Deliberately Insecure

In the previous blog entry I tried to illustrate the diversity of unseen and unsung talent required to put on a live production.  Many of the people who work in these positions are freelancers and independent contractors, as opposed to regular employees, who know a thing or two about looking for work and self promotion.  If they are part of a regular crew who tour with the performers, they could be working steadily for a long stretch. But when that tour ends, it could be a while before a behind-the-scenes specialist finds another gig!  You’ve got to be hearty to lead a deliberately insecure existence!
As in many professions, those who are considered the best at what they do, have less trouble finding work.  They are “in demand”. And the rest, the majority, all very worthy and qualified, compete like crazy for the limited work that is out there.  This is especially true for the thousands of technical professionals who don’t want to tour; who choose to work with local production companies. And in many cases, they may not be working full time!
The reasons people choose these careers are as diversified as the people themselves.  A love for music, art and performance, their own creative expression, wanting to work in a creative, fast paced environment, thriving on pressure, tight schedules and precise timing, and more.
But how do people get into these careers?
The simple answer, like it is for many careers, is that some pursue their backstage path through formal education, and others must learn on the job by doing.
All around the globe, there are universities and colleges with coursework in fields associated directly with the performing arts, as well as other areas of study that can be applied to supporting that art.  There are also many respected private schools that provide specialized training in these careers.  Some pursue these avenues of study with the specific goal of working in the entertainment arts, and others discover the applicability of their interests to the arts later on.  Here are just a few of the courses of study that can be applied to the performance arts:

  • Recording Engineering and Sound Reinforcement, Sound Production and Design programs for learning how to capture the action to a recording medium, or amplify what’s on the stage for all to hear properly.
  • Acoustical Engineering, for the design of speakers, amplifiers, and acoustical environments.
  • Electrical Engineering for designing circuits to control lights, mixing consoles, amplifiers
  • Fashion design and Art History are frequently studied by costumers, set designers, and prop procurers, so they know where to look for period related references and create accurate staging and attire.
  • Literature and Writing courses always come in handy, whether your interest is developing screen plays, developing narratives or generating business proposals and marketing materials. Learning how to write well will serve you in any professional endeavor!
  • Architectural Design, Drafting and Structural Engineering can all inspire creativity in set design, staging and rigging, to understand how pieces of the sets can work together, last through the setups and tear downs of touring, to support appropriate weight loads, etc.
  • Those interested in the business side of the performance arts will always benefit from business courses, including Entrepreneurship, Accounting, Management, Finance, Advertising, Marketing and Promotions.
  • Law courses can help creatives understand the management of intellectual property, copyrights and trademarks; all necessary for protecting their work.
  • Lighting Design, Broadcast Engineering, Television Production, Photography, Videography and Editing, all support both the presentation, projection and capturing of a performance for larger audiences and (physical and transmitted) product distribution.

But what about those folks who are already out of school, or who don’t want to take college courses in these areas?
Many back stage artists went to the school of hard knocks by helping other professionals. They learned their craft by doing!  Some got their start by making contact with those who perform these backstage tasks, offering to assist them in any way possible, just to get their foot in the door, then watching the pros and learning the tricks of their trade.  Developing a relationship with someone who can mentor you, who has been around the block a few times, can be a great starting point for an internship.  Don’t make a pest of yourself, but respectfully convey that you want to learn, and you want to be hands-on.  Getting the opportunity to be hands-on may take some time, but one’s willingness to work hard, listen carefully, and learn from others can go a long way to getting a backstage career off the ground.
Sure the potential irregularity of these jobs and employment choices can be deliberately insecure, but it can also be rewarding and personally satisfying, something that not every employee can claim, but something that every worker aspires to.
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