Career Advice Need advice on career

Joined
Oct 21, 2019
Location
Moscow ID
I'm needing advice on where to start a career.
Currently I am a freshmen in college (great year to start I know). I first got involved in Theater technology in middle school and continued throughout high school. I loved it, everything from putting plugs on lights, to fixing the sound system when it broke, to organizing the cables after a show. So after taking a gap year after high school I decided to go to a instate college and get a degree in theater. The only problem is that after being here for a semester and a half all the focus is on design and almost none of it is on getting hands on with lights or equipment.
So now I have a dilemma, do I continue college and get a degree that might not even matter after 5 years, or do I drop out and try to get a entry level job and work my way up.
I have tried looking for jobs online but all the positions that I can find either are top level positions that expect years of experience (that I obviously don't have), or freelance positions that just say to send in a resume and that they will email you if they want you ( which i doubt will happen with my zero professional experience). All I am looking for in a job at the moment is just to be around theater technology and to have a chance to learn new things.

So what I am asking is does anyone have any advice about starting a career?, Are there places I am not looking that will hire and train me, or do I need to stay in school and get a degree for the experience.
 

chawalang

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
So, from my lived experience there is a lot of different ways to get to where you want to be. I have an undergrad and grad degree but I also understand that college is not only one way to get somewhere.

In my opinion it sounds like you have a specific idea of what you want to do, you seem to be more interested in entertainment technology than design but the academic program is lacking in resources to teach a person like you. This is a pretty common issue a lot of young people encounter, I encountered it as well. So your question, what do I do?! Plus, there are a few things to consider.

Are you going into a lot of debt for this degree? If yes I would not advise you to stay where you are. What is an acceptable amount of debt to get in school? That is a question I'm sure that everyone here can chime in on, let's just say if you have the same debt as a medical doctor or lawyer, ya got bamboozled kid! Seriously no one in our industry should be leaving school with that kind of debt!

What do you realistically see yourself doing when you are done with school? Do you want to go into regional theatre, corporate entertainment, themed entertainment, commercial shops, film, consulting? Something to think about is that this can and will change over time, my priorities in my early 20's are way different than they were now that I am in my late 30's, as a result the kind of work I take and look for is very different. You honestly may be looking at going into something where a degree really doesn't make a difference.

Do you want to make a living or do you wan to make a living and a life? Those are two very different things.

I say the following, keeping in mind that a lot of this has changed due to COVID. You will want to examine working over hire for an I.A.T.S.E local, also look at commercial production companies to work in their shops to shlep cable and move up the ladder. Look at entry level positions and environments where you can learn, like you said.

At your age if you are not learning anything, in my opinion it's time to move on. You may also want to research two year vocational programs in entertainment technology. I know John Huntington is active on here and he was compiling a list of schools that offered programs like that. Also keep in mind, no one tod me this when I was your age, even with a degree you are at a point in your life where you have the lowest amount of earning potential. In our industry a degree is great but what it comes down to is what you are capable of, what your real world experience is.

I'm not trying to dump on academia, like I said I have an undergrad and grad degree, I also understand that telling young people that is the only way you can be successful is very irresponsible. Especially if crippling debt is involved, there are a lot of people I know in our biz who are great and only have a high school diploma.

An afterthought I had, are you not getting any technical training due to COVID, like the academic program can't do labs and shows due to social distancing? Or is this something where the course work just isn't there for that kind of training?
 
Last edited:
Joined
Oct 21, 2019
Location
Moscow ID
you seem to be more interested in entertainment technology than design but the academic program is lacking in resources to teach a person like you
you just hit the nail on the head. I didn't even realise it until i read that how much my school focuses on design over all else.

What do you realistically see yourself doing when you are done with school?
This is why i am asking for advice on here in the first place. after almost a year in college I don't see myself getting skills to do what I want to. I don't have a huge preference what size or type of place I work at currently, I just want a job where I can learn new thing and spend time hands on.

also look at commercial production companies to work in their shops to shlep cable and move up the ladder.
do you have any advice on how to find these jobs, Is this something that would be posted on job sites or would I just need to start sending in a resume and cover letter to any of these companies that I could find.

are you not getting any technical training due to COVID, like the academic program can't do labs and shows due to social distancing? Or is this something where the course work just isn't there for that kind of training?
as far as i can tell there aren't any courses for this kind of work. there are lots of higher level design courses but all the technical work is done by 1-2 grad students with lab students from the introductory courses to help them.
 

MarshallPope

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 10, 2009
Location
Auburn, New York
From personal experience, which degree you have isn't the biggest factor in finding a job in theatre - what matters is your experience and "gumption," for lack of a better word. If you want to complete college but are concerned with studying exactly what you want to end up doing with your life, I think it is worth considering studying something adjacent to your career path or personal development desires, as long as you are still able to find experience somehow in the theatre space.

Personally, my degree is in graphic design and mass communications. I work as a propmaster, with a bit of scenic design, scenic artist, etc work here and there. While not directly related, my studies influence how I approach theatre work. I took theatre classes as well throughout school according to available time and what interested me, but the biggest help for me was working in the campus performing arts center. After graduating, I was able to get a carp deck chief job and move on from there. For you, if you aren't interested in design, perhaps something along the lines of IT (networking) or mech engineering or architecture (drafting) could be a good jumping-off point.

I would recommend looking heavily into summerstock opportunities to build your theatre-specific skill sets.
 

chawalang

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
These are all really good points that are brought up! Do you hav an interest in IT, math, management, engineering? Then you may want to swap majors. A degree in IT, Mathematics, Business Management, and just about any kind of engineering will all serve you really really well in our industry. Honestly, if you ever plan to go to grad school in the future it won't really matter what you got your undergrad in, as long as you got an undergrad degree.

A fellow TD grad student who was with me in grad school had their undergrad degree in musical performance. Really, it comes down to the resume, portfolio, and personality.

As far as looking for work in the for profit side of the industry, that takes some digging. You are not going to find them posting jobs on backstage jobs or any kind of job board like that, I actually never found those web sites helpful at all. You will want to do a few things. You are going to need to sift through a search engine with various word combinations to find these companies. There are quite a few of these in every major city, its honestly tricking the search engine to pull them up. Concert lighting, scenic shop, concert production, av company, event company, video production, and a mish mosh of all of that is a good starting point. I would also recommend creating a linked in profile, make it professional, make it for the job you want. After doing that start looking up these companies and following them. Then you will notice that other similar companies will pop up to follow, you are creating an algorithm for the industry and kind of work you are interested in. This is pretty much the only case where I believe feeding the algorithm is actually constructive. Think about it, if you want to be a dentist, follow all the companies wanting to hire dentists. You will see that these companies will put up posts for positions they are hiring for. This is honestly the most constructive way I have found to not only understand what is going on in the for profit side of our industry but to find work. As far as regional theatre, I don't believe Linkdin is useful. For the for profit side of our industry its very useful.

Keep in mind that in the age of COVID, a lot of these companies have laid staff off. A lot of them have also pivoted to streamed events instead of in person for obvious reasons. So for the time being most of them are not in a position to bring people on like they were in 2019. When we get back to that place my best advice is show up early, be proactive, be pleasant, play the long game well, and you will be fine.

Some of the big guns to look up would be companies like PRG, Christie Lights, 4 Wall, Hudson Scenic, All Access Staging, L.A Propoint, Creative Conners, TAIT, ZFX. Thats a good start but there are A LOT of companies in between all f those that do a lot of really cool stuff!

I'm not sure how things honestly are looking for summer stock work, the few friends I have left in regional theatre have told me that theatre are still unsure about bringing people in for summer work.
 

MRW Lights

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2017
Location
NYC
I'll chime in to say... I am a gear junky 110% over. I also have 2 degrees in design... all of my summer stock work was as an M.E. who sometimes designed in a pinch. I have since moved on to a career in Technology, System Design, Maintenance, and Problem Solving. Typically if my phone rings we skip the this is what I'm thinking and go straight for this is what's broken, I already banged on it with a wrench, what do I do now? All that being said... my studies in design helped me to have a conversation about goals and to sit at the big kid art table and be able to bluff my way through the meeting....

Is a Theater degree necessary? No (unless you want to teach before you're older than the dirt on the fly rail)
Does a degree in theater help? Yes! (knowledge, contacts, background, a safe environment to fail)

The cool thing about this industry is that you can always learn and should always be learning. It's not a finite skill or practice in any sense of the idea. While you may be in school, you can practice programming, you can get a summer as a shop intern, you can read great forums like this. Go see shows. Get a job in a touring house/arena. Get experience. Education lets you practice, experience will teach you what not to do next time.
 

What Rigger?

I'm so fly....I Neverland.
Joined
Aug 24, 2006
Location
PPT.
I'm needing advice on where to start a career.
Currently I am a freshmen in college (great year to start I know). I first got involved in Theater technology in middle school and continued throughout high school. I loved it, everything from putting plugs on lights, to fixing the sound system when it broke, to organizing the cables after a show. So after taking a gap year after high school I decided to go to a instate college and get a degree in theater. The only problem is that after being here for a semester and a half all the focus is on design and almost none of it is on getting hands on with lights or equipment.
So now I have a dilemma, do I continue college and get a degree that might not even matter after 5 years, or do I drop out and try to get a entry level job and work my way up.
I have tried looking for jobs online but all the positions that I can find either are top level positions that expect years of experience (that I obviously don't have), or freelance positions that just say to send in a resume and that they will email you if they want you ( which i doubt will happen with my zero professional experience). All I am looking for in a job at the moment is just to be around theater technology and to have a chance to learn new things.

So what I am asking is does anyone have any advice about starting a career?, Are there places I am not looking that will hire and train me, or do I need to stay in school and get a degree for the experience.
What city are you in? Is there an IATSE Local chapter there, or nearby? Contact the hall via phone, succinctly introduce yourself and ask if the Business Agent is available and if they are taking new people for the dispatch list (they probably are not at this time), or how to get in contact when they do start to take new people for the dispatch list (aka "the bounce").
You'll eventually get called, starting out as a "casual", and you'll hustle to make a good impression on your first gig and start building seniority and working your way up to more and more work through the apprentice-journeyman-master (if anyone officially uses those terms....)

But Rupert, ID is out in a whole lot of nowhere based on my sloppy Google searches.
 

Ford

Sr Product Manager, Chauvet Professional
Joined
Oct 19, 2007
Location
South FL
There is already a lot to think about in this post. I'll add my 2 cents, but please take them with a grain of salt.

Firstly, you're at a state school. This gives me the impression that you're not going into a large amount of debt... and also makes me think that you might be able to transfer to a different state school with a stronger tech program... but I don't know about the State Schools in ID, so again...grain of salt. If you can get into one of the larger schools, then there will be more opportunities to do, and learn tech, outside of classes. Your ability to transfer will be based on your grades... so, if you've put in some effort (despite not loving your classes), then you may have already opened the door to moving ahead faster.
There is not a lot of Production work happening right now, so this may actually be a great time to be in school...

I've had a pretty varied career, that started with studying lighting design in college. I worked for the on-campus production company (Event Productions, or EP, at Syracuse University...), and started hanging out and helping with lights at a local rock-n-roll club (hole in the wall). Of these 3, the two on-campus (school, and working in the student staffed production company) were the most valuable (to me, anyway).

Working in the club did give me a good sense of having to "make do" with whatever was on-hand. Eventually, they paid me a little, and then started paying me to come in and work the "Sunday Hardcore" shows (the worst), but I got to experiment with lighting regularly to see what worked, what didn't, and why. In fact, working the Sunday shows was where I really got to try and fail in lighting design in a safe environment. No one at those shows knew anything about lighting, except that "if it blinks in time with the beat it's probably better." I definitely got to try color combinations that would never have been approved by any director... Plus, I got to run spotlight for some cool medium sized bands who were just breaking out (bands like the Goo Goo Dolls, Matchbox 20, Ugly Kid Joe, etc.)

My classes taught me a lot of skills that I would not have otherwise developed, as easily. Things like critical thinking, problem solving, how to do actual research, and the interconnectedness of seemingly unrelated fields of study (that was HUGE for me later in life).
Additionally, the relationships that I developed with the older students in my department led me to my first work after college. A friend got a job in Las Vegas, and convinced me to come out and try my hand... he gave me some introductions (but not a job offer), and that was enough to get my foot in the door.
Finally, I learned to use several of the basic tools of the trade, even though my particular school had more of a design focus than a technical one. I learned basic programming, I learned how to focus an instrument, that a gobo my still burn a scar into your thumb, even if it isn't glowing, I had to do some basic carpentry (even though I had no interest), and that definitely helped me for the rest of my life...

The work that I did at the Production Company gave me some more of the "hard skills" that i've used in my career. I was able to make decent money while "doing production", some of which was higher-tech. I learned basic sound mixing (not a key skill for me, but one that helped me a little later in my career), I worked long, long hours building temporary stages, for relatively large shows. I got to work as local crew for larger bands that were touring campuses, and had to sit through some long (but interesting) conferences because I was either manning the light board, sound board, or both. I learned more about newer technologies in lighting, and (because I worked there for a few years), I worked my way up in the ranks, and was eventually a crew chief. All of this served me very well when I eventually followed my friend out to Vegas after College. In addition, some of the folks I worked with at EP went on to work in the industry and were pretty successful... which gave me even more ability to network.

So, my advice (FWIW), If the school you're in is not a good fit, try another State School. Don't go into deep debt, but don't be afraid to accumulate a little debt if it means that you're able to take good advantage of the offerings in school. Once on-campus activities resume, find your campus' equivalent of EP, or the on-campus AV company. They will need people who can move boxes, hang lights and speakers on portable stands, and coil cable (to start)... Hang out and make friends, and then start working on the bigger shows. If you find that School really isn't for you, try to get a job at a local AV or Event company, try your hand at the local IATSE chapter, or even look into an apprenticeship at the local IBEW, and find a local venue with live entertainment, and ask the bartender how you can get on the crew that sets-up and runs the lights... they'll know the people doing the production work, lighting folks have a propensity for visiting the bartender...

That's how this works. each little thing leads to the next thing... leads to the next thing... leads to the next thing. Pretty soon all of those little things have added up to something, and you'll have some momentum carrying you in a direction, and (hopefully) into a career.

Some seriously important points...
1. You have no idea (right now) what your career will look like in ten years. There are no shortcuts, because ultimately there is no final destination (well, there is one, but we don't want to get there any time soon).
2. Do the work that you enjoy, and be curious. If you're curious, you'll learn. If you learn, you'll get better. If you're better, you're more employable, make more money, and have more opportunities.
3. There are a lot of old, jaded stagehands out there. listen to what they have to say, but be skeptical. it's not "cool" to be burned out, or to talk down to your crewmates (even the humm-heads).
4. Don't be afraid to Volunteer in a place where you can learn, but know when you're being taken advantage of, and it's time to get paid, or move on.
5. Some of your most valuable education (in college) will come in things that you don't recognize as important, right now... Art, Math, History, Sociology, Figure Drawing, even (especially) Art History, and... if you can find one, take a class on personal finance (how to make a budget, how investing works, how to stay out of debt, etc.). So, go to class. Take your classes as seriously as you do your working on shows.


That's my advice. I make no guarantees as to it's value, but it's served me ok...
 
Joined
Jun 11, 2013
Location
Balt/DC
Taking a gap year and already thinking about dropping out make me wonder if institutionalized learning is right for you. (which is okay). Have you considered transferring to another school that has a better/more focused tech program? I would also bring this up to your main advisor and the head of your program to let them know of your concerns and see if there will be more of what you're looking for in the future or not.

The trouble with apply to jobs right now, and probably for the next year, is they will be limited due to covid and might get saturated with more experience people when places start opening up again and people want their jobs back.
If you don't think school is for you, I would look for a year/9 month internship. They don't all pay great, but if you find one that offers housing, that'll make it more viable. It still might be tough getting in with lack of experience, I did one after I got my bachelors degree, but I would still try. Actually doing the work, be it in a regional theatre, university, or elsewhere is the best learning experience imo.

I don't know about IA too much but like someone else said you can get on their list. Or you can contact a performing arts center itself and see if they hire locals. If they are affiliated with a school there's a better chance they'll hire novice locals. And it wouldn't hurt sending in your resume to everywhere local to get on their over hire lists. Even community theatres, while they might not pay the actors, they might pay the techs. Once you meet/work with someone, chat with them about other places to work and gigs they've had.

But my first advice would be to look into transferring to a different school with a better program fit for you. Be up front with them and tell them what you are looking for and interested to learn. See what they have to offer before dropping out.
And I second looking at other degrees to major in while working/taking theatre classes.
 

msorensen1966

Member
Joined
Mar 3, 2021
Location
Tucson, AZ
consider checking out Utah State University (my alumni). Lots of chances to get your hands dirty, several theaters in town always looking for new techs; IATSE overhire in Ogden and Salt Lake City (less than 2 hours away); give Dennis Hassan (435-797-3024) a call and tell him what you are looking for. He's the professor of scenic design and a great teacher. Tell him Michael Sorensen says hi!
 

MNicolai

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Fight Leukemia
Joined
Mar 30, 2008
Location
Sarasota, FL
But Rupert, ID is out in a whole lot of nowhere based on my sloppy Google searches.
Being at the right place is a major contributor to how you enter the industry and how fast your career grows. To What Rigger's point, I can't overstate that relocating to a higher population area will be an important factor in the opportunities that are available to you. Both academically and professionally.
 

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