Author Topic: Is college necessary?  (Read 1288 times)

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Brandi Shook

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Is college necessary?
« on: Oct 06, 2017, 11:59 pm »
Hi!

I'm not sure if this is a question that has been asked yet, but I am just wondering if a degree is necessary to Stage Manage? I have been working in community theatre since I left high school and have been hired at local venues to SM, but is it necessary the farther I go or will experience take me there as well? In example, if I go to SETC or apply for a cruise or large venue, or (as an extreme) broadway, will experience be enough? I am simply concerned that if I don't get a degree, I might be behind, but I am getting plenty of experience. I have also attended a lot of workshops that I include on my resume, but college just isn't something I can afford.

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Maribeth

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #1 on: Oct 07, 2017, 10:29 pm »
There's a pretty detailed discussion of this subject in this thread. It's worth revisiting, since that discussion is from 2010 and things have changed a bit, especially in the realm of loans and paying for your education.

I think having a degree is valuable, not just for stage management, but for other employment. You may decide you want to do something else with your life down the line, or you might need to support yourself with a day job while getting your SM career off the ground. Not having a degree can hold you back. If you have a degree and another candidate doesn't, having the degree gives you a leg up. That being said, I don't think it's necessarily required to have a degree to SM, and college is not the right choice for everyone.

One of the best things I got out of my education was the connections- I can directly trace subsequent employment to relationships with the professors and artists that I worked with there. College can give you a "safe" place to fail, and the opportunity to add a bunch of credits to your resume. It also gives you the chance to get a well-rounded theatrical education- having some knowledge of lighting, sound, costumes, etc can help you become a better stage manager.

If you do decide to go to college, there are ways to make it more affordable. Going to community college for 2 years and then finishing at a 4-year school is one option. I don't think putting yourself into a mountain of debt is a great thing, for what is not an especially high-paying career (for the most part). You can also get a degree in something other than theatre, and still work/take classes in the theatre department. You can also apply for need-based or merit-based aid.

I am a huge proponent of internships and apprenticeships- they are a great way to gain experience and build up your resume, as well as build relationships with different theatres. Personally, I don't think that workshops are much of an indication of your skills and experience.

I guess that it really depends what you want to do- I think if you are interested in working at larger professional houses, most SMs there have degrees, in my experience. If you don't have a degree, you need to find a way to boost your experience to stay competitive.
« Last Edit: Oct 23, 2018, 09:04 am by Maribeth »

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megf

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #2 on: Oct 08, 2017, 11:12 am »
In addition to the thread Maribeth linked to (much of which is still relevant), I would vote for a BA, BFA, or BS -- any undergraduate program that will require you to do research and write. Three of the happiest and most successful people I know in the field earned undergraduate degrees in chemistry, biology, and history... that all had a writing requirement.

As a SM, or in any profession, you will be responsible for diplomatically sharing information with a large audience. Just search "stop a show" or "emergency" on this site and you'll find hundreds of comments on how SMs have dealt with crises and then expressed those crises in writing. Being able to write professionally is important, and taking a class here and there isn't the same as writing for a degree.

In addition, a lot of your work will come from a written first contact -- whether it's an elaborate cover letter and CV, or a three-sentence email with resume attached. Knowing how to write in both of these situations (as an applicant and as a respondent!) is important. While you may land an internship or apprenticeship where your supervisor can take time to teach you how they deal with writing and correspondence, you may also find that instead, you are resetting the rehearsal room, editing the prop list, or copying and distributing the next day's schedule. In a college setting, on the other hand, your learning is the top priority, and you (should) have the option to focus on this skill to the exclusion of other tasks.

KMC

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #3 on: Oct 09, 2017, 08:22 am »
Expanding a bit on Maribeth's thought from my own perspective: very few people will Stage Manage exclusively for their entire career; check through the roster of this forum and you'll see a number of folks with the "Former SM" title.  Some move on to other arts-related work that is only a step or two removed from Stage Management, some move on to work that's tangentially related, while others still move on to work that has nothing at all to do with the arts.  There are many and varied reasons for this which aren't necessarily relevant to this thread, however what is relevant is career prospects if or when you decide to move on from Stage Management.  Having a solid foundation (and as unfortunate as it is - the "piece of paper") will be instrumental in any career you may have 5, 10, 20 years down the road.  At some point, especially if you are looking at work in the corporate world, lack of an undergraduate degree can become a barrier to entry.
« Last Edit: Oct 09, 2017, 08:25 am by KMC »
Get action. Do things; be sane; donít fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action. -T. Roosevelt

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cdavisnyc

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #4 on: Oct 09, 2017, 03:48 pm »
Yep. It is!

I think working on shows is 100% better than talking about shows. You learn a lot by doing. I believe the ideal college curriculum offers a combination of a broad-based liberal arts education and opportunities to learn hands-on.

I'll agree with other posters - many of us made career moves which required a degree. Why limit your job choices? And, even if you don't make a career shift, I believe a degree is not necessary to be a SM, and I also believe it's necessary to be a great SM.

There are so many skills in our work that you will need that you can study and practice at college which would not be easily available to you outside of it. I have relied heavily on my undergraduate classes in economics, business, philosophy, psychology, history, art, mathematics, physics, and literature.

As a freelance stage manager, I was the owner and sole employee of a business. Business and Economics classes were very helpful. You will have to manage your own personal budget and you will forever be dealing with how others are managing the show budget. Filing a tax return can be an adventure!

When I am sitting in a production meeting, and designers reference styles of art or specific artists or a color scheme, it's good to to know what they are referencing. These are actual references from past shows that I can recall: "This room feels Dickensian." "The color scheme is very Mondrian." "It's very Erte." "It's kind of like a Lascaux Cave." "It's Warhol, in Banksy stencil style." Hopper. Kandinsky. Pollock. Magic realism. Postmodern. Deconstructed.

You will find that lighting, set, and video designers speak in visual terms, Sound designers speak in aural terms. Directors speak in conceptual terms. A stage manager takes notes. A great stage manager will be able to translate, ask good questions to clarify for the team. "Happy" lighting in director-speak may mean brighter, or more pink, in designer-speak. "Louder" in director-speak may mean "more high end," or "brighter" in sound-speak, rather than more decibels. Forced perspective. Raked stage. Distressed. Sidelight. Practical. Study their worlds, and you will learn their languages.

You will work on period plays. It's great to have a basic knowledge set as you delve into that play's world. I have stage managed shows which have have been set in periods from 400 BC to present day. The Trojan War, Elizabethan England, 17th Century France, 19th Century Russia, 1950's America, and on and on and on. It's good to know about class systems, political climate, gender roles, life expectancy/health issues, skirt lengths, corset styles, shoes. A SM doesn't need to know all of this. A great SM can anticipate what a designer needs to know and speaks their language. If an actor has a prop and wants to put it in a pocket, that's one simple piece of information which impacts at least 5 people. 

You will live in the world of psychology. Really great stage management is observing how a group of people behave and how you can use that knowledge to make the path from first table read to closing night as smooth as possible. I have had to manage scheduling actors around AA/NA meetings, I have been privy to very personal medical conditions, and I have had to work with actors, directors, and designers who were undergoing upheaval in their personal lives. There are different motivating factors for people. Know them, and use them. (Use your powers for good, not evil, of course. First rule of Stage Managers' Club.)

I hated philosophy. I was a math major, so this was nonsense to me. Now, I find it invaluable. Our world is less about reality, more about perception, about framing information, and mostly about managing expectations, i.e. crafting reality. A SM distributes an accurate schedule. A great SM knows how their team internalizes information and distributes it accordingly.

As a stage manager, I don't need to have the math/physics skills to calculate a dynamic load of an actor in a harness swinging from a truss. But, it's good to have just enough knowledge to know that my rigger or TD is doing a good job, or has no idea what the hell they are doing and I need to raise a red flag for safety.

Outside of curriculum choices, you should have opportunities to work in a theater in non-SM roles. These experiences are crucial. While in college, I was a an actor, a director, an ME, a prop master, and a sound designer, with varying degrees of success. I would not have attempted these in the professional world. I am probably the worst actor ever, but I learned how it feels to be an actor, and it has made me a better and more sympathetic stage manager. I loved the mechanics of directing, but I'm not good at generating ideas. This made me a great at directing understudies. I liked being an ME, I hated propping, and I was meh at sound design, but all of those experiences made me a better at communicating with people in those roles.

You can't possibly learn everything you will need to know while you earn your degree. But, you will give yourself a solid base to build on, which is the purpose of getting that degree. Don't skip it!

I'll also echo what Maribeth said - internships/apprenticeships/mentorships are invaluable, and I also can trace my career path from my college TD to my first summer stock, to my internship in NYC, and so on.

You could absolutely do without college and work as a stage manager. But, if you can, I think you should get your degree and be a great stage manager.

Standard disclaimer: YMMV. This has been my experience, and everyone's path is different.

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TarytheA

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #5 on: Oct 09, 2017, 07:05 pm »
Yes yes yes to everything cdavisnyc said! Being an SM vs. being a great SM - that all rang true to me.

In addition, you can learn a lot from others learning alongside you. I'm a big proponent of learning while doing, rather than ONLY in a classroom setting. However, I have seen how a great college SM program can be run to effectively use both. Many moons ago, my mentor at UMD (Cary Gillett) started holding weekly stage management meetings that all SMs and ASMs for that season were strongly encouraged to come to. We talked about how our shows were going, what challenges we were facing, and either shared how we were handling them, and/or asked others for ideas and advice. Cary ran the meetings and often gave great advice that all could learn from, even if it didn't pertain to our specific show that semester. Seeing other students work on THEIR shows was as valuable to me as working on one myself. Especially seeing the variety of shows done - a large musical with a turntable in a proscenium, a 5-person mostly-improvised comedy in the black box, an audience-interactive dance piece that starts in the lobby and travels through the building with the audience following etc. Watching others' experiences with such things and talking about them throughout the process was supremely valuable.
As the SM program has expanded, I know that Cary now brings in professionals occasionally to add to the discussion (as well as to her regular and advanced SM classes), and the students can ask them questions/hear their experiences (she usually asks them to focus mostly on a specific topic, like SMing for dance/touring/etc). It is great networking, and good to learn different styles!

One more thing about networking - some of the jobs I have gotten in recent years have come from other SMs that I went to school with - either they couldn't take something and recommended me, or they told the PM they wanted to work with me, etc. You meet a lot of people working in the industry, and you meet A LOT of people in school! All of those relationships are valuable.
"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
-Herm Albright

leastlikely

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #6 on: Oct 16, 2017, 02:40 am »
I do not have a degree and I regret it deeply. On the one hand, if I had completed my original degree as planned, I very likely would not be a stage manager today. In that regard, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to find this path even though I came to it a little later in life than most.

 But for life in general, I regret dropping out. And for my work in specific... I learned everything I know about stage management through experience. I've never taken a single course in it. I would not recommend that. Yes of course experience and on the job training is an enormous part of how we grow as SMs but there is a lot of foundational knowledge I never learned. I didn't enter the workforce with connections, mentors, apprenticeships, etc. Because I didn't come up through a university program. I kind of forged my own way and I love what I'm doing but I'm not nearly as far along in my career as I wish I was. Plus if I end up leaving theatre some day... it'll be harder to find a job in any other field being a college dropout.

So no, it is not truly 100% necessary. You can find work in theatre without going to college. But I really strongly recommend you go.

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ssem507

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Re: Is college necessary?
« Reply #7 on: Oct 23, 2018, 05:38 am »
Hello,

I'm not really in the position to say much about an SM but I do agree that going to college is a good choice.
A college is a place where you learn a lot about time management, organization, socializing, and many other skills in general. I didn't know much about theater at all before I came to college as a Studio Art student with an Art History minor with no idea what would available to me in my future. But I happened to get a job in the theater department which led me to get a Theatre minor! My focus is in the building and artsy area of theatre but my degree requires me to take Acting I, Theater Crafts (lighting, painting, sound, etc), an internship for a professional theatre connected to my college, and Stage Managment class which I am in right now. All these various classes gave me insight on all the different departments of theatre and now I feel like my connection with them improved since I now know the basics, and a bit more, on what is going on in each area. Plus, the classes I took for my art history minor (which I dropped for theatre) also helps with understanding styles the designers are thinking about (Baroque, Renaissance, etc). All these skills are essential for a Stage Manager and will improve your skills as you continue your journey as an SM!
I go to a liberal college which also requires me to take classes outside of my major, such as math, science, religion, etc. So think about what kind of college you want to go to as well!
Another benefit to college is if you have any struggles or questions professors would be there to answer them and also provide connections for your future career. Colleges also in general also have a Career Development service for students to write resumes, take professional headshots, do mock interviews, and help you plan your future, all for free. But yeah, the college has opened many doors for me, a student who started out having no idea what to do with her Arts degree.

I think someone mentioned this before but two years of community college is a good idea to save money.

Best of luck from a super-senior-in-college-who-became-a-theater-student-in-her-second-semester-of-her-junior-year-of-college :)

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