Saturday, February 21, 2009


So taking a breather from Pojects I was thinking about the post I did regarding the mirror command (using mirror and rotate at the same time). The more I think about it I wonder which is faster - the mirror copy/rotate or a simple polar array. Granted, the array will create 4 lines instead of 2- but they would be the correct size and orientation. I think bits like this is what makes AutoCAD so interesting yet challanging - there are lots of ways to do things, and each person may accomplish the same thing in different ways. So once you get to a certain skill level, and are accustomed to a certain way that they are comfortable, it is hard to pick up new ideas since the tricks are often in the subtle details of easy commands.

One of these days I am going to challange myself to see how many commands I use on a simple drafting package. I think there would be more dimensioning / text / and layout commands used than most of teh rest of the drafting.

Friday, February 20, 2009

What is a Project?

To continue yesterday's post I want to refer to Project Management 101:

So just what exactly is a project? Here are two excellent, and complimentary, definitions for us to review. The first is from the Project Management Institute's widely disseminated A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which we will refer to throughout this course as the PMBOK (pronounced PEM-BOK):

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service.
And the second, from writer and Project Manager James P. Lewis, whose excellent book The Project Manager's Desk Reference we will also rely on heavily throughout this course:

A project is a one-time, multitask job that has clearly defined starting and ending dates, a specific scope of work to be performed, a budget, and a specified level of performance to be achieved.
As we can begin to sense, three key pop of these definitions:
A project is temporary.

A project is unique.

A project is the result of a multi-task job that performs something specific (i.e. a goal). It is thus progressively elaborated.

From the above descriptions perhaps you can see where I am headed - A show is a one time (perhaps excluding the Blue Man Group and other never ending commercial endeavors) job that coordinates a wide variety of tasks. It is a project for the TD, but also in directing, lighting, sound and all other elements.
It is temporary (again with the obvious exceptions). The show eventually opens, and eventually closes.

And it is certainly unique.
I think it is sometimes easier to view it as a project if you consider it from the point of view of a freelancer - a designer / actor / director who approaches each show as its own distinct operation. I think TD's and others who work for the full season or year can get lulled into a different perspective. I would still maintain that it was just a series of projects - much like a good designer will work on many productions concurrently.

My life as a project manager is much like a TD's in terms of multiple projects. Some projects are in the estimating phase, some are being drafted, some being built, some could be on site either installing or striking. Except that I am not coordinating one venue or several theatres - I may be coordinating venues like a convention center, theatre, hotel, TV studio, or a host of other locations. My projects usually have different clients, and no interrelationship except how they flow across my desk and through the shop.

A TD who is well acquainted with their theatre can predict periods in the calendar that will be smooth or sections that are tight based on the overall schedule and past experience. Adding entirely new productions to the season doesn't happen too often. They know that a show won't be canceled (well we hope considering today's economy). In this situation each project becomes linked as a whole. This is helpful for season planning (a project as well - a theatrical production and season can be discussed as a project on many levels), but can distort the idea that each piece is a separate project.

In a commercial shop you may bid something that you aren't awarded, and new packages show up. It can be hard to plan on what will hit the shop in a month, let alone a year from now. On the other hand some larger projects can take that long to go thought the process, and those can be planning at a different level.

However, I am digressing - because my point of setting up the show as a project is to be able to dissect the project into phases and methods of managing the process without comparing on TD job description to another.

The link above has alot of good project management explanations - so after you have woke up from my ramblings you should head over and take a look.

A Show = A Project

It's been a little longer since my last post than I would like, but it's been hectic lately.

Since USITT is quickly approaching and I will be doing a session that relates Project Management to Technical Direction, I have been doing alot of thinking about that. And of course the best thinking usually happens someplace where its impossible to type or write. But I thought that as I pull ideas together that I would talk some of them out here so that any of you can add comments or point out anything I might be missing from your perspective.

I think I will start out at the concept of a show as a project. When I was in grad school I took about a third of my classes from the Bloch School of Business, and one of the reasons I did so was that I felt an identification of a show as a project - and a season (planning of which is a project) as a series of connected projects. For me framing a show as a project allows you to teach TD related skills in an approach that allows you to talk about the phases and processes. Since every TD job is different if you try to define a TD by type of TD, most of the time is spent defining TD types instead of dealing with management issues a TD deals with. I will admit - I enjoy the management side of technical direction - and have leaned towards those jobs - and even towards production management - but I don't want to blur the lines too much - so I will leave "production management" out of the scope.

So back to show=project. A project has a discreet beginning, end, a desired result. A show is planned, a design is developed, a schedule is created, there is particular goal in mind, and then opening comes, strike (usually) and then the project is closed out. There may be differences in terms of when some people enter the project from others, and how some people close out a project, and even how build and project achievement is accomplished - but the phases of a project are the same. When I interviewed for the position here I was asked about how I felt about "projects". It was a question that was ready for - sine I had already started thinking in Grad school and studying aspects of project management to apply the knowledge to a theatrical framework.

I plan on continuing to dive into each phase in more detail in the upcoming weeks. Please feel free to leave feedback / opinions / thoughts /comments below (or by email).

*By the way, thanks to those who have made comments. I had thought I had enabled the comments section long, long ago and thought you were all a very quiet group till someone emailed me and said they couldn't leave a comment. So now that everything is fixed up I hope to be able to enter into more conversations with you as opposed to just spewing out random thoughts and information.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I have been thinking lately about what I think may be the greatest barrier to learning: defensiveness. I have often worked with individuals where they have alot of great things to contribute (experience, knowledge, technique...), but are very defensive to feedback and alternative suggestions. Instead of considering something new, they tend to protect and reinforce their own idea of the process.

I think there are a variety of contributing factors, some of which the theatrical environment probably inadvertently reinforce. Yet, for everything we do - every paint technique, every construction technique there are often multiple ways to accomplish the jobs. Some might be more right than others, some may fit the particular situation or design parameters better, but most alternatives are not outright wrong. This of course doesn't include technical designs where the idea isn't safe.

Parameters include budget, aesthetics, time, availability, staging, run-crew, talent available, among many other variables. To think that one solution will work every time is unreasonable.

I like options - and as part of the estimating process sometimes i will play out 2 different scenarios - like which would be better - legging platforms during install (or in the shop) or building stud walls. Sometimes 1 works better than the other (there are rules of thumb that can get you to the same place that I tend to use when i am busy). But people who tend to be defensive also don't seem to think as much about options. It seems that they are more often doers than planners.

A real life example... A few years back I was doing a small job which involved cleaning alot of steel. I was using the shop facilities from school, though I was paying for all materials and labor. Using simple green to clean the steel undiluted takes about a third less time than the water mix that the school tends to use. Assuming $10 a bottle (generous) and a labor rate at the time of $15-20 an hour, it doesn't take much math to see how much money you can save on the job by not diluting the simple green. Yet one member of the crew couldn't see it (and unfortunately didn't approach me), he could only see that we were wasting Simple Green.

I guess its a point that really hits home currently. When you don't pay for labor out of the scenery budget, extra labor hours don't seem to matter. But they do. The materials for a show are very rarely the major expense - its the labor cost. And with today's economy you have to think a little more about how you spend your dollars. It takes a TD a little time to look outside the box and come up with alternative solutions. Saving money by using a stronger mix of simple green is counter intuitive but can allow more of the design budget to go to aesthetics.

It also effects the work I do in a commercial shop. Our clients aren't obligated to come to us. And if we choose methods that increase the cost without increasing value, we aren't competitive.

I think that defensiveness makes it hard to open yourself up to new ideas, options and opportunities. I know it can be difficult in the environments that we work in, but the risk is worth it.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hatch Boudries

Lynn Allens Blog has an entry about a few new things coming in 2010. Since I just recently started with 2009, I suspect it will be a while before I can check this out first hand. However I will be eagerly anticipating the change.

I particularly thought that the hatch boundaries gap help was useful. I wonder if it will also work with Bpoly (boundary polyline) - a command I use when creating cnc files to create a closed polyline within a defined space. Gaps create problems with the cnc machine - so hopefully this will help spot errors prior to opening the file in the cnc software.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mirroring in AutoCAD

The Daily AutoCAD blog routinely offers tips for drafting that are useful for starting and intermediate drafters. While there are often lisp programs, there are entries about drawing inclined lines and filleting corners as well.

Todays blog talked about using mirror to create a centerline mark. I think mirror is a command that is often under used because people don't think about how to fully utilize it.

When I used to teach drafting one of the challenges I would set forth was to draft an object (say a flat) using the fewest number of commands. While using mirror to copy and rotate the 2nd center line may not make you a 100% faster, thinking about how you use basic commands more efficiently on a global scale can make your drafting quicker and more accurate.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Thermo-Chromatic Material

RTP Company has a new product line. Called ChroMyx, its is a “flexible, scruff and scratch-resistant, waterproof, temperature-sensitive, color-changing films that can be made into virtually any product.” I have bid on several exhibits that include thermochromatic panels, and thought that this would be a useful product to remember for that. Also, In the back of my mind I remember a costume designer using a similar material for a psychedelic costume.

You can check out the article here

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Props blog

Toolmonger directed me to a new prop blog that looks like it will be a good blog to follow. The blog is being written by Eric Hart. He only has a few posts so far, but has some valuable information. I particularly thought his entry on using flickr was good - I had not really used the site for research purposes before.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sure Grip Rope

J. R. Clancy has recieved a patent on their new rope designed to show wear. When the rope needs to be replaces, the users will be able to see red fibers, left by a red thread woven into the rope. The rope is availble in white or red.

More information:
Lights and Sound America
Stagespot w/ PricingJ. R. Clancy