Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Thoughts on delegating

Most of the time in my props work, I am working solo. In the past year or so I've been able to have an assistant for tech week at times, but in general I research, shop, and create the props for a show entirely on my own.
Early this summer I had the opportunity to work several days as an overhire artisan at the Goodman Theatre. Working on a team with five full time props staff members and several other overhire workers was fun and very interesting. I learned a lot in a very short amount of time. With so many people around, there always seemed to be someone who was an expert in whatever task was at hand, and the shop turned out beautiful detailed work. 
Right now, I am just finishing my first week at Peninsula Players Theatre. I have an assistant here who manages props all season, and an intern who has been assigned to props for this rotation (and has worked other jobs for the other productions this season). In this situation I'm the expert, and need to be in charge of the delegating, rather than being the one who is delegated to, as I was at the Goodman. 

These two experiences have me thinking quite a bit about working as a team and the pros and cons of those experiences vs working solo. So, with my apologies for no organization strategy, here are some random thoughts on the subject. 

-When I am the boss delegating, I find I can work very effectively by starting a project, teaching someone how to do it, and then leaving them to finish. Especially in my past experience as a tech director at a theatre where I had lots of unskilled intern labor, and very few skilled carpenters, I made it a personal rule to never finish a project. I would gather all the tools and supplies for a project, start laying it out, and create a sample if possible, so that when someone came wandering up asking "what should I do now" my answer was always, "this!" Since the project was already set up I didn't need to waste any time with long explanations and lists. The intern could get right to work and I could move on to the next project. 

- The plus side of a large crew is that there is broader array of skills and expertise. If I encounter a problem with a project, I have five other people who can help me brainstorm and therefor will am more likely to find the best or most creative solution quickly. I often lament that my learning is limited while working as the only prop person on a show, because there is no one around to teach me, on a large crew there is always someone around who can teach you something, and I learned more in eight days at the Goodman than I probably did the entire rest of the summer. 

- The down side to a big crew is that often, when things are busy, it is harder to learn a new skill. If I am a talented seamstress, and another crew member is a talented welder, there are rarely going to be occasions for me to improve my welding or her to improve her sewing. When those projects come up, it is most efficient to give the task to the person who has already perfected the skills to complete it. Artists end up growing much more specialized and less well rounded. 

- You can delegate research. It's probably because most of the time when I have had an assistant it had been later in my process, but for some reason, before I was asked to do research at the Goodman, it hadn't occurred to me. I had the props intern do research for me on her first day of work and it was hugely helpful. It also helped to get her into the world of the show, which hopefully will continue to be a benefit no matter which projects I assign her going forward.

-The more people there are to delegate to, and supervise, the less you get to do yourself. This kind of goes along with the first point about never finishing a project, but I definitely get to a point where, after spending several days doing the shopping and the driving and the emailing I need to sit down and make something- even if it's something small. 

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