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Paying Student Technicians

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by rochem, Apr 24, 2009.

  1. rochem

    rochem Well-Known Member

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    Following up on the Theatre Pay Rates thread, I wanted to see how others worked in regards to coming into a space and paying the student technicians to work the show. I myself am a student, and enjoy the occasional payment for doing work at my school. However, I also work a lot of shows out of my school, including some with a local community theatre which rents out local high schools for their shows. I have on two occasions been fortunate enough to have the school just hand over the keys and let me use my own personnel for everything (programming, spots, rigging, etc). I have slowly built up an "elite" team of student techs who I have recruited to work outside shows with me, and these techs are very talented and trustworthy in what they do. However, on two (soon to be three) occasions, I have been forced to work using the student technicians at the school, paying them around minimum wage for the entire time they're there.

    In every case, however, I have been frustrated to no end by the lack of knowledge these student techs have about what they're doing. I do all these shows for no pay, and so do all of my outside techs when I can use them, so paying someone at all is somewhat annoying. However, I am firmly of the belief that if I am paying someone $10 an hour, I should be getting $10 an hour work out of them. In both case, I have found that the students have VERY little knowledge of their own equipment! The first time we had to pay a student tech to work, they had an Express 48/96 running a fully conventional rig, and I was clearly told that I was NOT to touch the board. Well, when I started the cueing session with the student tech and asked him to bring up a Group, he had no idea what I was talking about. Same response when I asked him to record a cue. Apparently, they do all their shows by recording submasters and fading between those. Needless to say, the cueing session dragged on and on, and I eventually gave up trying to achieve what I wanted and just threw up simple general washes for the show. And I still had to watch him get paid after the run for that work. In the other situation similar to this, I just asked the tech if I could program it and he sat next to me while I programmed and designed the whole show - and yes, he still got paid for that time.

    Has anyone else ever experienced this problem? And what do you do to resolve it? I would be perfectly happy calling my own people who could run these boards blindfolded and having them work, or even just having me do all the programming, but I am getting really annoyed at having to pay these student techs to do nothing. True, they're only students and not lighting majors, but I should not be paying someone $10 an hour so I can teach them how to record a cue on their own board. Thoughts?
     
  2. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    You're right, it does suck to pay someone for nothing.

    But you are a guest in the venue, so you have to play by their rules, no matter how silly the rules seem. There (usually) is a good reason behind rules. Who knows? Perhaps that school you mentioned had an outside group come in and change their board without putting it back in proper order when done. After much frantic problems, they decided that only their techs can run the board to prevent it from happening again (this, of course, is only a hypothetical.)
     
  3. Pie4Weebl

    Pie4Weebl Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Just wait till you do union shows where you get to pay $30 an hour for someone to be your "shadow" and spend the day on the dock smoking and reading a book. Its just one of those hard facts of the industry, and you can't really hate on students for not knowing that much, especially when they are making minimum wage.
     
  4. soundman

    soundman Well-Known Member

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    This is the truth, or wait till you have to instruct some IBEW guys how to focus a Source 4 Par when the only tool they have is a set of channel locks. IT sucks but it is part of life, the only thing you can do is walk them through it and try to get them to catch on because when it boils down to it you are in their house.
     
  5. mrb

    mrb Active Member

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    try paying $150/hr in a convention center afterhours to have a guy make sure a ladder belonging to the convention center (they only allow their ladders, cant bring your own) doesnt disapear. We offered to just buy the ladder outright, that didnt fly. We literally paid $150/hr for 6 or 7 hours for a guy to sit in a chair reading a newspaper to make sure we didnt steal the CC's ladder.
     
  6. photoatdv

    photoatdv Active Member

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    I want that job... $150 an hour to do NOTHING... naw it would get really boring after a while :).

    Well at my big event last weekend (I promise I will tell the whole story later) some vendors lost power so they call me (I was one of the event organizers). I go over to find 3 extension cords connected to a power strip with two more power strips plus a tritap plugged into it with things plugged into all the recepticles!!! Humm... I wonder what happened... try putting like 50A on a 10-20A curcuit and generally a breaker will go. Well I explain that they can't have that much stuff plugged in and move them to a different curcuit... only to find it is out as well. Turns out before they called me they tripped every curcuit they could get to... people sometimes.

    So I find our facility supervisor to get keys to reset the breaker (after telling them they can only plug in one thing at a time unless they ask) and we can't find the right breaker room. You'd think it would be the nearest one, but of course not, that would be WAY too easy. So eventually we call maintnance to find out where it is and the only person on site doesn't know and won't help us because she isn't an electrician!!! I try to calmly (well there was small amounts of steam coming out my ears at this point) explain that we don't need an electrician, I've already solved the problem (of overloading the curcuit) and I certainly know how to flip a breaker to no avail. I even try to convince her to let one of our techs do it (hey they are theatrical electricians...) but she won't budge. Apparently she needed to call somebody to come who could then call an electrician... to flip a breaker!!! Talk about pointless money spending/ plain stupidity. Obviously if we had people qualified to set up the distro for the event, they were also qualified to flip a breaker!
     
  7. midgetgreen11

    midgetgreen11 Active Member

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    Students in my high school get paid $18/hour or $75 day (within reason), but there are currently only two of us trusted enough to run rental performances. I've yet to have an issue with the other being too inexperienced.
     
  8. listerofsmeg

    listerofsmeg Member

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    I basicly run my school thearter with a mate of mine and we have just given up on getting paid for anything we do. THere are times where we will do a school day (8 till 3) and then do a tech call (3:30 till 9:30) and all we get out of it is knowing that the show will run.

    There have even been times when we have been called in during hoildays to fix another tech's stuff up.

    I have basicly put my foot down and said to the Administration team, if you want us after hours for shows where we not doing a favor for anyone, we will bill you.


    My little rant.
     
  9. FatherMurphy

    FatherMurphy Active Member

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    Just to throw a monkey wrench in the works... What happens if someone gets hurt on the job? If you're paying the students directly, you are very arguably an employer, and are legally and financially responsible and liable. Which you rather do, work all summer to pay for college, or work all summer to pay for someone else's broken leg or equipment repair?

    Income taxes is another concern, although since you are all full-time students you'd be exempt, so the IRS's main complaint might be failure to report (I'm assuming that the payment method is cash under the table, not a payroll check with W-4s filled out), and you probably aren't crossing the $600 1099 threshold anyhow.

    For your own protection, you should look into having corporate entities handle the 'payroll' and thus provide insurance and workman's comp coverage. Perhaps the hourly rate of the local tech can be rolled into the venue rental fee, rather than a separate bill. Some venues might drop the demand to pay the local student if they have to route the payment through their own bookkeeping.
     
  10. NickJones

    NickJones Active Member

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    Flicking breakers is one of my many skills :)

    Father Murphy made a good point, presumably they would be covered by the school, and the fact that they are getting paid would not really come into it, as the school would cover him anyway.

    I never got paid to do HS shows, still, I got paid my fair share in half full rolls of gaffa. We once got given a free laptop. Maybe I did get paid, just not in cash.

    Nick
     
  11. iLightTheStage

    iLightTheStage Active Member

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    Several years back, when I was in high school, my school did indeed pay me for running lights/sound/spot for concerts and such. They were official about it: there were W-4s filled out, and I received a check from payroll, just like anyone else involved with the school. Mind you, I made all of about $5.15 an hour, but it was official. It shouldn't be difficult to arrange that.

    In regards to the main topic: if you are forced to use students, take the opportunity to help them learn. They are students, there is no way they are going to know it all, and most likely barely know much (although some THINK they know it all). They are there to learn, so help facilitate that and help them to grow the value knowledge of experience.

    Now, in terms of Union members not having the most BASIC of lighting knowledge, that infuriates me. Especially when I have to instruct a union crew which gender of the cable goes to the light, and meanwhile, they haven't opened the books so I can get in for well over the year and a half I've been trying. I believe the Union should represent the best of the best (not to say there aren't good union members, I have worked with many that are FANTASTIC, but unfortunately the majority have not been). I could go on, but that's a rant for another day.
     
  12. mrb

    mrb Active Member

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    ill never forget when i was in high school, we had the local college using our theater for a big musical for about 6 weeks as theirs was under construction. Our POS stage teacher told us that we would be paid to work it (we were supposed to be paid for all work when an outside group was using the space) and then he told the college we were working for free. After putting in a couple hundred hours over 6 weeks we find out what he did after the show closed when i asked the director when we would be getting our paychecks. I should have reported it to the labor board, but I didnt know any better at the time.
     
  13. cprted

    cprted Active Member

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    Isn't that fun?

    We had a show come in a few weeks back with an IA lighting tech. One of the first things we had to straighten out with him was the difference between up and down stage, and what pan and tilt means. What should have been a 90 minute focus took 5 hours. Though he thought we were golden because apparently at all their other stops, focus routinely took over 6 hours to complete.
     
  14. NickJones

    NickJones Active Member

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    Oh yey.... last year I was being told about a brand new flexi-patch system that someone had paid heaps for but
    Being who I am I asked to have a look. The roof was filled with leads to go to the "Working" patches, even though there were patches where the fixture was. This is a patch system that cost thousands of dollars, so I presumed that the intelligence of the people using it would be something at least. I was wrong.

    I presumed that whoever installed the electrics had stuffed up the numbering, I plugged a PAR into FOH1 #1, and went to the dimmer. Patched FOH1 #1 into dimmer, drove it up, and it worked. I then went back out and plugged pars into 1 thru 9, and asked the guy to patch it. Then problems occurred. What were the problems? The guy wasn't aware that FOH1 & FOH2 were any different, and had managed to plug in a mixture of 1 & 2. To add stupidity to immense stupidity, he got the 6's and 9's mixed up and again was complaining it didn't work...

    Why are there so many stupid people...
    Nick
     
  15. midgetgreen11

    midgetgreen11 Active Member

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    Sorry derekleffew, I jumped on the grammar nazi train before you.

    I believe it should be "We were once given a free laptop."
     

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