Monday, June 13, 2011

The Times They Are-A Changin

I follow the feed of this forum "" Mostly I do it for recruiting purposes for work. Internet discussion groups for theatre would be a topic for another day. So I am looking for "I want to grow up to be a TD, where should I go to school?" When I see that I plug CMU Drama. I'm not sure it's even generated one application, but I keep trying.

The other day someone (ok, not someone, "techninja") posts this:

Education a must or not??

Hi all,

I just finished my first year of undergrad as a theatre student, and well, I can't decide what I want for next year. I don't like some of the ways the theatre is run, and at times I feel like I really learned nothing. And I'm taking the fall semester off this year, and don't know if I want to go back. I feel like I don't NEED a degree in theatre to get far in this industry, but am looking at getting an Associates in Electric at a local tech school. But, I am worried that is not enough to get me where I want to be in the world of light and sound design.

So I guess that my question is, those of you who've 'been there, done that', do you think that its a necessity to get at least my Bachelors in Technical theare/design, or will I be able to make a living off of just an associates?

This is actually a fairly normal post. There are always people trying to decide if a career in technical theatre takes a college degree. What was different was what I said:
Re: Education a must or not??

So I have a long standing "it depends" flavor answer to this type of query and I think the time has come to change my tune. I don't believe I am saying this, but I think I've finally come round:

You will need to go to school to become a successful professional designer.

I just don't see the working your way up path leading there any longer. I guess there's still the right place/right time "struck by lightening" route. Maybe you become a rock and roll LD if you hook up with a band at the start and hang with them - but otherwise I just think you have to have school now. It'll be too hard to get the internships or the assistantships that lead to where you want to be when all your competition has the networking and the resume provided by school.

I'm not enthused about this, and like I hedge above there will be exceptions, but I am convinced that for the bulk of the people this is now true.


First I'm not sure if your goal is really design.


Really I think the bigger question in the current paradigm is not "if" but rather "when" and "what."

You are unhappy with your current training situation. You've elected to stop. Good choice. Many people in our field feel like they have to feel bad to be making headway when really they should be realizing they are in the wrong place.

How's this as a new gauge...

Rather than ask what training you need to be ultimately successful look for the work you want, and then if you're getting that work - do that work and be happy. If you get to the point where you're not getting the work you want, look at why you're not getting the work and make a change - if that change involves training you'll then have the incentive to get through it, and you will be sure there is something to learn that you need to learn (be it BFA, BA, MFA, Associates, or just specialized training).

Not everyone is ready for the same kind of training at the same time. Waiting until you've really identified what you need can't hurt you.
This is a little bit saddening to me, but the more I think about it the more I think I am probably right. There are just too many people with the degree chasing to few jobs, and the degree is the avenue into so many of the entry level experiences.

Is it all design disciplines? When I started considering the change of heart I was thinking no, that lighting was that much more complicated and that much smaller a community. But with more thought I think it's probably fairly even across the board, maybe sound design is easier because there are fewer people (but not for long). Maybe costumes has inroads because so many low level productions need costumes (but I'm not sure how you make the jump).

Do you have to have a conservatory degree? No.
Do you have to get a Masters? No.

Actually I guess the interesting question here is: Is there a niche for an associates level degree? I know there are community college programs out there. Many of them are designed to train people for the locals. But that's stagecraft and not design. It's hard for me to tell how we'd evaluate that on a resume, if someone with a BA would automatically look better than someone with an Associates.

Is this true on the tech side? I don't think so, but it depends what gig you want eventually. Can you work your way up to LORT TD? I doubt it. Summerstock TD? Probably not, but maybe - depends on your regular year gig. Commercial Project Manager? Probably, but curiously that might mean a drop in pay from the floor to the office depending on the shop.

In the end I think it does prompt a better question. Maybe prospective students will take more time to figure out when the right time for their training should be rather than just coming to it right away. It seems to me to be a far better process to go and get training you know you need for a path you've identified rather than committing to training you think you need for a path you're considering.

If you want to see the whole thread, you can do so here.

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