Author Topic: Assistant Design Experience?  (Read 2766 times)

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LindSM

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Assistant Design Experience?
« on: Jun 19, 2016, 02:40 pm »
Hi all!

I am a drama student in college and plan on stage managing for a career after I graduate. Since I go to liberal arts college, the faculty encourage us to work on department productions in capacities outside those we plan on entering professionally. Because of this, I am planning on taking on some kind of an assistant design role for a play in the spring semester.

They don't really factor in experience when assigning you a position if you're an assistant, so I can pretty much ask to be assigned to any position (assistant lights, set, sound, props, and costumes are the usual positions available). I have my own preferences and certain levels of comfort with each of these areas, but I wanted to reach out to all you stage managers and see if you have any recommendations - in short, which area(s) of design do you think it is most beneficial, professionally or educationally, to gain more knowledge and experience in?

Hope that makes sense, and sorry if something like this has already been asked/answered - a quick search didn't yield anything, but I may have been looking for the wrong thing. Thank you!

maximillionx

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #1 on: Jun 19, 2016, 04:26 pm »
First off, good for you on gaining the experience in other fields! Being multi-faceted only makes you more employable.

Second - and take this with as many salt grains as you like, since your question is asking anecdotally - I'd go with scenic.  I find, again in my personal experience, the overlap there is more prevalent and useful when stage managing.

Now why not props you ask, when most small-time jobs might lump together SMing and properties acquisition? Because it's more specialized and the knowledge base isn't as large as scenic skills (again, anecdotally, please don't yell at me for dissing props masters or something). A SM who can judge structural safety competently and professionally, or add to the conversation of how to accomplish something technically is more valuable.

Have I mentioned this is anecdotal?

Ultimately though, choose what makes you happy!  What are you most curious about? Do you have any previous experience with any of these that could influence you?

And really: does the assistant design position actually do any of the work, or are they there just to shadow? Choose the one with the person who is willing to give you the best learning experience.

Also, anecdotal. :)

megf

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #2 on: Jun 19, 2016, 08:13 pm »
I'll echo maximillionx. Scenic engineering, safety, building concepts, and vocabulary are invaluable. Yes, props knowledge is helpful. Lighting knowledge is helpful. Audio engineering, costume construction, etc. are all helpful. But scenic design and construction, categorically, tends to be where the biggest, most costly issues arise. Creating and reading the build plans will build your scenic literacy, and that will inform how you prep and run your next show as a SM.

LindSM

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #3 on: Jun 19, 2016, 10:46 pm »
Awesome; thanks so much for your feedback. Everything both of you said about scenic design knowledge makes sense. I'm probably most interested in both lighting and scenic design, but I already have a bit of experience with lighting design/electrics, whereas I have close to zero experience in/knowledge of scenic design, so I think assistant scenic designing would be best for me from a purely educational standpoint as well.

Not sure about the work breakdown for designers vs. assistant designers - many times we don't even have assistant designers, and a lot of times we have people who ask, for example, "Can I be an assistant lighting designer for this show?" only to have our design professor come back with "How about you be THE lighting designer, and I'll be here to help and answer questions." We're a small department at a small college, so there tends to be a lot of variation in how we do things season by season and show by show. But that's useful advice, and once I know more about who is working on each production, I'll definitely evaluate how much hands-on experience I think I'd be getting in each potential position.

Thanks again!  :)

EustaceSM

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #4 on: Jul 03, 2016, 07:39 am »
I've heard from a professor of mine that usually assistant designers are more paperwork than making artistic choices and I'm wondering if that is true. I know the breakdown can vary depending on the theater, the actual designer and the working relationship. But what sort of things would the designer delegate to or asks of his/her asst. designer. 

LindSM

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #5 on: Jul 24, 2016, 06:47 pm »
EustaceSM, sorry about my late reply! I have no idea how this plays out in the professional world or at other colleges, but at my college (Vassar), assistant designers are very much involved in the design process. We have a very small drama department, and I would say that a majority of the people in the department are there for direction or performance (plus we're not a BFA program), so the faculty love getting more people actively involved in and educated about the design side of things.

(Also, as my own update - the department actually asked me to stage manage two shows this year, which doesn't leave me room to assistant design a show this year. Maybe next year, though!)

EustaceSM

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #6 on: Jul 26, 2016, 01:42 pm »
Depending on your work load- you may be able to be take on an Asst. Designer role (maybe on a less heavy show). I was ALD for a production as well as being the SM. Being the ALD, it helped me gain a lot of personal perspective on what needs of the designer were and my LX notes became very detailed and more helpful.

Perhaps you can discuss with your mentor/advisor about this route and the potential you can take away from being an Assistant Designer and SM.   

MatthewShiner

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #7 on: Jul 26, 2016, 04:22 pm »
So late to this party - but I actually thinking being a ALD would be more beneficial as a stage manager since you are the one performing the lighting designer's cues in the show.  Being in the LD corner, having that experience, is invaluable, since he is the one designer who has to do his job LIVE, and having as much support as possible would be great.

End of the day - you should do all.  But if only had to do one, I would have voted lighting.

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Michelle R. Wood

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #8 on: Jul 27, 2016, 02:08 pm »
Quote
So late to this party - but I actually thinking being a ALD would be more beneficial as a stage manager since you are the one performing the lighting designer's cues in the show.

I spent most of my time in college in the lighting shop, and served as an AME and ME in several early gigs. It certainly helps me understand better how to communicate with the LD (and it's always handy to be experienced with lots of lighting boards).
"Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." -- Thomas Edison (Harper's Magazine, 1932)

LindSM

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Re: Assistant Design Experience?
« Reply #9 on: Aug 08, 2016, 12:38 pm »
(Sorry again for the late reply - I'm a summer theatre camp counsellor, and I've had very little free time the past few weeks.) Thanks for the additional replies. I actually already have a bit of experience as a light board op and an LD for some smaller shows (nothing intense), and I've loved the small amount of experience I've gotten in this area.

I'd definitely be interested in assistant designing, as well as stage managing, a production - just not sure if my program actually allows students to do that. I'll definitely look into it. I think my main "issue" is that I just want to try everything (and the fact that my school has so few stage managers besides myself to fill production roles makes things complicated), but doing both would be a good solution.

Thanks again for all the advice!

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