/meals.

    BUT, I've got another option on the table now possibly. Speaking to the drama director the other day about this conundrum, he raised another point. Apparently the buildings and grounds supervisor for our school district made an off-the-cuff remark about wanting to know when I graduate in discussion of the theatre director position that will be open once our new PAC is completed in Nov/Dec-ish. In a previous discussion with the buildings and grounds supervisor, Matt, him and I were talking about that same position. I was recommending a friend of mine from SLW, who has his BFA in Arts Management, and every time I described his qualifications, or what the position required of a person, Matt made multiple comments about how who they needed was somebody like me. (his frame of reference on me is built with a proposal I submitted for the renovation of our 120 st. house this summer, plus a few meetings about the PAC) Anywho, the school district can't afford to pay for a full-time position, much less the two full-time positions I recommended. However, my understanding of the venue has since changed. It'll be brand spankin' new, but they aren't going to make any efforts to get outside groups to rent it; turns out they'll be relying on groups to come to them if they're interested. In other words, besides school-related concerts, assemblies, plays, etc, there will not be a whole lot going on there. So the drama director figures they're going to put up a part-time position, for about $15-20k/yr, most shows being at night, rarely in the day. After telling me that, he made the suggestion that I consider talking to Matt about the position because I already know a lot about the new facility, I have good connections with all of the people that would be using it for the most part, I'm cheap because I don't need a full-time job to meet the cost of living, and I'm probably sticking around in the area for awhile. On top of that, it'd be hard to find somebody because the position doesn't start until halfway through the school year, leaving only about 5mos of employment for whoever gets the position before a summer of no work there while school is out.

    Everything said and done, the drama department head thinks I'm perfect for the position, and wants me to seriously consider it. If I filled the position, I would start in the middle of my senior year.

    Now here's a question I have for others, what do you think you would do?

    I'm starting to think that for $15-20k a year, it gives me a good base to build off of when preparing to go to college. If it's not too strenuous I could even balance that at night with college classes during the day and carry the position throughout at least my freshman year. I don't know how well that would work though...but with that in mind, even if I held off on college for 1-2 years, then went in for my BFA, I'd have a good financial start to work off of. I know the last thing I want to do is take a job and end up not getting a higher education in the long run.

    By the way, when I say theatre director, I literally mean one person who is in charge of a 750 seat, brand new PAC(complete w/ scene shop and heavy machinery), plus a 120 seat smaller house, and whatever technical work falls around the rest of the school district. This is one person who is solely in charge of everything with only a handful of school administrators and school board members above his/herself who, for the most part, have no idea how a theatre is run, much less wish to get involved in the details so long as it looks nice, community members say nice things about it, and students working on school plays are safe.
     
  13. Spikesgirl

    Spikesgirl Active Member

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    My advice would be to be very careful about going into a position like that, especially if you plan to have any kind of academic life afterwards. I'm an overachiever and couldn't even imagine trying to balance that load - not at your age.

    Perhaps the cost of living is a lot less in Wisconsin, but $15-$20k for a full time theater director job is pretty stinky pay where I'm sitting. At top salary, that's a little over $10 an hour. Do you get OT, health benefits, vacation pay? If you say none of that matters, it really does. The greatest job in the world can turn into the worse job very, very quickly.

    The hardest word in this business is 'no' and after working many many years in the college segment I've seen how hard it is for kids to get back to school after they've taken a couple of years off to work. I would advise you to think long and hard about accepting any full-time position. Old age does carry the benefit of having been there and done that.

    Char5lie
     
  14. mnfreelancer

    mnfreelancer Active Member

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    MNicolai - a lot of your last post sounds like my senior year of highschool, only we already had a full time theatre manager who broke his leg and couldn't work for a few months. I was the obvious choice for a fill-in person. It was very stressful, trying to balance honors classes with running both theaters plus my duties at the cable tv station. I managed to get it all done, even with a full tilt production underway in the HS theatre, but when it was all over I got rear-ended big time by the school administration. The theatre manager had figured out that he got about $17/hour for his normal duties plus $25/hr for any work while the spaces were rented by an outside, for-profit group. The school INSISTED in paying me a "student rate" even though I was directly filling in for the full-time theatre manager and doing his job just as good as he would have. For what it's worth it kind of turned me against the district and certain members of the administration and I never stuck my neck out for them again - should have gotten something in writing, live and learn. Anyway what I'm really saying is that you're lucky if you go through with it and don't see trouble from your school district, considering there are always politics involved when a student is performing the role of an "adult" in an education setting. I don't want to be one of those bitter "old" people who accuses younger people of thinking they're smarter than anyone else - I've been on the receiving end of that - BUT the "cost of living" is ALWAYS higher than you think it's going to be. It's always something, especially when you factor in a vehicle. Vehicles are the WORST possible investment anyone can ever make, and not just because of their poor resale value. The car I drive I got for $5K and I've put at least that much into it for service and routine maintenance. That and it still drinks gas. I'm just saying, like with all good engineering estimates, factor in some % contingency - it may save your *****.
     
  15. soundman

    soundman Well-Known Member

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    There is some fun to be had in Point, I have visited friends up there and they seem to enjoy themselves quite a bit. IMO being a distance commuting theatre student (say greater than 10 miles) is the BEST way to shoot yourself in the foot. First off you are adding half an hour to your day more in the winter when it snows, second you are distancing yourself from the theatre. If I need a set of hands to help me with a project I know who lives on campus and will be willing to help. I don't have anything agenst my theatre friends that live off campus but I don't want to have them drive 45 minutes to help me with a two hour project. On the same note after bullshit no notice weekend projects we have gotten in the habit of eating dinner as a group. We take turns cooking a meal and spend the evening together, sometimes the commuters stick around but often when they have to drive home they choose not to.

    There is something to be said for getting out on your own. I like the on campuses housing, 4 person 4 bedroom with kitchen and bath room, and I am only 3 minutes from the stage door, a convenience would not give up for the world. But getting out on your own will force you to meet new people and do all those other things college is about.
     

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