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Teaching Perfectionism in the collegiate setting

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by Dynyd, Oct 11, 2017.

  1. Dynyd

    Dynyd Member

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    Hey all,

    I'm a newly started M.E./ Educator (read not faculty just happen to like sharing my technical knowledge which works great in the collegiate setting). My students seem to be a little hardcore about getting their lights focused just right. Below are some details to help you guys hopefully give me some advice.

    Now it is pretty cool that these undergrad students get to do their own lighting design and they have lots of autonomy from the faculty in that they are put in charge of things like focus, paperwork, cueing and the like (with advisement from the faculty). It seems to me that they seem to be very concerned with focusing their plots to perfection. For example spending 5-10 minutes on a single Leko 6x9 out of a wash.

    Now I understand wanting to get everything focused just right is the ideal, and given that they are students we'll probably have to take a little more time and they might even make a few mistakes.

    But even given all that I find myself shaking my heads at these young designers wanting me to bench focus an entire plot, or refocus an entire system to make their front wash "perfectly flat." My mentality is that we need to work with what we got and try to stay within the labor budget (something the department has apparently had trouble with previously). Basically my mentality is that done is good so long as it isn't atrocious and achieves the artistic intent.

    So I guess my big question is how would/should I approach student designers to get them to be a little less hyper-critical of their own work? Is that even possible without the artistic faculty having a similar mentality? Am I just a sloppy/rushed ME and I should just shut up and let these students do the thing they are in college for?

    Let me know if that was poorly explained or you'd like more information. I just want my students to relax a little so I can stay sane in this crazy field.

    Thanks all! I really appreciate any advice you can give or any experiences you'd like to share!
     
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  2. Amiers

    Amiers I wear 6 headphones. I'm that Good!!

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    Put them under the gun. Teach them time management. Tell them nothing is ever perfect and that is what makes live theatre live. Actor misses their lines and someone else keeps the pace. A follow spot goes down half way through the show intermission deck ME fixes it. So on and so forth. Ever flowing ever changing always something difffernet. Organized Chaos.

    I think there was a thread not to long ago about how not everything can be perfect in theatre. Even static never gonna move ever again shows.
     
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  3. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    It's hard to communicate in an educational setting. I used to be anal retentive like that too. What broke me of it was repeatedly finding myself being the last guy in the theater until 2am, racking up 200hrs of labor on a show I got paid a fixed fee calculated for 100hrs of my time. Also helped cutting my teeth in a roadhouse where we'd focus a new plot every few nights. Best you can probably do is try to communicate with them that they as designers will often not be paid by the hour, and they will not get hired much if they constantly burn up clients' budgets on extra stagehands. The fixed fee is one thing -- it's their money and time to set fire to. Their clients' budgets are another. Stagehands get paid by the hour, venue rentals are often by the hour or day, and outside of college and some regional theaters you hardly ever get multiple weeks on-stage to work on a show before you get into tech week.

    Unless you're directing the focus it's hard to do much else. When you do get a chance to direct focus, strategize labor. One guy in a lift, 1-2 on standby at ground level to push around, get gels, gobos, gak, etc, one person at a console you call the exact keystrokes out to, and you standing the pool of light. Use hand signals to direct aim of the fixtures and shutter cuts. Try as often as possible to get into a rhythm or a groove. It's hard to start at first but once you get there everyone will begin to appreciate an organized install. Sometimes helps to do systems of fixtures one or two at a time and buzz the stage than trying to do every fixture one at a time right down the line.

    I like to have my plot available on an iPad. People who keep having to shuffle around in their papers or walk over to their plot and hit it with a flashlight burn up a lot of time.

    Give some thought to having an organized way to set up the console for easy selection of groups, palettes, etc. Young designers overlook how to use their channel and group assignments to facilitate fast focusing and patterns that should make it easy for them to recall most channels and groups with fair accuracy off the top of their head. Teaching them how to get the most mileage out of the console and how to busk a show in 45 minutes from a blank console and whatever's already hanging in the air without a documented plot is a good challenge. I found I became a much more efficient designer and programmer when I learned how to walk into a room, start an empty show file, quickly record groups based off a couple minute channel check, and then set up my faders and get ready to go. I see a lot of students starting out not using groups nearly enough. They command line everything until they run out of 5-Hour Energies and there's no reason for it. A disorganized console and programmer is among the easiest way triple how long a focus should take.

    Wish there was some magical thing I could tell you to instill more efficient strategies in your student designers, but there isn't. Many of them will have to learn by exposure to someone who's got their act together. The perfectionists will burn out. The organized ones will become assets. Most everyone will learn by trial and error -- by asking to refocus the front light, doing it, and seeing it did or didn't yield any tangible improvement.

    Sometimes giving people enough rope by which to hang themselves is the most effective way to learn. But only if they share in the pain. Giving them plenty of rope by which to hang you will just enable them to build up bad habits. If they don't see their own inefficiencies in a quantitative way, they will never improve. Also helps to remind them that, in general, nobody will look at the lighting with a more discerning eye than them and the director. Most of the audience simply didn't come to watch the lights. It's more important to have time invested in a solid design concept than it is to burn up all the production time with a bench focus or screwing around with gel. If the show is made or broken by whether or not you had time to try another shade of amber in the downlight, the designer dropped the ball well before the show loaded into the room. But they're learning, and usually they won't know this until they've been bitten by it.
     
  4. JChenault

    JChenault Well-Known Member

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    Are they getting a grade? If so make it clear that part of that grade is time management. IE x crew hours for hang and focus. Y hours for cueing, etc. If they go over time, the grade gets less.
     
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  5. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    End the call. In my world the show is starting at 8pm and I'm taking the whole crew on dinner at 6pm. What doesn't get done doesn't get done. Sorry, should have used your day better. Tell them they have 4 hours for focus and if they don't get it done they don't have that light. Period. Their first shows out of college they'll be lucky if light comes out of one end of the fixture.
     
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  6. RonHebbard

    RonHebbard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Dynyd I'll contribute 5 comments and get out of your hair.
    1; I'm impressed by your writing / typing in that you write in cohesive sentences, know what the shift key is for, and use it.
    2; There's nothing wrong with being "a little hardcore about getting their lights focused just right." in their minds and environment so long as they realize school is not reality. A lighting designer passing through one of our local producing theatres (designing and calling focus for a production being produced in the space rather than with a tour passing through) aimed to focus a fixture per minute. He couldn't always achieve this but his aim was to holler "Next!" have me call up the next fixture in order as we went across an FOH cove, stick in a shutter, set the edge sharp to shutter, pull the shutter, centre the field on him, adjust shutters and edge quality to his satisfaction and move on to our "Next!" fixture with the previous fixture simultaneously extinguishing in one minute flat. We couldn't always achieve this; some fixtures took a little longer while some were faster but his intent was to achieve an average of one minute per fixture. Mr. Kevin Fraser was a senior lighting designer with Stratford Ontario's Stratford Shakespearean Festival approximately six months per year and spent his off season designing LX across our province of Ontario and elsewhere across Canada thus Kevin was not without years of experience behind him. You ALWAYS have to leave fixtures tight, safe, and secure thus you can only move so fast. Having a second person on the remote and ready to light your next fixture helps to greatly speed things up and some places are faster to work; FOH coves with good access for example as compared to some awkwardly situated box booms.
    3; You've clearly explained your situation.
    4; I'll toss in this comment to illustrate the opposite end of the spectrum from Mr. Fraser's approach. Another established professional designer with a couple of decades behind him arrived in the same venue and first lamp out of the gate (SL / HR end of the rear FOH cove) asked if it was possible to move the fixture a touch further off stage. I offered I could probably gain him the width of the C-Clamp and he replied he'd wait for me to move the fixture [Which is now hot and I don't want to damage the FEL] I loosen the clamp, slide the lamp sideways about 1.5 inches and Paul asks if I can gain him just a hair more. I suggest "Show me where you're going to stand and I MAY be able to gain another 1/4 inch. (And still have the shutter fully open without having to cut a hole in the drywall) Paul moved. I positioned the open field and gained him his extra 1/4". At this point, I then mentioned to Paul we'd spent about five minutes on his first fixture with 30 per each of two coves and 4 to 6 per six box booms to go before we'd hit the deck and six to eight pipes to focus ranging from 12 to 40 fixtures per pipe. Paul caught on. We didn't spend five minutes per fixture for the remainder of his focus.
    If a designer spends all of his allotted time focusing, he's not going to have much time left to create magic when it comes time to set cues.
    5; I trust your students appreciate the distinctions between bench focusing each individual fixture for a flat field Vs. bench focusing each fixture for a slightly hotter center to garner a smoother blending of areas into a cohesive wash.
    What the heck, I'm on a roll. A bonus point illustrating possibly wretched excess in LX design.
    We had one designer who got SERIOUSLY into working with color correctors. The gentleman lit 5 areas wide by 3 areas deep for a total of 15 areas. So far, so good; nothing abnormal about that. Where it became a touch anally excessive was when he lit each of his areas, all 15 of them, from NINE (9) angles:
    3 front lights
    2 cross lights
    1 top light
    2 diagonal backs
    1 direct back
    9 fixtures per area x 15 areas for a total of 135 plus 32 cells of 1K cyc tops, 32 1 K cyc foots and a pair of 1K Ianiro Polaris fresnels for curtain warmers. All nine of his angles were comprised of 1/8th, 1/4, 1/2 and full color corrector blues and / or multiple layers thereof. I can't recall all of the Rosco numbers at the moment but 3204 is one that keeps coming to mind. At least his cyc had some color but cutting, labeling, sorting and framing all of his cuts of color correctors was "time consuming" to say the least without commenting upon the effectiveness of his "artistic choices." To many folks, it all looked like white light. At least most of the fixtures were Strand Century 2,000 series ellipsoidals lamped with 3,200 Kelvin FEL's while the Fresnels were Ianiro 6" 2K Bambino's and Ianiro 6" 1K Polaris's. Source Fours hadn't quite hit the market yet.
    All the best with your efforts.
    Toodleoo!
    Ron Hebbard.
     
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  7. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I spent 10 years as the ME at a regional theatre that operated under a university, so I worked with students all the time (as hands, not designers). I also had the pleasure of working with students on their own productions for the theatre department as well. I have worked with big name LDs who literally took out a tape measure to make sure that the bottom of the field of each fixture landed the same distance from center, and I have worked with LDs who just center the light on their head, make some cuts and move on. Point being that even the seasoned pros can run the gamut of focusing efficacy.

    From what @Dynyd was saying, 10-min per fixture is excessive. On a show with 300 instruments, you are looking at 50 man-hours just to touch each unit. At the theatre I used to work for, the typical was two 8-hour focus calls with a short touch-up call before dry tech. So that meant that every unit in a 300+ fixture show had to be touched in 16 hours, so that means we had to average 3-mins per fixture or less.

    Now, even on a template wash that needs to line up nicely across a system, it shouldn't take that long to focus a fixture, and I would always have at least two hands working a position (if possible) so that while the LD was actively working one light in a system, the second hand could be roughing in the next (pull shutters set the edge, get close to the correct position, rotate the gate, etc.) This keeps your hands working and it helps expedite each unit.
     
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  8. themuzicman

    themuzicman Well-Known Member

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    I think it's UNCSA that makes student designers "budget" out their shows -- they are allotted a fake rental budget, and the theaters inventory has a dollar value attached to it to "rent" for their show, and a fake labor budget with an hourly wage given. They then have to budget out the rental inventory for the show, and the labor for the show across hang, focus, and tech. If they fall out of budget or need to ask for more fake money, they have to argue for it.

    If that is out of your control, do what Local 1 ME's do to me and hard cut the breakers when it's time to leave for the day...

    If you want some realistic time frames that folks who demand perfection get -- on two Broadway gigs in the last few months, my first had 12 hours of focus time and 6 hours of audio quiet time. My second had 10 hours of focus time and 4 hours of quiet time. The first had around 180 fixtures (12 movers, the rest conventional) and 68 speakers, my second had 130 fixtures (10 movers) and 62 speakers. If we asked for any more, we had better be prepared to justify it AND show results a producer can either see or hear. Now this was just first-pass focus and QT, typically you can argue for 2 to 4 extra hours after the first day or two of tech, typically on top of one another.

    I should add, that when I've worked higher level off-Broadway shows, they typically get quite a bit more time for focus and QT, and generally when designers ask for something crazy (like 18 hours of focus and 12 hours of QT) it typically gets approved as it is deemed necessary to artistic integrity of a new work. Plus the labor is less expensive.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2017 at 4:25 PM
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  9. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    It really is unfortunate that in both colleges and many lower level theatres/summerstocks everyone is paid salary so time really doesn't matter. It always amazes me when I go to advance dance or theatre shows and they get flabbergasted by my labor costs. Yes, that 12 hour pre-production day costs me a ton. Yes, that extra wardrobe hand doesn't come cheap. Just having the doors open I'm burning 150/hr. Yes, if you want an 8am load in I'm going to be stacked on OT. So much work gets created in environments that labor is free and 10k projectors fall out of the sky. When these shows and designers hit the real world it can be like hitting a brick wall. Plenty of programs teach students how to work inside show budgets, but almost none will roll labor costs into that.
     
  10. lwinters630

    lwinters630 Well-Known Member

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    Here is my quote to live by:

    " Time can not wait for perfection"

    The show still starts at 7pm, actors will still take the stage and the security alarm will still be set at 11 pm. In otherwords don't spend 80% of your time on an effect that is 20% of the show.
     
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  11. EdSavoie

    EdSavoie Well-Known Member

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    I'd try time drills. Giving them a Lighting plot and start an appropriately set timer. When it goes off, it's hands off, in whatever condition it is in.
     
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  12. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    If they want to bench focus the instruments, they should have shop time to do so. I really don't think that hang/focus should be dealing with that unless there is a serious issue. There should be an understanding of prepping a show as compared to production week. If the designer feels that the equipment is that far out of normal maintenance, then they should get their butts in the shop and PM the equipment ahead of time. If they can't/won't, then they need to understand that they need to make the best of what they have.
     
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  13. Dynyd

    Dynyd Member

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    Hey all,

    Thanks for all the input!

    I like a lot of the ideas and anecdotes! Certainly makes me feel a little less crazy about the amount of time I'm spending in the theatre just for focus. Part of my particular problem I believe is in the time management department, and getting faculty on board with enforcing some changes suggested above.

    Thanks again,

    -D
     
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  14. Amiers

    Amiers I wear 6 headphones. I'm that Good!!

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    Crack the whip bro. People my think your being a dick, but if they question you just tell them that it's real world training. And that your boss wouldn't let you turn in your lesson plans the first day of the season.

    Just gotta put your professional foot forward and not the other one. Which sometime can be pretty hard.
     
  15. Aaron Becker

    Aaron Becker Member

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    +1
     
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