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Off to higher learning

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by bobgaggle, Jun 10, 2008.

  1. bobgaggle

    bobgaggle Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
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    On August 26 I head off to college...who's got advice for the newbie? I'm just wondering what you guys have learned about breaking into already established departments, making yourself known, wining and dining department heads, working up the ladder?

    I figure it'll be a big change for me, going from being lead designer and carp to sweeping the floor and sorting screws while the upperclassmen get all the fun.
     
  2. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    Charc, you're still over a year away from college.

    Breaking in to departments: depending on how big the department is, you could get in easily. My freshmen year, I worked on the scene/sound/electrics crew, and I wasn't treated any differently there than if I had been a sophomore or junior, especially since I knew my stuff. For the first 2 months I was getting to know the place, but after that, it was all good. I also board op'd all of the shows that year, as well as designing some pieces for the Choreographer's Showcase in the blackbox. However, the department is very small, and I suspect that you'll be going to a school with a larger department. See what you can do about getting on the scene shop crew or lighting crew (same crew in some schools). Always a good way to get your hands busy right off the bat. It's even better if the crew is paid (as it is at my school). Make sure people know that you're eager to learn, but don't push too hard. For the first month or so, just get a feel for the place. Figure out where people stand in terms of authority, figure out if the department has a Freshmen Complex (freshmen suck and they need to make it through our crap the first year, not many schools have this), and where you could naturally fit in to the group. See what opportunities there are for board oping a show or being AME or something like that. Sometimes it simply requires persistence, desire and drive (but not being pushy!) to get a position on a show.

    Oh, and if I didn't decide to make the theatre dept. my turf, I wouldn't be where I am today in the department. I was one of the top people on the crew by the end of my freshmen year, because I wanted to be.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2008
  3. curtg

    curtg Member

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    You will do fine if you remember "Lead, follow, or get out of the way." Follow by being open to new ideas. Let your work demonstrate your competence. The leaders will appreciate this and soon you will be leading.

    Don't expect leaders to respect your abilities based on the 'greatness of your high school program'. That is history and you will be in a 'what can you do for me today' environment. You will run into a number of newbies who are stuck in the greatness of their past. They talk good game but seldom make the cut.
     
  4. Grog12

    Grog12 CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Single most useful bit of advice in this thread.
    You may be competent...you may think you're competent...let youe work and not your voice show it one way or the other.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2008
  5. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    Yup, that's exactly how I did it. If you try to tell how your competence should get you better work, you'll get nowhere. That's the backwards way. The forwards way is to let your work demonstrate what you know. And if you learn things quickly, you'll be demonstrating things that you know soon after learning them, and this will get you very far.
     
  6. zapthatmonster

    zapthatmonster Member

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    I just walked in and asked how I could get involved. Signed up for an indapendent hours course and started painting sets.

    Jump in but watch how it works for a while. Listen to what people have to say, and pay attention to the dynamics of the crew and the procedures that the staff use. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Remember the rules of theatre, "there's always a victim" and "don't be the victim" as in... Don't find out the hard way that your TD wants you to clean up all paint spills :lol:
     
  7. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    There has been some good advice posted, and I have had to think about what to say.

    First of all, I don't think that you should be looking to "break in" to the department. It isn't like high school where in most school the people who work backstage are like an exclusive club. You don't need to suck-up to people or "wine and dine" them, you just need to prove that you are a competent technician and student. They want to see that you are learning something and applying it, and they want to see you make progress.

    Sure, it is a big change going from the top of the HS food chain to the bottom of the pecking order at college, but that is life. You will find that many freshman technicians in college have a case of the "big fish in a small pond" syndrome. Generally the first year theatre courses at colleges are designed to make sure that everyone is on the same plane in their knowledge. So you may take classes on things that you already know, while the kid next to you doesn't. Then you might go to your next class, which is on something that you don't really know a lot about, but that kid next to you does. While some of those classes may seem boring to you, pay attention, because you will inevitably learn something new.

    As every theatre program is run differently, everyone come from places with different expectations. Some people are working productions for credit, some not, etc. The biggest thing that you want to do is learn all you can. ASK QUESTIONS!! Don't just do what you are told because you are told to, or because that is how you were taught to in class. Find out why. Find out why you use XYZ fastener to built one type of set piece but not another. As the LD why he chose that funky color. This extends beyond the faculty, ask the other students why they do things the way they do. Sometimes you might not get a good answer, and you will learn which students are more apt to teach, but usually they are willing to help out.

    Don't be afraid to make mistakes. That is what college is for. It is ok to try out some idea and have it totally fail (the faculty will (well should) make sure that nothing is unsafe). Along the same lines, don't be afraid to ask for help! Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of maturity. Sometimes we just get overwhelmed by work, or we just don't know how to tackle a project, and asking for help is very important. Hopefully the faculty and upperclassmen are willing to give you some time when you need help.

    Don't forget about your classwork. While theatre is a very hands on field, you have to remember that your classes are the most important thing when you are at school. Sure, your production assignment (the shows you work on) are important, but that is only one aspect of your college career. Also, chances are if your grades suffer you won't get the positions you want on shows or you may not even be allowed to work shows.

    On the flip side of that, if you find that you have free time, volunteer. If people see that you are willing to come in and help out on shows that you are not assigned to, it makes you look good. However, it can be a double edged sword in that you don't want to get so involved that other aspects of your college career or just your life in general suffer.

    Do something outside of theatre! It doesn't matter what, just find something that gets you out of the department. Join the ultimate frisbee team, go swim, take that photography class you always wanted to take, take music lessons, just do something. College is a great time to get into things that you like to do, or study things that interest you. If you have always been fascinated by something, find a course on it. You are paying a lot of money to be at school, make it worth it!

    Don't be afraid to change your mind, or don't go in with a fixed mindset. What I mean here, is don't go into school thinking that you want to be a lighting designer (or whatever). If you take a class on costuming and you find you like it, take an advanced class, don't write it off because you think that you don't want to do it. I know many people who came into school thinking they want to be X, but found out that they really wanted to be Y. So don't tie yourself down, leave your options open, and explore them, find what turns you on.

    Most importantly, HAVE FUN! College should be a fun time, sure it is hard work, but you should enjoy it. If you aren't enjoying what you are doing you should find something you do enjoy. College is an expensive investment, so if you are not enjoying what you are doing then you are just throwing money away.

    Hope that helps a little.
     
  8. tekgoddess

    tekgoddess Member

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    Listen, listen, watch, then watch some more. Everyone knows more about something than you or me, for that matter. I started in tech in 1972 as an acting/directing major. But I took as many tech courses as I could. The idea being that I wanted to work in theatre...no matter how. I've had a sucessful career acting/directing but my tech skills have been more in demand.
    I'm now in grad school for tech after 36 years and I'm killing myself but loving it! Volunteer at your local community theatres when you have time. Attach yourself to the crew. They may not be tech grads but **** they know a lot. My knowledge of carpentry is from a sort of apprenticship with an IBM guy who volunteered at a community theatre where I was acting. I hung around and learned LOTS! Best ****ed carpenter I ever worked with. I'm teaching him lighting in return.
    Never forget that theatre is a collaborative effort. Without us techies (I was once chastised by a union guy for using that term, too bad) the actors would be in the dark, mute and naked!
    Peace
     
  9. punktech

    punktech Active Member

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    keep in mind that there are a zillion ways to do things, and if they're all safe, none of them are wrong. my TD explained to our stagecraft II class this year that the decision to use one method over another is usually for a number of reasons (way the facility/equipment works, TD has used most other ways and figured out he/she likes this one the most, cost, and looks are but a few). you may have been taught one way to do certain things, but it is not the only way, realizing that and learning as many methods to achieve a certain end will make you a very good tech.

    and i second everyone who said to ask questions. my old ATD says "the only stupid question is the unasked one". you are not there to learn only HOW to do things, you need to learn WHY things are done too. this will give you a more comprehensive knowledge.

    however don't be afraid to contribute either. if you think you have a solution for a problem being encountered on a show or you think you know the answer to a question in class, speak up. no one will see you as dumb if you are wrong, if you are wrong you will be corrected, and thus more knowlegeable. and if you are right, you will be contributing to the knowledge of those around you. plus you have every right as a member of the community there to say what you want (nothing offensive though).

    remember that you are there to learn all you can, take courses in displines you've never learned. i feel it is important to know at least the basics of most displines in the theatre; it makes you respect everyone's part in the collaboration a bit more. and it means that when you are designing you can work better with the other designers, becasue you know what their craft is about.

    also have fun. don't let it become a burden. make work fun somehow and it will be much easier for you to get it done quickly.

    and this advice that everyone is giving you can be applied to all your classes, not just theatre.

    good luck and i hope you like your new school!!! :)
     
  10. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    bobgaggle, all of the above advice is excellent. The one thing I'd like to add is: never, ever utter a phrase beginning with "In my high school..." This drives both professors and upperclassmen nuts. High school for you is past, don't look back, look only forward. No one cares what or how you did things in high school.

    More general advice. Dorm rooms are small. Don't bring everything you own. Try to coordinate with your roommate who should provide the TV and stereo, and other electronics, but of course don't share your laptop. A laptop is well worth the investment over a desktop computer. Spend the money to buy or rent a mini-fridge. Non-alcoholic beverages of your choice, and snacks, are less expensive at the grocery store than in the dorm vending machines. Remind your parents that care packages from home are very appreciated, and it would be great if they'd slip a roll of quarters for the laundry machines in there too. Always wear flip flops in the shower. Athletes' foot and other communicable diseases are not fun. Get on the good side of your Residential Advisor. Obey all dorm rules. Residential life can be one of the most enjoyable of the college experience--meeting others with different backgrounds and from different locations.

    Watch the movie Threesome, but don't expect it to happen to you.
     

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