Why do undergrad programs focus on design?


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From reading these responses I feel I had a special undergrad experience. I can't speak to how the department is currently run, but in my undergrad the degrees were BFAs in Technical Theater but would let you choose what design focus. The tracks to obtain those degrees were well rounded experiences that included 1st years(actors and tech students together) taking basic costume construction and basic set building with lab hours building the shows. The upper classes had show assignments ranging from board oping, to TD, to designing. In the afternoons we were in practicum labs where we did the building and installing of things that was above the first year's head. The department was good at vetting out the people who couldn't get the job done, and those of us who went through the whole curriculum ran the gamut of knowledgeable designers who could be employed as technicians anywhere in the industry.


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This may be a hot take, but I view this question/topic in the same vein as wondering why the architect of a building or the engineer who designed your car/bus/subway isn't turning a wrench.

I'm in education and they're entirely separate skill sets. Some may have both, but people may not be built for one or the other.

I've met many incredible people who chose to forego any higher education and were amazing craftspeople but they couldn't have designed a show to save their lives. Understanding a character or a plot and going page to stage was just not something in their wheel house and to be frank a lot of them couldn't have been less interested. They liked solving technical challenges and building things or just pushing boxes or buttons.

Conversely, I've met (and taught) many students who loved the design aspect. Naturally, I teach shop skills, and how to implement the design but ultimately design is compromised if you're too in the weeds about having to figure out how to build it.

Our business needs both people and it stands to reason the first group would learn better "on the job" and the second would learn better in a classroom setting. Would they benefit from increased cross pollination? Of course, but that's why I encourage my students to do summerstock and internships where they're able to be "boots on the ground" if they fancy themselves designers.

The students who loved the design aspect only... what did they end up doing for a career?


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I think this lack of teaching happens in every discipline, unfortunately.

I taught networking classes that were based in Microsoft Server Administration in order to get funding. No one wanted to take a class to learn how to build a Cat 5 cable but it sounded elegant and fancy to learn a piece of software.
We taught this for about 6 years at a community college and saw so many people who had worked for a school district or large business or whatever who would have to call an outsourced low-voltage contractor to deal with cabling because the entire IT literally had no idea.

Same when working in corporate events. These folks went to for-profit "Sound Design" school. The learned on a DLive or something and couldn't patch an analog compressor into a 4 channel mixer, much less understand what a compressor did for spoken word, except make "beats sound fat."

Current schooling trends are based on getting butts in seats so the bean counters don't cut your class for not having 15 people on the waitlist. And based on the nationwide shortage of plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and mechanics, the advertised glamor of sitting at a desk and making something pretty without getting your hands dirty has worked on a certain percentage of the "learning age" population.


The students who loved the design aspect only... what did they end up doing for a career?
Well, of the ones who ended up going to college for it, one is a working designer in NYC and the other one is finishing up their senior year but has a scenic art job lined up. They're both still early career so time will tell, but both seem to be on the right track as it were. Both were capable of handling themselves in the shop but neither fancied being a roadie or union hand for their lives.

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