Theater tech + side jobs?

Zach B.

Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2019
Location
United States
Hi, I have been browsing Controlbooth for a while now, and it has helped tremendously in helping me find answers in perusing my career as a theater lighting designer/ board op. I have a bunch of questions I want to get off of my mind... Here it goes:

1) I already know that working in theater doesn't supply you with a great deal of money... I thought of maybe having another job on the side to help with money.
2) Do any of you guys who are in the industry have any side jobs?
3) Is it worth it to have a side job, or is it even possible?
4) Is there time available during a production to have another job?
5) What do you do when your venue is not working a production?
6) What does a general schedule look like during a production, and when there are no major productions in action at your venue?

If there is any information that could be helpful to me or anyone else who is wondering about this general topic? I'd love to hear all sides and opinions! Thank you all!
 

Lextech

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 2, 2013
Location
Virginia
I have side jobs, they are all in the industry. Depending on where you are there are different things you can look into.

1. IATSE. The Stagehand Union in many locations will very gladly put you on the overhire list. You will not start off with the glamour jobs and don't plan on show call but getting your foot in the door early helps.
2. Local Production Companies. They are almost always looking for people when they get busy. And the best part is that is usually summer time when a lot of theaters slow down.
3. Other venues. If you are somewhere where IATSE is not in all of the houses, then go talk to them. Tell them your skill set, hand them a business card, you have those right?
4. Nightclubs. I can't tell you how much I learned working in the large club concert business. It is a challenge, the work can suck, the pay isn't the best and the equipment can be questionable. However, survive there and learn how to make do with minimal equipment will make you stronger in the long run.

To answer your question 5, now I sleep. When I was in my 20's I went out and got in a truck and went and mixed bands. Or ran lights. Or built a stage. If you are early in your career and can do a gig, take it.
 

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Senior Team
Senior Team
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Nov 24, 2005
Location
Saratoga Springs, NY
First week of December I worked maybe 10 hours. Starting a week and a half ago to right now I've worked 100+ hours. Next week I only work one day. Schedules vary so much planning a life is hardly possible.

With that, your entering into the business that invented the gig economy. When you are first starting out work anywhere that will hire you. Be the first to grab a mop or broom (and MOP PROPERLY IN A CLEARLY LOGICAL GRID FASHION STARTING IN ONE CORNER AND MOVING OUTWARD). Return emails/texts/calls promptly. Keep a good calendar. Don't be afraid to work.

After that, if you are good, you'll get a house that gives you a lot of work and start moving up the ranks. Alternatively if you are in a market big enough you can land a full time gig at a regional theatre producing shows, but the pay at many LORTS is crap so be ready for that. It all comes down to what you actually want to do.

I almost 10 years in a full time gig at a road house. Pays great. Benefits are great. Hours fluctuate wildly. I don't get OT.... but I also don't have to stare at the same show every day. Even I take side gigs..... after you stay in an area long enough your phone rarely stops making noise.
 

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.....my career as a theater lighting designer/ board op....
I'd also look into what you actually want to do. Being a LD for theater is way different then being a board op. The path to those jobs are wildly different.
 

Zach B.

Member
Joined
Dec 15, 2019
Location
United States
yeah, I meant lighting board op... I was a little afraid of saying only lighting board op... I honestly can't remember why I was afraid to do that. Also thank you everyone for your replies! All of them help me out so much!
 

themuzicman

Well-Known Member
Joined
Apr 27, 2007
Location
On Tour
So quick note, when I'm not on tour I'm in NYC so mileage may vary with my answers.

Hi, I have been browsing Controlbooth for a while now, and it has helped tremendously in helping me find answers in perusing my career as a theater lighting designer/ board op. I have a bunch of questions I want to get off of my mind... Here it goes:

1) I already know that working in theater doesn't supply you with a great deal of money... I thought of maybe having another job on the side to help with money.
2) Do any of you guys who are in the industry have any side jobs?
3) Is it worth it to have a side job, or is it even possible?
4) Is there time available during a production to have another job?
5) What do you do when your venue is not working a production?
6) What does a general schedule look like during a production, and when there are no major productions in action at your venue?
1 - I'd say it's all about the market you're in. I'd say I'm not wealthy, but I'm able to make a living I'd describe as comfortable. I work in theater 100% and don't carry any debt. A lot of my friends are in the same boat, none of us are living in luxury buildings but live within our means are are able to take vacations and aren't living paycheck to paycheck.

2 - I'm a freelancer, so I'd consider a lot of my jobs "side-jobs". Even when the side job pays more than your main gig. That being said, I do take on actual side gigs with acquired skill-sets. I repair broken microphones, I make adapters and custom bits, I do basic programming for people, I'll tune audio systems for those who took on a gig and can't. Any way to figure out how to make an extra dollar is a good one to me.

3 - If you need the money, why not? Even better if you have some skill-set that lets you make extra money on your own time so you don't have to resort to driving an Uber.

4 - Oh yeah, when I'm in the middle of a production and it's going slow chances are I'm working on paperwork for the next thing. If I don't have a gig booked, I'm sending emails and reminding people I need work.

5 - Work for another venue

You guys gave me another question, when does a theater job begin and end during the day? Are they normal work hours like 9:00 - 5:00? I would think they are but I could be wrong.
It all depends on the gig. I find myself rotating through several different jobs.

Shop work -- In NYC freelancers build shows out at the shops (Lighting and Audio). Shop days I usually 8am-4pm, but the commute out to the shops means your day usually starts at 6am and you're back around 6pm.

Load-In/Out Work -- Somewhere in the ballpark of 9 to 6, some places do 9-5 with a half hour lunch, others do 8-4, some do 9-6 with a full hour lunch.

Design/Associate Design Work -- A few weeks of at-home paperwork on your own time sprinkled over a few months (Shop bids/Plots), then a week or two in the shop, then dropping by load-ins. You have your week of tech days going from 9 to midnight, then a few weeks of previews where you're doing like 9am-10pm days. Designer typically will work fewer hours than their associate who may have to come in early to deal logistics with the crew. Then again, Designer/Associate days tend to have more dead time in them, you'll have two hour meal breaks like the actors, and if the crew is good you're walking in before rehearsal or only in the time you need to do your design work notes.

Production/Head Electrician Work -- I do the audio version of Head Electrician, but these days are similar. A week or two on your own time before the shop build to look over paperwork and to get with the other department heads and work out things the Designers didn't work out. Then you're in the shop for a period of time, then you're loading in for a period of time, then you're sitting in rehearsals - generally first-in/last-out but some theaters will let you split up the day into a Morning-Dinner and a Dinner-End chunk with an associate/assistant production person.

Board-Op - 8x shows with a 4 hour call per show. You don't have weekends or nights anymore, but your days are wide open. Great if you want to become nocturnal. Typically if I'm mixing a show I'll take on shop or load-in work in the daytime when I need extra cash.

Touring - Your life isn't your own, give up. But for real, one-nighter tours you're working 20 hour days almost all the time. The better the tour, the more it approaches looking like a Board-Op job. When you are on a tour where you sit for a month work is that distraction from living life, it's pretty nice. When you're on a tour that moves a lot, an afternoon off is practically a vacation (because your actual "days off" are travel days).
 

blueeyesdesigns

Active Member
Joined
Aug 4, 2010
Location
North/West Chicago Area
Are they normal work hours like 9:00 - 5:00?
Lol. Almost never. Excepting some maintenance calls ("this week we're striking and cleaning all our lights!"), I almost never work 9-5. When I was newer and piecing together part time work, I kept my gigs to "industry" gigs as much as possible because folks in other lines of work don't understand just how irregular the schedule can be. It's great because you have the flexibility to make your own schedule, but it's tough because you HAVE to make your own schedule. Unless you luck into a full-time gig, but even then, it's unlikely you'll have regular hours. I had an office job for about two years and my coworkers resented me because I just couldn't work the same schedule every day; left that gig and never looked back.
 

Ben Stiegler

Well-Known Member
Joined
Aug 3, 2017
Location
Sf Bay Area
You guys gave me another question, when does a theater job begin and end during the day? Are they normal work hours like 9:00 - 5:00? I would think they are but I could be wrong.
It all depends ... and some gigs are flat rate for the entire show run, so being efficient and organized is your key to a better return on your time investment.
 
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macsound

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Joined
Jun 15, 2018
Location
San Francisco, CA
You guys gave me another question, when does a theater job begin and end during the day? Are they normal work hours like 9:00 - 5:00? I would think they are but I could be wrong.
Depending on what your theatre job is will determine what your main gig looks like.
I worked in churches and schools when my main job was community musical theatre since I knew they'd never run late and the theatre timing was predefined.
When I started working for a professional theatre company that all got upended because Equity rules only stated they give you sufficient notice to add a rehearsal or change call time. All my precisely planned scheduling was screwed up.
What might work best is doing sales for corporate AV since they're almost perfectly strictly phone and email jobs, even if you have to run off to your theatre gig and something goes wrong at the hotel its usually either 1. An operations problem or 2. Fixable over the phone.
 

mrtrudeau23

Well-Known Member
Joined
Dec 29, 2008
Location
Chicago, IL
I freelanced in Chicago for 7 years and managed to make a living on theater work alone. I had minimal debt, so that helped. My hours were all over the place. Sometimes I could set a 9-5 schedule if I was hired as a TD building and installing a show, but that was usually 2 weeks, and then it was back to hours all over the place. I now work full time (9-5 every weekday) at a university in their theater program, but I still pick up weekend overhire work here and there. It's possible to have 2 jobs, but it really depends on where you are located and what the options are. I have many friends who had to really search to find the day jobs that understood the weird theater schedule and allowed them to pursue their theater careers as well.
 

Aaron S.

Member
Joined
Mar 8, 2017
Location
Los Angeles
Like one person said, you might not become a millionaire working in theatre. But, I can pay all my bills on time. I can go on vacation, and still put money aside for a rainy day. If I needed to put new tires on my car tomorrow I wouldn't need to worry about my gas or phone being cut off.

It depends on what the other job on the side is. it would be very difficult to get a job working at Home Depot lets say, because someone might call you up at 8am asking if you can come work. So you are left with either telling them no, or trying to get a shift covered at your other job.

I will agree with what a few people have said. You should really figure out exactly what you want to be doing. As someone said, being an LD and a Board op are completely different paths. I don't think I've ever really met a great lighting designer that is a great board op/programmer, and visa versa. If you are wanting to be a designer it will help to know the lighting consoles you will be using, but you as the designer doesn't need to know everything about the console. And on the other hand, if you are going to be a programmer, it will take you a lot longer to build your skills if you aren't taking all the board op gigs you can.

I will also say, I'm very pro union, so if you are in an area that has an IATSE Local go down to their hall or find out when they are taking applications, put your name in and get some work. In my experiences union jobs will pay better, and give you better working conditions. Just understand that there are both goods and bads of joining a union.

As far as the schedule and taking side jobs, that will depend on the route you take. Starting out, especially if you go the union route, you won't have much say in your schedule. You may get a gig doing a week long load in that will be 8-5, but you may get a call for a load out that starts at midnight. You can always say no to work, but there is no telling when the next gig will come up so until you get a reputation around town you probably won't be saying no to gigs unless you physically can't do them.

When my venue is dark I call my union and go on the bounce. Load in one day, unloading a truck the next. Running follow spot, or hanging speakers. Whatever they need.

When my venue is in the middle of a show run, I could work other jobs. During a show run, you will generally have Mondays off, and Tuesday thru Friday you won't need to be to the theatre until show call. 6 or 6:30 usually if it's an 8p curtain. Your weekends won't be much good, depending on the show schedule you will basically be there all day Saturday and Sunday. For instance, I get to work on Saturday at 12:30p and don't leave until around 11p, and Sunday I get to work at 11a and don't leave until around 9:30p.
 

chawalang

Active Member
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
I think a trend you should pick up on is that if you want to live comfortably and have longevity, you need to be open to doing work outside of regional theatre.

I graduated right into the recession, so as a circumstance I’ve had six weeks of work in regional theatre in my career of 17 years. I have always worked on the corporate/ for profit area of the entertainment industry. I have never been without work and I believe it’s really due to that. I found the money and quality of life that I’m looking for is found in that area of our business.

You need to ask yourself is what is important to you in the long run. Do you want to make a living or do you want to make a living and make a life?

I choose the latter because I saw that it was very hard to do that in just working theatre. My colleagues from my early 20’s who went into theatre either went into corporate or left the industry all together. Even when I went to grad school in my early 30’s only one of my colleagues from school went into theatre.

I’m not trying to dump on regional theatre or the people who work in it, I personally think that those who do so have a passion for the art I wish I had. In the end I choose other priorities in life as oppose to the art.