I’ve just returned from this year’s USITT in Charlotte, NC. I have a lot going through my head at the moment, so I’ll show off some of the video I shot at the Tech Olympics. Each year, undergraduates at USITT can compete in these Olympics in a variety of events, such as knot-tying, hanging and focusing lights, and folding a drop. Many technical theatre departments have their own event. For props, the challenge is to strike a table setting to a prop table, and set up a different table setting. Randy Lutz and Tracy Armagost from the Santa Fe Opera were the judges. Contestants are ranked by the speed they complete the task in, but they are penalized for things such as missing their spike marks, making too much noise, or dragging a tablecloth on the ground. I filmed DH from Elon University doing the challenge so you would not miss out on all the fun:
As you read this post, I will probably already be in North Carolina at this year’s USITT. I may be manning the S*P*A*M booth (table 80) at some point. On Friday, I’ll be reviewing portfolios. Other than that, I’ll be checking out as many workshops and panels as I can, and meeting up with as many people as I am physically able. If you will be there, drop me a line if you want to say hi.
I know Jacob Coakley will be live-blogging the conference over at Theatre Face. While USITT has its own Twitter feed, it also has a feed specifically for the conference. You can also follow the #USITT hashtag at Twitter for up to date news as well. In other words, even if you can’t make it, you can still stay informed as the conference is happening through the end of this week.
For those unfamiliar with the conference, USITT is the United States Institute for Theatre Technology. They hold a yearly conference to bring together members from around the country involved in lighting, sound, video, scenery, costumes, props and every other facet of technical theatre. It’s a chance for young designers and technicians to show off their work, for established professionals to meet and reunite with others, and for vendors to show off their latest products. The conference has panels, discussions and workshops on all sorts of subjects. It really is the only conference devoted solely to technical theatre here in the United States and Canada.
Interestingly, the first four USITT conferences from 1961-1964 were held here in New York City. In fact, 8 of the 51 conferences took place in the Big Apple, but the most recent one was way back in 1985. And unless you count Ohio or Pittsburgh, the last conference on the East Coast was the 1991 conference in Boston. Did they forget that we’re still making theatre out here?
I try to photograph all the props I make. It’s a good habit to have. Look at the box above. It’s a champagne box I built a few years ago. There’s nothing terribly special about it, and I will probably never put it in my portfolio. I took a picture of it anyway. What is the cost of storing a digital image on your harddrive? Realistically, it is close to zero. You can store images and files online with a variety of free sources. You have no reason not to take a picture.
When I was first building props, I did not have a camera. I bought disposable cameras from the drug store and used them to take pictures of my props. I then had to get the film developed and scanned in to a computer. These days, my phone has a camera. Most phones have cameras. Even if your phone does not have a camera, chances are there is a camera nearby that can take a picture. In other words, you can’t use “I don’t have a camera” as an excuse to not have pictures of your props.
Why would I photograph props if I have no intention of putting them in my portfolio? First, my portfolio layout may change. I may not have much use for a picture of a box. Maybe after a few years, I’ve constructed quite a few interesting boxes. Suddenly, I have a potential page in my portfolio of boxes I’ve constructed. I wouldn’t have that opportunity if I did not take the pictures in the first place. Basically, the cost of taking and keeping a photograph is so minimal that taking one and never using it is so minimal compared to not taking one and wishing you had. Just take the picture.
I don’t know of any serious prop masters who will ever object to one of their artisans spending a few seconds to take a photograph. The fact is that no one else is going to photograph your props for you. No one is going to be checking to make sure you are keeping your portfolio up to date. No one is going to be asking whether you are documenting your work for future reference. It is entirely up to you.
Speaking of taking photographs for portfolios, I will be at USITT next week, and I will be reviewing some portfolios. It looks like portfolio reviews are divided up randomly, so if you are in my slot, congratulations. If you are not but you still want to stop and say hi, I will most likely be at the S*P*A*M table for some time frame (to be determined later). You can also contact me directly if you really want to meet up in Charlotte.
I wanted to share some of the websites I use or have used to find jobs as a props artisan in theatre.
ArtSearch – ArtSearch has the most jobs listings for educational, regional, and non-profit theatres across the United States. You need a subscription to access it. If you attend school, they might have a subscription you can use. Otherwise, it’s well worth it to buy your own.
BackstageJobs – BackstageJobs has similar postings as ArtSearch, but also more commercial, temporary, and overhire gigs. They have sections for Chicago, LA, and NYC, but their job postings are from all over the country.
Playbill – Playbill’s listings can be more show-specific, meaning short-term employment for a single show, but they also list internships and full-time positions. It’s also fairly NYC-centric, but a small percentage of their listings are from elsewhere.
Craigslist – The helpfulness of using Craigslist to find work depends on where you live. While searching for prop jobs in Guam may be fairly fruitless, the New York City Craigslist is so active you can spend your entire year finding short-term gigs from it. Note that almost all the job listings are for immediate or near-immediate positions, and a large percentage are freelance or temporary work. Still, it can do a good job helping you pay the bills in between larger gigs, and you may even find other industries where your skills come in handy.
USITT – Their job listings can be annoyingly meager at times. For the most part, they advertise positions in educational theatre. More helpful is actually attending the annual USITT conference, which just ended this last weekend. They also have local chapters throughout the country, which may have more frequent events and networking opportunities.
SETC – The South Eastern Theatre Conference’s job listings are also focused primarily on positions in educational theatre and internships. Like USITT, their yearly conference, which has also passed for this year, is a great place to find jobs. They hold a job fair, which is a major recruiting ground for summer work in many theatres, large and small.
I’ve found work from most of these sites, as both a young beginner, and as a more experienced artisan. I should also mention that job listings are only a portion of the job search experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if over half of my jobs and gigs were from word-of-mouth, or through someone I know.
There are a number of more local sites as well. When I was living in Philadelphia, I checked the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia for job listings. Your town, city, or region may have something similar.
If anyone knows of any other sites for finding prop job listings, feel free to share.