To Go Back to School or To Wait

StageGuy5145

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Joined
Jan 17, 2016
Location
United States
Hello all! Trying to decide whether or not to make the decision to return to college in the fall, or go to a community college and return once my school resumes productions.

Just looking for the best way to get a decent deal... while not spending more money that I need to being I know I'll be making loan payments for a while. I'm already worried my degree is going to leave me in a place where I have a piece of paper, but without a job that will pay for it. I'm great with technology. My original plan was to get a minor or associates in IT and use that to my advantage in the entertainment industry. I just sort of fear going all IT as I'm afraid I'll lose the chance to do what I enjoy. I do work with some local production companies in the area. But it still would be a change to leave it behind in the collegiate realm.

I welcome thoughts and suggestions from any and all. Thanks in advance and stay safe!
 

chawalang

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Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
What year would you be going into this fall? I’m assuming that the academic department won’t be doing productions for at least the fall? What is your focus in your program and what are your thoughts on what you would want to do once you are done with school?
 

StageGuy5145

Member
Joined
Jan 17, 2016
Location
United States
Sophomore year. Yes, no academic productions this fall. Program focus is Lighting and Sound Design. Specifically, there are 2 more lighting design classes, and only 1 sound class. The rest are in things such as Scenic Design, Costume Building, Costume Design, and Scenic Painting(of course there are other general theater electives I’ve left out)

I’m not as fond of theater as I once was, and have an increasing interest in the live music, corporate event, and upscale wedding areas. Of course I would do a theater show again given the opportunity!

Long term I’d love to start my own business. Doing gigs, sales, etc. Wouldn’t mind working in the AV/IT end of the market as well.
 
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TimMc

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Feb 15, 2017
I'm of two (or more, it's crowded in here) minds. The general stagecraft knowledge, basic skills and specific crafts you may develop all play a role in live music, corporate events, weddings in general, pretty much any presentation before an audience or cameras; the other is that everything in entertainment & production has an IP address these days - amplifiers, system DSP, mixing consoles, i/o boxes, etc - whether for control and telemetry or distributing and using digitized audio. Lighting and video are networked, too. Set/scenic automation have their own networks, as does rigging.

There is a huge potential for useful overlap of both stagecraft and IT. With the pandemic putting a big pause on productions with audiences (at the very least) for some time yet unknown, the fundamentals of stage and TV lighting are still relevant, ditto for 'location audio' as well as sound design (think Radio Plays)... and once having something worth looking at, that can be heard as needed, it must be connected to the outside world. When something more approaching "2019 Normal" is possible, none of the skills or crafts will be obsolete, nor will online collaboration cease.

So does the order of your coursework make a difference? I don't know, that's a question for an academic advisor... but I think you will be well served by continuing both until you see a point where choosing more or less of one becomes obvious. What ever you do, *people skills* make a difference. If you do weddings with MomZilla, you'll need a way to tame her, lest BrideZilla get loose (for a brief time in a previous century I worked as a wedding photographer, BTDT).
 

StradivariusBone

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Aug 23, 2013
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Space Coast, FL
I think if the pandemic will teach us anything about technical theatre, it's that stagecraft can no longer be taught without a fundamental layer of TCP/IP and network design. I'm going to add a unit on it to my HS stagecraft class this year.

I'd try and focus on networking courses if you can, since it's not evident when live events will return.
 

jtweigandt

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Joined
Aug 2, 2013
Location
Moline Il
Personally, I wouldn't pay the big bucks for the university until they can offer the hands on experience. A community college can probably give you more Gen ed credits, and even IT stuff. Or if you need to stay enrolled at the big U to keep your place/acceptance... maybe do IT courses online.. which are much easier to adapt, but reduce your credit hours without losing your "slot" in the major if that's an issue. But then I'm just a Veterinarian, with 20 years experience in a large 600 seat community theater, self taught programmer, and electronics tinkerer, set designer, director, lighting designer. Don't short change yourself of the hands on experience just to get the credits under your belt. Nothing beats the real deal for learning creativity and problem solving. Bottom line.. even if it delays you a year or two, you're probably better off having that portfolio of sketches, production pictures, and diagrams along with the sheepskin.
 

FMEng

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Tacoma, WA
I would concentrate this year on courses that can be taught via online methods effectively. More IT knowledge will always be helpful. Take some business courses, too.
 

chawalang

Active Member
Joined
Apr 10, 2012
Location
Texas
If you are in a position now to take a lot of classes that do not require a lab portion, now is the time to do it. Even if it is in your major, I don't see anything wrong with talking a theatre history class over zoom or any other class that would fall into the dramaturgy realm. On the other hand any kind of stagecraft class will require a hands on component is going to fall short during this time. I'm pretty sure you have picked up that you will miss out on educational opportunities if that is not a part of the educational journey. I would second FMeng sentiment, take courses in business. You wrote that you want to go into the for profit part of our industry and it's important to have a solid business understanding if that is where you are looking to go. Especially because so much of that world is tied up in marketing departments. Take a CAD class in the architecture department, its good to learn drafting outside of the theatre. Take some classes in electrical theory in engineering, learn to have a solid understanding of signal flow and threee phase power. I would also recommend looking at taking rendering classes in the animation department in unreal, maya or blender. That is all really important software to know if you are looking to go into corporate/ permanent install/ themed entertainment.

I would take this down time to really begin to solidify an exit strategy for when you are done with school. You are only in your sophomore year so you still have a lot of time. The fact you said you have an interest in other things other than theatre is a good starting point. You can begin to navigate your way accordingly for the rest of your time in school to cater your coursework towards your end goal. What you will learn in the theatre as far as skillset is easily transferable into the other parts of our industry that is not regional theatre.

A positive note I would also think about is that people your age are living in a world that presents them with the most diverse options in employment in the entertainment industry. This was the world pre COVID and I believe it will be the case once we come out of this. Really think about it, if you were finishing a theatre degree 30-35 years ago for the most part the only thing you really could go into was regional theatre. In our modern world you have regional theatre, experiential marketing firm/ production companies, commercial shops, corporate trade shows, corporate meetings, themed entertainment, film and television, manufacturers, consulting firms........ the list really does go on and on and on! I would throw in the cruise industry but at this rate I don't have high hopes on how they will come out on the other end. I have been talking with a lot of my colleagues and they also say the same about regional theatre to a degree. If you really do look at it, the world truly is your oyster if you choose to seize it, fortunately for you there is still a pretty good amount of time ahead of you before you finish school. Just some food for thought but I believe that people your age are in a better place than most realize, however I'm not putting rose colored glass on, I know that our current situation does present adversity. However, there is opportunity in the bad where you can take advantage of the situation and come out on top.
 

Van

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Jul 27, 2006
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Get rid of all your Core academic courses online now. when we are past this madness go take everything in you concentration and that requires labs.
 

Darin

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May 28, 2019
Location
Ohio
How bothered will you be if you're no longer in the graduating class with your original cohort?
 

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Saratoga Springs, NY
Lets back the train up a bit... you don't want to do theatre anymore and want to do live event production. Thats cool. I have a BFA in theatre but run (ran...) a 2 venue road house. My degree isn't really that useful day to day. It comes up, but I probably could have scraped my way to my current job. That being said, I'm glad I have the degree. So, with the train back up part... how are you paying for school now? Do you think you will graduate with more then 30k in loans? If the answer is YES, get out NOW. Don't finish the degree unless you are going to do it in IT. If mom and dad are paying for school and you'll get out under 30k go for it. Enjoy it. Long story short, a college degree in theatre is not worth 70k in debt.

I'd also really look at what you think the industry could look like when you get out. I'm not sure if half the jobs that existed pre-covid will be there on the other side. Broadway is taking a spanking. I think many regional theatres will close. I think most small music clubs will close. Tons of non-profit art presenters will be gone. Many of the local shops will be gone as well. I know several people who had really good jobs touring or working for Cirque properties that are currently looking for an exit from the industry. Now is the time if you think you can do anything else to go do that. Its going to take years to build an audience back up where people feel comfortable being shoulder to shoulder in a crowded venue. \

Well... that was uplifting.
 

DrewE

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Joined
Mar 18, 2019
Location
Vermont
If you're 21 or older, a left-field thought that might be worth considering if you don't have applicable classes you could take may be getting a commercial driver's license. I can only imagine that could be helpful if you're doing your own event work, at least for certain kinds of events and certain amounts of equipment. It also could give a fairly easily marketable side hustle.
 

MNicolai

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Mar 30, 2008
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Sarasota, FL
Now's not a time to go theater school. Those classes are collaborative, require hands-on participation, and you can't get a quality education in those courses right now. On top of that, you'll have limited job prospects for the next 2-3 years.

I'd focus on a degree that's employable and a sidestep away. Whether that's computer science, electronics technology, electrical engineering, or such. You don't want students loans on top of limited job opportunities -- especially when we're only just seeing the tip of the economic impact of this pandemic so far. Whatever position the US economy is in right now, it'll only get worse over the next 6 months.

Theater and live event work are going to be very difficult to get in the next few years. If this is anything like 2008 -- probably worse:

1) Businesses will close down.
2) Jobs will evaporate.
3) Many people will exit the industry permanently, either through retirement or by switching career paths.
4) When jobs do start to open back up, there will be a long list of highly qualified applicants who have been sitting on the sidelines. Given the small size of the industry, there's a good chance people will hire their friends and former colleagues back before seeking out strangers. At the current moment, it looks like the industry will not begin its rebirth for another 9-18 months.

FWIW -- my brother in law works in a large IT support firm with tons of clients. About 6-8 weeks ago, he woke up to discover his entire team was laid off and all his open req's had been closed. Lot of the people remaining are in India. IT gives you a broad skill set that can grow your career in many directions but it is certainly not insulated from the current circumstances. When small businesses close and disposable income constricts, businesses focused on IT services lose lots of their clients either permanently or semi-permanently.

When things start to get back to normal, if you want to learn about AV sales/specifying/design, get an internship with an AV integrator. Some days you may be drawing line diagrams or pulling wire, but it can be a launchpad into professional drafting positions or AV design work. If you play a role in the office, you'll indirectly learn a lot about business and dealing with clients. You may even be able to find positions open currently because the construction industry hasn't been killed yet.
 

egilson1

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Premium Member
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Feb 25, 2009
Location
Boston, MA
My 2 cents, even though you might not be as interested in the theatre side of design anymore and want to do the corporate/music/social thing, the design concepts you learn in a good program will be as applicable. I went to college and got a BFA in design tech/ lighting design and as soon as I graduated went to work doing corporate/social event work. And the people at the very top of that world for the most part all had a foundation built in theatre. My point is don’t undervalue the experience, even online, of the lighting and sound design courses. The more tools in the tool box, the easier it will be to adjust to where your individual path takes you.
 

Ford

Sr Product Manager, Chauvet Professional
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Oct 19, 2007
Location
South FL
My 2 cents.
an education is valuable in ways that are hard to quantify. You will benefit (long-term) from the amount of general knowledge, and the relationships that you develop in your collegiate experience.
If money is tight, take a few of your non-major courses at the Community College (as long as the credits will transfer back to your university).
Study hard, and get A-level grades (so that they will transfer).

If you can afford to stay in your current school, I'd say to do so... But don't kill yourself with Debt.

-Ford
 

Kristi R-C

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Joined
Jan 21, 2016
Location
Wisconsin
Save some money! Go to a technical college or community college BUT FIRST know which classes from there will transfer to your 4 year school. As others have said, get your Gen Eds out of the way. Add computer networking, electronics (so you know how to repair in the field), and physics - since you'll need a lab science anyway. But make certain the bulk of the classes will transfer and apply for your 4 year degree. There's a good chance the networking/elec classes won't, but take them anyway. And toss in welding, fork lift/MEWP, those kinds of quickly hirable skills.
 

John Palmer

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Apr 28, 2014
Location
Cerritos, CA
All education is important. My theatre design background informs the choices I make in concert or event design. A strong vocational education is equally important.
I work for a city owned arts center. Because of Covid, I was temporarily reassigned to the IT department to assist with security, phone, and network projects. My knowledge of basic networking and wiring skills have given me the jumping off point to learn more "low voltage technician" skills. So, as a number of others have pointed out, taking some classes in related electronics and computer fields is a good way to protect against future unemployment and provide a boost to your entry into the job market.