Monday, January 7, 2008

Shop Standards

I have been reading through the shop standards book where I work. It is an interesting idea- to create an in-house standards guide that is distributed to the carpenters and drafters and project managers. I could see its use in large theatres and in graduate school. Not that each piece has to be built by the standard – but it gives everyone a base to start with. New people know what the shop is used to, repetitive information can be reduced, and it will help communication on all parts. Of course the book would have to be updated as new technology or methods evolved. I also like that is sets an expectation about what the carpenters should be versed in – and that it can be used as a training tool. The book that I read also had a nice section on shop math and materials (common sizes, layout guides, charts, and various other reference materials).

Standards can be an interesting topic. Some (such as rigging standards) should be adhered to carefully as they are there for obvious reasons. Others are not as rigid, but depend on where you are and what you need to have accomplished. There are lots of ways to build a flat or a platform – but if your new in a place and you build a platform out of 1x6 or 5/4 (which I know some places do) and the shop your in only uses 2x4 – it won’t go over well. (I am, by the way, but aside debates on the structural suitability of the various materials). At the same time, depending on where you work you may receive a highly detailed drawing for that platform – or only your outside dimensions, depending on the scale of theatre, staffing, level of knowledge required from the carpenters and so forth….. (I even worked in one place as a carpenter where I built from the design drawings with fairly little guidance regarding construction from my TD at the time, and yes, it was a pretty reputable venue.) The key is for me, and its hard to achieve – I still try to balance – is the middle ground of enough structure to make the process easy, but not too much – to stifle out ideas or opportunities.

For instance I choose a grad school very specifically that would allow me to have flexibility, yet while I was in school I often wished it had more structure. But going to a school that would have provided the structure that I craved would had made some of the lessons I learned in grad school impossible (though I am sure they would have been replaced by other lessons).

However, the other thing I have noted is that without structure, people will create the structure they need. Like anything, sometimes it is helpful to reflect on your assumptions, and reflecting on what is and isn’t a standard (and who the standard relates to) can be a good thing.

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