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Selection of a Student Stage Crew

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by willmanc, Sep 10, 2008.

  1. willmanc

    willmanc Member

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    Help!
    I'm a TD at the high school I teach at. The school is rather large and we usually get a large # of students to come out and participate in "Stage Crew." Because of our success in the local FREDDY AWARDS (televised local high school theatre awards based on the TONY Awards) we are getting a larger number of students...

    I will have approximately 100 students show up to work on all aspects of tech theatre for a show.

    I cant have that many!... for various reasons.

    My 2 biggest concerns are:
    1. By having that many students it becomes crowd control and not educational.
    2. Major safety concerns!

    Here is the problem... how do I select my stage crew?
    What criteria do I base my decisions on?
    Are these criteria subjective or objective?

    I need to keep a balance of seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshman... because of that, it cant be based on knowledge alone!

    I'll take any ideas at this point!

    Thanks!
     
  2. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Pick ones you can trust!

    If you do enough shows, and I bet you do more than one show a year, have a schedule where there is a rotation between shows. I would keep the most knowledgeable students on all the time to "train" the younger, inexperienced students. Also, if your students do lighting design, audio design, stage management, have a "head" student in each category: not necessarily a senior or junior, but one who is from the most knowledgeable. Then assign, do not let the "head" students pick, one, two, three assistants to train. I say this because students will either pick their friends, and may not pick the right person for the job. If you go this route, as a teacher you should outline what you want your students to learn and come up with a way to accomplish this; one way that I think of is to assign a list of duties to the "head" and the "assistants."

    That's just my idea, others will bring their own. I am not really speaking from personal experience, just kind of what I would do as a future teacher. You really are in a pickle, because you need to let every one have an equal opportunity, but also need to weed out those who do it because they want to and are good at it, and those who only want to do it because everyone else is or because of the "Freddies."

    The one thing you should be happy about is that you have more than enough helpers. It's better than not having enough people!!!
     
  3. philhaney

    philhaney CBMod CB Mods

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    My two cents:

    Come up with a written test, not too long, maybe two pages or a double sided sheet. Ask the students to define as many terms as they can from a list that you provide, as well as short essay questions (absolutely NO mutiple choice) like, "What is the most important thing when working on a stage crew?" to test their knowledge, and get a feel for their personality by how they answer. Also include at least one question to help you determine the student's attitude (like, "Why do you want to be on stage crew?").

    In addition to the student's name, make sure they put down their year (freshman, sophomore, etc.). Grade the seniors more harshly than the freshmen (this may be the freshmen's first experience to theater, while the senior should have experience by now), but in any case use your judgement.

    Have some sort of a system of criteria to justify your decision should you be challenged by a staff member or an irate parent, and don't be afraid to be creative.

    When I was IT department manager at another job I had a list of 15 computer programming terms on the test I gave to potential new-hires. The directions said to define any five. The terms were easy enough that anyone could get 7 to 10. I was testing the candidate to see how well he/she followed directions. The ones who tried to impress me by defining all of them lost points; If they can't follow directions on a test, how well will they follow directions when they're working for me? ;)


    (The reason for no multiple-choice questions: When I went to college I was able to test into the advanced algebra class because the test was multiple choice, and I was able to logically deduce why three of the four answers could not be correct. I wasn't able to actually do the math. I enrolled in begining algebra instead. it was a good choice.)
     
  4. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    Talk about an embarrassment of riches! Most involved with High School complain they can't recruit enough crew.

    As others have said, it's your decision, and may be based on whatever, fair and non-discriminatory, criteria you choose. Just as a Cast List with roles is posted after auditions, a Crew List with assignments should be posted next to it. One Lead and one Assistant, in each department, is likely all that will need to be pre-determined. Assuming Stage Manager, Head Lights, Sound, Carpenter, Wardrobe, Props, plus one assistant for each, is twelve positions already, and these people may or may not actually run the show, (other than Stage Manager). Once work calls are posted, chances are good that your numbers will dwindle, and with feedback from your Leads, you will be able to assign additional deck crew, etc., as needed for the production. This same methodology is often used in the professional world, allows students to excel as well as teach, and encourages those excluded to try harder. Base your decisions on ambition and motivation, in addition to knowledge and experience.
     
  5. seanandkate

    seanandkate Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I certainly don't have THAT many students to choose from, but you're right -- numbers can be a safety concern. With about half that number as the maximum I have ever had, I would also recommend a rotating schedule. This will immediately cut your numbers per gig. I use my most senior technicians as crew chiefs only. There's becomes a job of deligation and supervision--valuable skills that they need to hone (I already know THEY can hang and focus a rig or set up a sound system. I want to make sure that by the time they graduate, their skillset has been passed on!) Have your seniors track tha calls attended and the hours each student puts in. I think that is a more valuable guide to who is 'better.' I can teach knowledge. Work ethic is much harder. Anybody who misses a call or two (whatever your threshhold is) gets shown the door. This arrangement usually lets everybody who wants to, to contribute equally. Then at the end of the year, divide them into teams and have a "Tech Olympics" -- always a good time!
     
  6. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I am under the assumption based on your post that many of these students will not be from your school? If this is for multiple schools, have the other instructors assist you in "crowd" control.

    First thing: Figure out what positions you need to make the show run smoothly (leads, assistants, crew). I would choose from your trusted students who show apptitude for leadership to head each crew. Make sure you don't make any position more "glamorous" than another to avoid bickering. It should go without saying that all positions are needed to make the show go on.

    Have a production meeting with the leads to establish what needs to be accomplished, what kind of crew they will have, and how you expect them to report to you (you do want to know what's going on). Provide more direct supervision over the parts of the production you deem most hazardous.

    Ultimately it is your show. It should only be as big of a production as you are willing to make it. It boils down to leadership. Well over 95% of pageants (including the Olympics) are done by volunteers who have no experience. What makes them successful is the >5% that do know what they are doing. You will probably find that you have competent students of all ages, and as long as you keep on top of them you will have great leaders.
     
  7. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    I taught high school and I put together a killer crew.

    The first thing you need is a class as a prerequisite to being on the crew. Make the class tough! That helps you sort really fast. If they survive, then you will allow them into stage crew.

    Next you need a core group of people who know their stuff... and more importantly have the right maturity and attitude. I had a four heads: Lights, Sound, Production, and Scenics. Have meetings with them. Grant them some power to make decisions. Tell the rest of the group that they speak for you and need to be listened to or you can leave. From there you start dividing up the rest of the kids to work under the leads. If you are lucky you will have other good students who can then take over sub task teams.

    Consider this entire structure you are building a mentorship program. If someone is skilled but isn't willing or able to teach another, don't put them in charge. You are building for the future.

    Encourage a sense of teamwork and unity. As they develop their skills and work their way into your trust do your best to let them know they are valued. I had padlocks on all the various cabinets throughout the theater. My students couldn't get into the theater without my key... but once they were in, my leads were trusted with padlock keys to be able to do their work in their areas. It was amazing how powerful that authority and trust was. I had a student flat out tell me, "I'm going to work my butt off this year so that next year I can earn a set of keys".
     
  8. Sayen

    Sayen Active Member

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    I'd have to second just about everything already said here.

    I don't require the class, but I do give priority to students in the class over others. Why should someone not supporting my enrollment numbers or sitting through formal training every day get a job over my enrolled students?

    Track volunteers too. Students who show up for the crap jobs get rotated to the top when it comes to lead positions. Those who volunteer are far more likely to get their pick of positions.

    Last resort, pimp them out to schools like mine where we're usually short handed.
     
  9. hsaunier

    hsaunier Active Member

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    Find more activities to involve more people. If you have that many show for crew, do you have as many show up for casting? Add some productions that may not be as complicated (i.e. readers theater). Is your stage used for Band and Choir concerts? Use crew for that. School talent show? Use other activities as a step to the "Big Production".
     
  10. JonasA

    JonasA Member

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    Too Many Student Techs!

    So, opposite to Florple's thread on needing more techs - I need less of them!

    We recently put up sign-up sheets for the school Tech Crew, and today I arrived to find them full. Along with the usual gang who I had last year, there's also 15-odd freshmen/Year 7's who have signed up. This is a problem for me, because I only need so many desk ops and there's way too many of these kids even for follow spots, which is where our techs traditionally spend their first year before really working on desk/mixing.

    My question is, what can I do with these kids? We don't have enough time, energy or equipment to run a proper class for them - it just doesn't work. Normally I'd say 'set construction', but we are fortunate enough to have the father of an ex-student who does this; he's actually a professional and we are his spare-time project between stuff like the recentish Charlotte's Web movie and working on the Australian pavilion at the 2010 China World Expo... he doesn't want kids bugging him.

    I've had suggestions already for using them as ushers/house staff and for various menial jobs backstage that would normally be the domain of an abused ASM or dresser. Any other ideas? I really want to give these kids a shot, but I also have to get shows on stage without disaster...

    /Jonas
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 17, 2012
  11. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    Re: Too Many Student Techs!

    This is a school right? The things that are there for the children to learn? That the taxpayers and parents pay for so they can be used to educate children? I'm sure you have past students who are mathematicians, linguists, writers, scientists, etc. and probably also a number of ex-student athletes. They may volunteer as tutors and coaches but they probably don't take the place of the students out on the field or court or in the classroom. If someone 'doesn't want kids bugging him' and is keeping the students from getting involved in or learning the craft then regardless of their skills or qualifications, maybe a school isn't the best place for them to be involved.

    Have you considered an 'apprentice' type arrangement where the new students essentially shadow the more experienced ones? Maybe have them spend a day or two watching each different position/role and learning what those people do, how they fit in to the overall production and so on?
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2012
  12. chausman

    chausman Chase Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I agree with all of this. Just because he "can" build sets, doesn't mean he "should". Unless you are dealing with a group of mentally challenged students, or those you can't trust with a drill, they should be the ones building their show. (IMO)

    If you can't find any other person (if it must be a parent, can't you find a parent of a current student at least?), and you must find other places for students, form a publicity group, and have them work on advertising, posters, programs, etc. Shadowing also seems like a good option.
     
  13. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    I've got to agree with the above^ I always have more students than I need. Can I build a better set than they can? Of course I can, so I save the intricate, hard stuff for me and have them do the rest, teaching them along the way and learning how to do it. Then if time allows I start to teach them how to do the detailed stuff I was saving for myself. If time is too short I just stay and do it. Just because you've got the talent to build something doesn't mean that you should limit the students. They need to learn how to do it and take ownership for their work and creation. I would either set up some arrangement like Brad said or say to your guy, thanks for the help, but I've got the students to do it on their own and if you still want to help it would be great if you could just make sure they don't do anything horribly wrong. Or, thanks, we'll call you when we're short again and could use the extra help.

    I've got so many kids that in theory they could run a whole show by themselves with no help. It might be a little ugly but they could do it, teach extra kids how to program and run boards, what happens if someone gets sick, build up redundancy and start the young students with an older student learning the ropes so that when the oldest graduate they can transition in. Have them run EVERYTHING (within reason).
     
  14. gcpsoundlight

    gcpsoundlight Active Member

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    Although I now work, I participate every year with Melboune Gang Show (the scout show) and it is a requirement of all departments (sometimes even cast) that they help build sets. I have found that apart from what they learn, it helps make everyone get to know each other before they get to the theatre.


    Sent from my iDevice using Tapatalk - now you have to guess which one!
     
  15. Theresa

    Theresa Member

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    I feel that a big part of my job as a school set designer is teaching students skills in design, building, painting, and making props. I enjoy recruiting new students, and encouraging them to work together as a team.
     
  16. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    There are also other departments such as props and wardrobe that often get overlooked since theater departments are often scrambling for techs. It may take some creative positioning, but now is the time to get them involved.
     
  17. JonasA

    JonasA Member

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    Thanks for the tips, everyone. Some are being given to wardrobe (who ask every year for half a dozen or so dressers for the leads and just to help keep it all tidy) and a lot are being doubled up shadowing more senior members such as our desk ops and SM. I fully agree on the need to get them doing set, although I'm not sure what I think about potentially stepping on the toes of the current set designer/carpenter who does a very good job, very happily and very cheaply, but it will be raised with him. I'm sure he would be ok with the ones who are clearly going to finish the set with all 10 fingers still attached... A few will drop out when they see the schedule and all the late nights/long days, but enough will stay that it should work out well. This weekend is going to be spent crewing all the events (on paper, at least), and fingers crossed it will actually work out really well.
     
  18. Tekik

    Tekik Member

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    I came from a High School where we had far more "technicians" then we needed. People tended to sign up for the class thinking it was an easy A. My teachers solution. Don't make it an easy A. We tended to have 30 students at the beginning of the year and it narrowed down to the 12-15 willing to work and not sit around all class. The other solution we ended up using the last year was we added a new class called Stage Craft and made it a prerequisite for Stage Crew. It wasn't that hard if you wanted to be there but it required the kids to pay attention. It covered the basics of set construction, hanging, focusing, and rewiring lights, and how sound consoles worked. This not only ended up lowering the number of people unwilling to make the commitment of being on the stage crew entering the class, but also meant that the people coming in (usually sophomores) new the basics and didn't need to be babysat. Obviously this requirement was able to be waved if a student was coming in with a lot of previous experience (usually transfer students) I think the second option would be better for you as you just cant have 100 people backstage due to safety regulations. God help you if the fire marshal comes by...

    The issue is that it is a safety hazard as well as unproductive. Tech is something that is very much a hands on learning experience and you cant give that kind of individual attention to the students when there are that many of them. Think of it as a bag of rice if you have enough for 15 people to eat but then distribute it among 100 people no one has enough to make it worth eating. This is the issue with the education system as it is now, people just expect the teachers to magically make everyone smarter despite the lack of resources or manpower to fulfill their job and then we get angry with the teachers rather then the system when our children fail to learn anything. And on the issue of the teacher building parts of the set, I wouldn't trust very many of the teenagers I know with a plasma cutter with all the sue happy parents running about.
     
  19. Les

    Les Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    [user]Tekik[/user], I'm only quoting you because you brought up a very important (to me) issue. The following is not directed at you, as I understand that you're not a teacher. It's just an "in general" rant directed at paranoid teachers who are perhaps lazy (not training) and afraid of their parents. :)

    Except that it's not even a teacher -- it's a parent of an ex-student (there are probably some liability issues with this issue being that he is most likely not formally employed with the school, and on paper, has no business being there. School insurance is not covering him.)

    As for not trusting students... Well... For starters, schools have huge insurance policies that you can refer the sue-happy parents to, as well as an administration who will handle situations outside of your job description. The instructor shouldn't be involved in a case save cooperating with a potential site investigation. If you're doing the correct training and enforcing safe practices, you have nothing to worry about. The students and parents signed this waiver within the first week of school. If it were a huge problem, I don't think shop classes would still be around.

    I guess my main point is, you can't just put a blanket "I don't trust you" statement on all the students. Some of them are very talented, but you will never know unless you take a chance. Schools are equal-opportunity, hands-on environments. They use the fly system, they handle $1,000's worth of computers at school, they probably even drive themselves. Teach them (the ones who want to*) to use some dang saws! Power tools speed up the maturing process (with proper supervision). I took a wood shop in 8th grade - and with some terrifyingly immature kids. No one got hurt. Set construction is a BIG part of technical theatre. Don't cause them to miss out on the opportunity.

    *Never make anyone use a tool if they don't want to. Let them learn another craft for a while. You should always maintain a level of respect (and a dose of fear) in power tools, which keeps you safe. When you get fearless, you get hurt. But if a student is dead-set against using a table saw, by all means take it as a hint that they are not suited for set construction yet - or ever. Keep the door open for them, though as they may change their mind.

    As far as I understand, [user]JonasA[/user] is a HS Student, and actually shouldn't be confronting the parent. He should confront his teacher, who should then confront the parent.
     
    Last edited: Feb 29, 2012
  20. gcpsoundlight

    gcpsoundlight Active Member

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    and on this note, I have always maintaned that anyone in any aspect of theatre, if they are asked to do something they are not comfortable with, should say No. It doesnt matter if it is hanging a light, lifting something or even taping cables, if you dont feel comfortable you shouldnt do it.
     

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