Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bringing Order to the Chaos

There was one last topic from USITT that I wanted to discuss – the session Mr. Sammler did “Bringing Order to the Chaos”. It was an interesting and very valid session.
-I think the first comment I have is that the session is indicative to where technical direction is going. That the position is becoming more managerial. I think that in today’s age of technical capacity, you can no longer be a jack of all trades as effectively, and that the TD position must be able to pull together the resources needed, not necessarily be able to do everything.
-The key to the system that Sammler proposes is that everyone on the team operates in the same manner. The system must be set up so that budgets are combined for the show and that extra money in costumes goes to scenery or vise versa. If a shop can keep money and use that towards a different show, or for shop improvements or maintenance, then they will be tempted to hoard the money and not be transparent. However, the bulk of the places I have worked provided each shop with a budget, and that money can be used from show to show. I assume that moving around money from department to department is harder for the money people – and I have tended to only see a show based budget work in smaller theatres.
-For the per show budget technique to work, each department must budget, and do so in advance. Many theatres don’t require every department to do an estimate for every show. This is particularly true for lighting and sound. When I have tried to implement this type of system, I found that lighting was a challenge because they wanted till much later in the schedule to determine what they were using. Though I should note that I was working with a Canadian Lighting designer, and that the typical schedules are different (they often do not do a plot until after they see a run through – much later in the process than we do). Without being able to assess the needs of every department, the director can’t make an informed decision about where the money should be allotted.
-I thought it was interesting to hear is views on what a TD should be responsible for. For instance, He stated that it is not the TD’s job to value engineer the set to fit inside the provided budget. The TD should estimate what they feel is necessary to do the design as indicated and communicate those costs (time and materials). At that point director / designer can clarify what they need and where their priorities are to make choices involving all elements, and decide where they want the money to be spent. Perhaps that means that the costumes become simpler, and the scenery budget is allowed as is. Estimates should be tight, but reasonable. An estimate represents the TD’s plan to accomplish the design as they understand it. If the TD must get the show “into budget” it changes the relationship with the team and makes them a “no” person. The 10% contingency cannot be cut from the budget and allows flexibility to achieve the plan.
-It’s easy to budget enough to cover the set.
-Most people under estimate the amount of time it will take to build.
-The TD (or department head) cannot estimate what they don’t know about. If a production manager holds them accountable for things they didn’t know about the Dept. Head will hide money to cover themselves.
-When meeting – it is more about sharing the plan than sharing the budget. This allows everyone to look at what was included, and helps communication between departments – For instance costumes may see that the paint department is planning on texture and that makes a difference to their costumes.

I think that in an ideal work, this is a nice idea. But for this to work there has to be a lot of people who are all operating on the same page. And the production manager / organization has to be open in operating in this manner. And I think that’s a tall order. And practically, if you are in the situation where it isn’t ideal, and you can’t change the whole system to reflect the management system above – quitting your job cause you shouldn’t work in a place like that isn’t really always practical. Though, I suppose, with the rate that Yale churns out students, eventually there is a chance that this way of operating will become more common….

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