Saturday, November 10, 2012

A level playing field

I had a meeting this summer with a reader of this blog who was interested in talking to me about going into tech theatre as a profession.
During our discussion she spoke of her nervousness in taking on one of her first large jobs on a show. She was worried that her inexperience would be obvious, and that she wouldn't know how to solve some of the challenging problems that the show's design was calling for.
I was able to give her some ideas about how the effects the director was imagining could be accomplished based on a similar effect I had previously needed in another show. The thing is, knowing how to solve her problem was mostly luck. The similar project I had done was on one show three years prior. I hadn't used anything like that effect before or since. If I hadn't been able to do that production, or a different director or designer had worked on that production with me, I would have had no idea of how to answer this student's question.
Experience in this line of work isn't nearly so linear as it is in other professions. I may have been in the business for years longer than someone else on the production team, and another person may have done three times the number of shows that I have, but in the first production meeting, we're on a bit of an even playing field because no one on the team has ever done THIS show before. It's not that experience doesn't matter, the more shows that I work on, the more likely it is that on the next show I will come across challenges I've worked with before. As I have worked on more productions in the city, it has become more and more likely that when I need something, I know of a theatre who has it in stock, or a vendor who might be able to sell it to me. There is, however, no guarantee. There will still be something on most shows that is new and challenging. It can be frustrating to never be able to truly master this profession, but it can also be incredibly freeing. Because every show is new, I am able to ask for help without embarrassment. It is totally okay for me to walk into a production meeting and say, I've never encountered quite this challenge before, does anyone have any ideas? And more often than not, someone does. Through the collective experience of everyone in the room, there is usually at least one person who can say "I did a production once where we did something similar, and here's how we did it."
Becoming a better theatre professional has something to do with building up a large arsenal of tips and tricks, sources and knowledge. Some of this can be acquired through research, reading and seeing other theatrical productions, but some can only be acquired through time and experience. The other key ingredient to success in this business has very little to do with experience, and everything to do with collaboration, being unashamed to ask for help, being able to articulate your needs and being willing to listen and understand the ideas of others.

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