≡ Menu

The Evolution of Theatre Technicians and…holy shit, is that a drive-through liquor store?

More about that later.  But first…

As I’m sure you figured out by the lack of screamed profanity emitting from the Atlanta area, I did end up going to  the USITT (United States Institute of Theatre Technology) convention.  The convention was fabulous.  We got to see some amazing new products out on the market, and meet some ridiculously talented people.  Like, these are people who’ve been in the tech theatre industry for 30 years and have worked with some big-time gigs.  Friggin’ amazing.

But equally interesting, (or more-so for the non-theatre geek crowd,) was the people watching.  Flowing through that convention hall was a fairly accurate cross-section of the  tech theatre industry; watching the college kids mingle with the “good ol’ boys,” you could see the future mix with the past, where the industry has been and where it was going.

Please Note: What I’m about to embark in right now is an examination of my overall impression of the members of the technical theatre industry in an attempt to further understand the field in which I work.  I realize that not everyone in the industry fits into the character descriptions that will follow; myself, my husband, and many of my friends are members of this society and few if any of us/them fit perfectly into these neat little parameters.  What I’m trying to say is that I realize that not everyone is exactly like this, so if you’re one of my tech brethren, please don’t be offended.  Share your own thoughts on the matter, but just know where I’m coming from.

Back in the day, a degree wasn’t necessary to rise in the tech world.  It certainly helped, and those with obtained higher positions, but it wasn’t the only way to enter the industry.  Often, you started out working in a shop or for a production company, and learned everything you needed to know from the guy above you.  And little by little, you worked your way up until you were working for a major theatre company.  These guys are a little rough about the edges; they curse like it’s their job and they tell jokes that would make the devil blush.  But they know their shit.  They’ve put in years and years of hard work, they know the ropes inside and out, and they’ve seen it all.  But they are also a dying breed.  The industry is changing fast, and many of these old school technicians don’t want to keep up; things have been working just fine the way they’ve always been done.

About 30 years ago, the technical theatre and design degree became more prevalent for fine arts colleges, and a new breed of tech began to emerge.  They’re more tailored, a little more refined, a little more learned.  Not that they’re any more skilled than the good ol’ boys, but they view the industry a little differently.  It’s more design based, more about art, and computers are playing a bigger part in the industry with the introduction of automation in lighting and scenery.  They’re less like the factory foreman and more like the geeks of Silicon Valley.  Less rough but waaay more nerdy.

And tomorrow’s techs are of an entirely different brand all together.  Watching the college kids run around the convention hall, they look like an odd cross-breed between the anime club and the av club; lots of black, lots of oddly colored hair, lots of smart-ass t-shirts that say things like, “If all the world’s a stage, I want better lighting.”  They’re incredibly computer savvy, and all of them either want to be lighting designers or video engineers; both jobs are incredibly technology based and spend the majority of their time behind a computer monitor.  I find it interesting to see that the type of people that the industry is attracting today is drastically different than the people that were attracted 30 years ago.  Back then, the industry did not attract the smart kids, or the artistic kids; it attracted the hard worker, the laborer, and the technician.  Those guys wanted to be carpenters, riggers, and sound guys.  Now, none of the kids coming out of college want to be riggers; they want to light dance concerts.  They’re pulling away from the labor/skill based jobs and towards those based in technology.  The industry is actually have a problem with an influx of wannabe lighting designers, while finding a scene shop foreman or head flyman is nearly impossible.  But at the same time, the technicians that are being produced are far more flexible than those of yore; they take to new technology quickly, and can follow the light-speed evolution of the industry.  And they have to; a degree from a fine arts college is now pretty much standard issue, and to even consider a position of leadership you really need a master’s degree, not to mention wads of street cred.

The technical theatre industry is by nature an odd mix of futuristic technology and old school techniques.  I’m not saying that the budding technicians of today are any better or worse or more or less qualified than those of earlier days…they’re just incredibly, incredibly different.

On a less profound note…

I also learned some things about Ohio this weekend.

1) There are more trucks than I have ever seen before.  We drove through a subdivision and there were more trucks than squirrels.

2) Fast food drive-thrus here FAIL!  Hardcore.  They’re insanely slow and their tacos suck.  Like, no lettuce or cheese, just meat and a taco shell, which in my book is not a taco, it’s a lameco.  Then on our way out of town, we stopped at a McDonald’s for breakfast.  We ordered 2 sandwich meals with hash browns and orange juice, and a fruit and yogurt parfait.  We got our juice and a bag, and when we looked inside there were 2 sandwiches…that’s it.  No hash browns, no parfait.  FAIL!

3) They have drive-through liquor stores here.  And I don’t mean a liquor store with a drive-up window; I mean a liquor store that you drive through.  It’s like driving through a convenience store; you can reach out your window and pick out a candy bar.  I don’t know if this is the most amazing or terrible thing in the world.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Brad March 22, 2009, 9:43 pm

    The main problem with people who just want to “light dance concerts” is that they have no idea how to interact with directors and choreographers. Just look at how they dress – first impressions mean nothing.

    But is it really any surprise? The vast majority of people who are in school learning theatre arts all got into theater in high school. And by and large they got into theatre because they were not the popular people. They we’re not homecoming king and queen.

    They dressed like that in high school. And it has obviously carried over into their college life. Granted, my opinion is very biased – I always had a moderate disdain for those type of people who care absolutely nothing about their appearance (and have no talent to justify their appearance otherwise.)

    Anyway, appearance is important no matter what. And people just need to learn that.

    But I mostly agree with your other points.

    • admin March 22, 2009, 10:02 pm

      It’s also for this reason that it burns me so much to hear techs trash performers, and visa versa. We’re all working towards the same end, (a totally badass show,) and our interactions and ability to work together are more than crucial: it’s necessary.
      And while you’re right, first impressions are everything, it does make it easier when our uniform consists of all black. Hard to screw that up…

  • doahleigh March 23, 2009, 9:05 am

    Okay wait. You actually drive through the store? Your car goes THROUGH the store and you reach out and grab liquor? I think maybe you dreamt this.

  • dvsDave March 24, 2009, 8:58 am

    It was great to finally meet you! Yes, the drive-thru’s sucked. It took White Castle like 5 minutes to get me four burgers and some fries and then they tried to give me diet coke instead of regular … uggghh.

    Spend some time on CB and observe them like you did the students at USITT. CB is pretty well bent towards the lighting side of things, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that they don’t want to be sound people. Friday, I sat down for an insanely over-priced lunch at the expo and watched several students get interviewed for sound-related positions. BUT, I think the sound industry and USITT have to shoulder a lot of the blame as far as your perception goes. They seem to consider sound to be the bastard child of theatre because “purists” don’t think it’s necessary in some venues. That’s pure BS, but it’s up to USITT to push sound as much as lighting. Maybe then, we will see more than two sound companies on display at USITT. They are two radically different disciplines, and I may be a bit biased here, but I feel that theatrical audio takes far more prodigious skill to pull off effectively than lighting does due to it’s ever-changing nature (more variables to deal with on a day-to-day basis)


    • MonsteRawr March 24, 2009, 2:09 pm

      You’re right that sound is often considered the red-headed bastard step-child of the tech family. It’s placed pretty low on the hierarchy, right above costume design, I believe. You’re also right in that USITT is extremely biased towards the lighting side of things. For that matter, how much of the scenic side of things did you see? Not much, which is interesting considering how much scenic design is evolving as of late. Maybe all I’ve proven is that lighting techs are the only ones nerdy enough to go to conversions.

  • Melissa February 22, 2010, 4:54 pm

    Well, Steph, I have to say after not talking to you or Kyle after, like, 3 years, this blog is a very refreshing peek into your guys’ lives! I’m realizing I miss you two quite a bit, and was planning on shooting an email to you or Kyle, or both, very soon, but after this last post I felt I had to comment…. did I read this right, that SOUND is above costumes(especially design) in the heirarchy of the tech world? This is really suprising to me, and I’d love to hear more. I’ve always perseived them to all be equal, well sets, lighting, and costumes to be equal. Because in reality lighting and costumes have to work together to get the feel correct, and sets are equally as important to create the look of the show. Sound, however, at least in my world (ballet) is by far the low-man on the totem pole, seeing as how we really just have to hit “play” and it’s done.

    I’m very impressed with your blog, love, and would love to catch up in real life. Hope to chat soon!

    PS Give Kyle my love!

    Glad to hear you’re doing well!
    First of all, cut me a little slack, I wrote this post almost a year ago.
    But also, (though I referred to the hierarchy in jest,) you have to admit that for many, this hierarchy exists, and everyone’s version of it looks different. It’s a way for people who feel under-appreciated to feel important. Personally, I think arguing over who’s job is “harder” is a useless argument, since without one job there would be no need for the other. It’s a virtual pissing match. So no, I don’t think you’re less important than than the sound guy. Without your job, I don’t have a job, and mama don’t like living in no box!

  • Melissa March 3, 2010, 1:35 pm

    Hahaha, oh darling, I just saw that it was a year ago, my bad. Guess I’m still getting used to reading blogs. And I agree, pissing matches are not fun nor productive in any way. Though guys (particularly those from 1009) still seem to enjoy participating in them. Well, again we should catch up in real life, my best to you and Kyle.

Leave a Comment