Another Tech Weekend Down

With my post-tech beer in hand, (Leinenkugel Summer Shandy), I sit here finally relaxing.  Oh, alright, who is kidding who.  There is no relaxation to be had.  I am exhausted, pooped, tired, and just mildly thinking about what the next four days consist of.  I give no apologies for my current lag in posts.  Understand, for those that aren’t theatre persons, that the beginning of Tech Week begins to consume all of one’s life.  Over the next week I will only be home to sleep.  I will leave at about 8:00 am, work until somewhere around 11:00 pm, and then come home and sleep again.  This will happen until next Saturday.

Over and over again.

But then again, that’s why I chose theatre, isn’t it.  So today’s post goes to those that are thinking about theatre as a profession.  These are the high school kids and college students have have dabbled in our fabulous world, and thought to themselves, “Theatre, yep, that’s what I want to do for a living.”  Well, let me start you off with a little quote that was told to me once:

 If you can do anything else, DON’T DO THEATRE.

Now the questions comes.  Hey Terry, you’re a theatre professor.  Your goal is to train the next generation of theatre practitioners.  Why would you tell people not to do theatre?  Well, truth be told, there is a second part of the quote:

But if you cannot do anything else, and theatre is your passion, then push yourself to the limits, and become as successful as you can.

Oh, alright, so I added a bit onto the second part of the quotation.  But understand, it is the complete truth.  Now, let me share a short story.  There was a time that I was not a theatre professional.  Day in and day out I labored away as a 911 operator and police dispatcher.  Truth be told, I loved the job, and many of the people I worked with.  This was shortly after I graduated college.  At the time, I felt that theatre had nothing to offer me.  I had bought into the idea that it was a dead end major, and I would end up being that homeless man on the street, sleeping on friend’s couches, with no way to actually earn a living.  So for over a year I worked.  And made good money.  And enjoyed my time in Virginia Beach.  But as the year wore on, it felt as if something was missing.  Something to push me, challenge me, and inspire me.  I began drawing, and that’s when I realized that I couldn’t do anything else besides theatre.

And so I went back to college, and now, almost ten years after receiving my Masters of Fine Arts in Theatre, I am still doing theatre.  Am I better off?  In some ways, yes, other ways, no.  I am financially worse off.  Had I stayed with 911, my salary would be higher than it is now.  But, I am happier than I ever could be.  Even on the worst days, I love what I do.

So from time to time, I have been asked what it takes to make it as a theatre professional.  Well, let me see if I can answer that question.  With bullet points.  Because I like bullet points.

  • Work Ethic - As someone who has been hired and hired people, a strong work ethic is needed.  A willingness to complete a job without complaining.  I know this from experience.  I was a whiny little brat in my first couple of summer theatre gigs.  I look back now and abhor how I acted.  If there is one thing I cannot stress enough, it’s that you need to have the passion to do what it takes to make a production successful.  That passion will push you to the limits, but it will make you employable.
  • People Skills – The theatre world is small.  Really small.  I saw this once again just a month ago.  A touring show was coming to our college and I was asked to work as a quick changer on the wardrobe crew.  I said yes.  I come in the morning of the show, and who is in charge of me but none other than Kimmi Beland.  Someone I had worked with 5 years previous at Illinois Shakespeare Festival.  And let me tell you, it was great to work under her that day.  You have to be able to not burn bridges.  You need to be someone that people want to work with.  I have seen extremely talented people who are atrocious when it comes to working with others.  I usually don’t see them again.  But if you can relate to others, and find common ground, you will find that, in the theatre world, when people like you, they will look for you to be rehired.
  • Common Sense – This is a trait that many people don’t fully understand.  But let’s be honest.  We’ve all seen the person that doesn’t realize you cannot leave your coffee in the middle of the stage 5 minutes before house opens.  They may be the most intelligent person in the world, but without that common sense, horrible things are bound to happen.
  • Love of the art, not of the money – YOU WILL NOT BE RICH!  You will be happy, but you will not be rich.  Theatre is not for everyone.  It is for those that want to produce art.  It is for those that want a voice.  It is for those that cannot be happy any other way.  It is not for making money.  Once you fully understand that, than you can be successful in theatre.
  • Willingness to Travel – And this is a big one, and one I will end on.  Theatre is transient.  I have lived in six different states.  And countless number of cities.  And I’m not even 35 yet.  With theatre, you go to where the work is, you do not wait for it to come to you.  And you must be proactive.  That is part of the fun of the profession.  Just ask any of my friends who have toured.  They have seen places all over this, and other, countries.  It’s amazing.  So be willing to travel, and you might just make it.

Now then, I don’t say any of this to scare people off.  But i do say this so people will understand what it takes.  So tell me, readers of the blog.  What am I forgetting?  Or what else do you think should be added?  Help out those young minds that are looking at theatre as a career.  Let’s see if we can help them out just a bit.


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A Week (Reasons I Love My Job)

It is Monday.  The sixth day of spring.  The year, 2013.  As I sit in my warm and renovated office, I can’t help but wonder why the sky is so cloudy, and ground is sparkling white.  But then I realize, I chose Pennsylvania as an option to work because, well, truthfully, I love the white stuff.  Yes, it is late March.  Yes, the snow should have stopped sometime earlier in the month, but on the other hand, I’ve been places where it has been 70 degrees in February.  So I tend to just go with the flow, enjoy Mother Nature’s early April Fools joke, and continue to rock on with my job.

Speaking of jobs, this post will share very little educational content.  Today is merely a day for me to blather on about the past week, which has been utterly crazy.  The good news, I have several posts in the works, ranging from the new Arduino that we purchased, to the continuation of the Theatre Westminster Blog site, and finally the thought process of starting a store front theatre.  But even though all those fabulous topics are en route  I have had little time to actually write fully comprehensive posts about them.  Damn you 24 hour days, what did you do with the 36 hour days?

The current show we are working on is a simple, easy to understand story called Stop Kiss by Diana Son.  Let me begin by saying I thoroughly enjoy the plot.  It has meaning and substance.  And truthfully, that is the type of theatre I prefer working on.  I need something I can sink my teeth into.  Now, for a change of pace, I have student designers for the scenery, sound, and costumes.  So for once, I am merely designing one aspect of the show.  Or so I thought.  Due to some unfortunate circumstances I have had to take over the costume design.  Now, the designer I had is fabulous, and if not for things out of her control, she would have rocked the design.  But you know how life is, throwing you for a loop, tossing you on the ground, kicking dirt in your face, then complementing your fabulous neon green shorts from the 90s.  And so, I went from a simple, easy lighting design, to working on figuring out nigh impossible quick changes.

But, isn’t that why we do theatre?  For the excitement that comes from the unexpected?  And then, you couple that with the passion of being a teacher, and suddenly, even when the things are plotting to bring your downfall, you come in, laugh, and say “Throw the best you have at me.”  And so this post is short, full of blathering, and not nearly as insightful as I hoped, understand that the reason for that is my love of my job, and my love of the theatre.  So for those that read this, and wonder, “Is a profession in theatre really for me?”, understand that it takes passion to do what we do.  But with that passion comes a great amount of reward.

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Social Media and the Small College

I remember my first web-based design portfolio.  I had just taught myself little bits of Photoshop 5.0, as it was available in our college’s computer lab and my website was simply stunning.  A thing of wondrous beauty that had my fellow classmates agog.  Or so I thought.  Unfortunately I focused more on the tool then the product, and though I felt the pastel blue chalk filter added to my photograph and that the tiling of it as a background was stunning, I look back and marvel that my friends had not passed away, laughing fitfully on the floor.  I have come a long way since that time, and so has digital media.  But one thing I had not expected back in 1998 was that social media would be so prevalent in our everyday lives as we traveled into 2013.

And for a small college, what better to get your program out there among those valuable prospective students, then to begin harnessing the power of social media.  At my prior institutions, I had not been encouraged to assist in recruitment.  In my current position though, we are always on the lookout for ways to increase the size our student body.  And as many of you that work as a theatre professor know, in hard economic times, we lose our majors.  Parents are hesitant to allow their valued offspring to pursue such “foolish” aims.  And though many of my colleagues in the professional world continue to work, and continue to get paid, it is hard to explain that to parents that you can make a living as a theatre professional.  And so we have to broaden our horizons, and try to reach students across the country, and even, if possible, internationally.  As such, I present to you, the Theatre Westminster Blog!

Theatre Westminster Blog » A Backstage Pass to Theatre Westminster

The beginning page of the Theatre Westminster Blog.

As Theatre Westminster is just beginning their journey into blogging, I cannot yet comment on how successful it will be in drumming up interest in our program.  But, here are what I feel are key to using it successfully.  First, I plan on allowing students, faculty, guest artists and other possible guest posters to add to the blog.  Notice how I put students first.  I have found, in my roughly 10 years of teaching, that we teachers do not have near the same amount of influence over prospective students as their cohorts do.  The way we are making this happen is that students that are working on the current production will be asked to write a blog post.  They will be submitted, and reviewed by me.  Once any editing is done, it will then be posted to the blog.  The hope is that the students stories help generate interest in our current production as well as the department.

So, how are people going to find your blog among all the blogs that are already out there?  

Very good question.  The answer comes with our next two pieces of social media.  The first… well, truth be told if you haven’t heard of it, then you either live under a rock or in the Amazon, is Facebook.  Facebook has become a part of our culture.  From finding old friends, to liking your favorite sport team’s page.  And that’s where we enter the picture.  The Theatre Westminster Facebook Page has increased our visibility both on campus and off.  And having a Facebook page for your department can help you figure out who is taking interest in what you’re doing.

Red box shows the Insights tool.

The Insights tool for those that administer Facebook pages is huge.  I didn’t even know it existed until I started taking care of Theatre Westminster’s page in January.  And I saw how woeful of a job we were doing.  By clicking on the Insights box, you can gain a ton of information on who is visiting your page, including age, sex and location.  Using this you can start to see who your focus is, and the best way to advertise your program.

But, the page isn’t just for analytical data.  It is a way to interact with your current audience.  A way to give your department a voice.  When logged into the page, you post as your page.  So for Theatre Westminster, when I post items, they read as coming from Theatre Westminster.  Already in the few short months I have been working on our page, I have used the poll feature, picture features, comments and likes to interact with the audience.  And now let’s see how this will help the blog that we’ve started.

Blog linked on our Facebook Page

As you see here, the blog post has been posted onto our Facebook page.  Having the two linked is a huge help.  So each time one of the students posts on the blog, it will be easily reachable by a large part of our audience.  Now, to do this you need a plugin for your blog, but I found several fairly quickly.  The same can be done for your twitter account.

And why is all this important?  Because it’s about connections.  If you cannot connect in one way or another to your prospective and current students, then you are fighting a losing battle.  And truthfully, this is just a short excerpt of what I could talk about.  There is so much more in the realm of social media.

So, tell me, what are your tips and tricks when it comes to social media and student recruitment?  Share with us in the comments.  And if you’re a student, what makes you interested in a college, university, or even a major?


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A Passion for Teaching

It wasn’t long ago that I sat in a college classroom, staring up at a jean-clad, straight talking professor named Tim McGraw.  No, no, not the country singer sensation, but an actor turned technician who taught me how to be good at what I chose to do.  Fourteen years later I am going strong, sharing my passion of theatre with those students who are willing to listen, just for a few minutes, to what I have to say.  And though it is not always easy to stand there, instructing the future minds of the world while they plop their faces down into their cell phone and check the latest Facebook drama, it’s what I was always meant to do.  The chance to encourage or inspire even one person makes what I do worth it.

Now, on to the current task at hand.  We all know the economy currently is less than stellar.  The news overflows with reports stating that this business is closing down, or that house is being foreclosed on.  So what happens when things become tight, and you are teaching at a small liberal arts school, in a major that is often times seen as fluff?  Well, of course you fight the good fight, and attempt to grow your department.  One of the things I always tell my students is to not look at an obstacle as a problem.  Let it be a challenge, something you strive complete.  A challenge is something to look forward to, something to test your wits and skills.  A problem, well, that is filled with so much negative connotations that it is almost setting you up to fail.  Anyways, I apologize, these tangents will come and go.

This blog will attempt to cover my constant number of attempts to bolster our program, hopefully in a variety of ways.  Along the way I will share my pedagogy, design tips and tricks, random thoughts on theatre and freelancing experiences.  The goal is to create a resource for those just coming into the profession of teaching, be it at the high school level, or like me, at a college or university.  So please, feel free to toss questions, comments, or concerns in the Comments below.  I will look through them and hopefully add whatever insight I can.  And if I can’t, well, I have a lot friends in both education and theatre.

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