(Close Window)
Topic: Another work-related rant
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Feb 25, 2010 10:19AM)
Okay, maybe not so much a rant but a vent. Something that's been on my mind for the past week or so, when I've caught myself thinking about what I've seen over the past few years. So I wanted to let it all out. :)

I was trained as a theatrical designer. Back when I was in school (admittedly, in the previous millennium), we were expected to work our butts off if we wanted to stay in the business. The programs consisted of classes in design, drafting, art history, theater history, drawing, tech theater, how to build scenery, scenic painting, and various other subjects. We were expected to know this stuff cold. Class projects consisted of a written discussion on the dramatic concept behind a design (typed, please; after all, this was college), plus a color rendering or scale model, and often a verbal "defense" of the design.

When we were serving as assistant designers or slave labor in the shop, and another designer came up with something we didn't have a clue how to do, our mentality was, "hey, we're galaxy-class super techies; we can figure it out." It was exciting to do something different.

Nowadays I see kids coming out of so-called tech theater programs thinking they know tech theater, but they don't know squat. I see "set designers" coming out of BA or even MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs, who can't draft, let alone do a freehand 3-point perspective sketch. I see tech directors coming out of MFA programs who apparently never read a textbook on how to build scenery (and who can't draft). And, when a designer comes up with something "different," the mentality seems to be, "this guy is a pain in the rear."

Had enough yet? :)

Take lighting designers. Most of the ones I keep running into out here in CA know the instrumentation and the latest control technology, but don't have a clue how to use lighting to advance the story. They can't do a proper lighting plot or "cheat sheet," never mind a cue sheet. We were doing more professional plots back in second-semester lighting design than some of the stuff I see out there nowadays.

I could go on and on, but I'll clam up. My problem isn't with these kids, but with the colleges they attend. I've seen guys with MA's in acting, teaching tech theater -- and telling me (with what came across as a little bit of pride) that they don't go by the book, but just get the sets built any way they have to. Just yesterday I saw an ad for a tech theater professor, and the main requirement was a degree in theater, with a master's in performance or a related specialty. Not design or tech.

I have to believe there are still good programs out there. I want to believe it. But, geez, from what I've been seeing for the past few years, I do have to wonder.

Ah, man, sometimes I pine away for the good old days...
Message: Posted by: stoneunhinged (Feb 25, 2010 10:49AM)
That sounds pretty darned bad.

It's kind of hard to put a finger on what's happening, though. Have you run into any kids who went to the same school you did? Do you think the standards are lowering universally, or is it just that some other schools are lowering the common denominator?

On a tangential note: I once knew a guy who wrote a dissertation in sociology whose thesis was based upon a tedious, hundreds of hours long analysis of the phone book. The same exact research could be done today in a few minutes with online records and a bit of decent programming. In the same vein, the hundreds or even thousands of hours I spent in the library myself could be done now with a laptop sitting in a Café. The joke is on us, however. Our degrees weren't awarded on the basis of hours spent, but the quality of our research. Is it the fault of the young that technology has simplified the task so significantly? No. But is a PhD easier to get today than it was twenty years ago? In dozens of fields, definitely. No question about it.

But that's only tangentially relevant, as I said. It implies no lowering of standards whatsoever.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Feb 25, 2010 11:50AM)
I haven't run into any kids from my schools, but now that you mention it, it would be interesting. My college program was pretty much designed to funnel people into Hollywood, and the grad program put a number of kids into either New York or other colleges. I'll have to look into it. Thanks for the idea.

I don't know if standards are being lowered universally. There again, maybe I need to look a lot farther afield and see what other schools are doing. Over here, I do see a cross-section of people from a lot of different schools, but it's only a small cross-section.

As far as using the library vs. the internet, I agree that you can do a lot more research in less time today. Heck, sometimes I do. However... I do have to wonder if the old way gave us more of an overview of a subject (let us see more of the forest) than the new way, where you can focus in on something so finite that you don't see anything else.

For instance, my current design project is an old renovated French farmhouse, present day. I did both book research and online research. The books gave me a huge overview of the periods, the look, the materials, and the details, where the online research let me focus on specific things like the interior decor. One of the things I still don't like about online research is that I always feel there's a lot I'm not seeing because my search terms didn't cover some stuff, whereas books hit me with a lot of information that I may not have thought about looking for. I'm in a visual field, so being able to look at a lot of information quickly keeps my mind open instead of getting constipated.
Message: Posted by: EsnRedshirt (Feb 25, 2010 04:16PM)
Speaking of visual information, I've on occasion been browsing with bing instead of the google image search lately. The interface has a different feel- but to each their own. In fact, using multiple search engines is sometimes a good idea. Search engines can be surprisingly static. Do an image search for "magic illusion", then repeat the search two weeks later. Almost every hit on the first few pages will be identical. If the search term is relatively obscure, you may find that the web isn't as wide as you thought it was.

I still have all my old theatre and set design books from college. Somewhere. Probably buried in the back of my bookshelf, up high, to keep my son from pulling them out and ripping the pages.
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Feb 25, 2010 10:40PM)
On 2010-02-25 17:16, EsnRedshirt wrote:
Search engines can be surprisingly static. Do an image search for "magic illusion", then repeat the search two weeks later. Almost every hit on the first few pages will be identical. If the search term is relatively obscure, you may find that the web isn't as wide as you thought it was.
I think that's one of the things that bother me. It's like back in my day, going to the encyclopedia for information on a topic. I happen to like encyclopedias, but they're not a one-stop-shopping gig; they're a place to get a quick overview of a topic and then move on. I don't have a clue if it's laziness or ignorance or something else, but I find so many people (in my field) nowadays not having the patience to really look into a topic before assuming they have all they need.

Scenic painters come to mind. When I work with one, I give him or her as much information as I think they'll need, including the research material. Then I ask them to just sit back, relax, and take some time to absorb it all before getting a paintbrush wet. Then I ask them to stop now and then, take a short break, and come back and look at their work with a fresh eye before continuing.

Do they do any of this? No. Generally they take one look at the painter's elevation and go right to work. I have to drop what I'm doing and go play Mom and get them to stop long enough to really get a feel for what they're doing. And eventually they do, and see what they've done, and go, "oh, okay, now I get it; that's cool."


I don't have a clue what's so difficult about this. Theatrical design ain't rocket science. It ain't even paper airplane science. It's a learnable and teachable field like any other. You take the time to understand what they're teaching you, and you make a few mistakes, and you learn from them, and you get better at it. Granted, some people "have it" and some don't, but the same can be said for medicine or accounting or police work or any other field.

This past year I did a design for a local community college. Make a long story short, I ended up showing a student how to paint a "hardwood floor" on the set. Then I had to leave. A day or two later I find out the student got all kinds of compliments on how good the floor looked. From what I heard, people were commenting on that floor for days. It did look good, and I made sure to congratulate the student on his work. And all he did -- all he did -- was follow the instructions.

Okay, fine, so maybe he had some ingrown talent. No problem there. Some people do. But he did exactly what I showed him to do, didn't second-guess me, didn't try to improve, didn't go for shortcuts. In all honesty, that floor looked very close to what I would have done myself. And for him, a student in a two-year college, it was a feather in his cap. A win-win all around. Even his tech theater professor told me so.

I don't know if we're getting lazy or just getting used to the idea that we can get information fast -- even if we don't realize it may not be the best information.
Message: Posted by: EsnRedshirt (Feb 25, 2010 11:01PM)
Actually, I wasn't going to even speculate on academia, since I've been out of college for so long (and didn't even get lucky enough to get a job utilizing my theatre degree), but it sounds to me like the real problem is this: students are learning to do just what they're told. It may be a by-product of No Child Left Behind- just learn to the test, don't bother to learn more. It's great for working at Wal*Mart, but horrible if you're in a job that requires real independent thought and creativity.

I'd be ashamed if my college feather-in-my-cap was "painted a really great hardwood floor." We had much higher production values than that for my sophomore year's production of "Love's Labour's Lost" (and I still intend one day to use the marbling technique I learned on the set's columns to paint a room in my house.) I've always enjoyed learning new skills or techniques- I'd hate to think I'm an exception in that way.
Message: Posted by: tommy (Feb 25, 2010 11:05PM)
Are you mad? We don’t want educated kids or people that can think. What happens if they start getting ideas, then how will we control them?
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Feb 25, 2010 11:16PM)
Nothing personal, but, from what I read, I do believe I'm taking exception to your comment about being ashamed about painting a hardwood floor.

Painting that floor wasn't his ONE accomplishment in college. It was part of the college learning experience, and something that he could feel good about. And that maybe -- just maybe -- got him excited enough to want to pursue it and continue in the business.

That student did what he was told and he learned from it. Just like apprentices back in the medieval guilds did what they were told, and learned from it, until they were skilled enough to go out and start their own practice and train their own apprentices. Just like we did in school when we were learning something. Just like med students do when they're learning to do an appendectomy. From my standpoint, the problem is precisely that too many kids don't bother learning the basics before they go out and think they can do better than their teachers.

Or maybe their teachers have lost the ability to make sense and to teach their students that school isn't about pat answers, but about learning to think.

As far as "No Child Left Behind," don't even get me started. Just a couple of days ago, I was talking with a high-school drama teacher, who told me that she teaches this class where every student is guaranteed (her word, not mine) a part in "the school play." Excuse me for not being PC and all, but in the real world NOBODY is guaranteed anything, and teaching kids to think... blah blah blah... is, IMHO, horse doo-doo.
Message: Posted by: EsnRedshirt (Feb 26, 2010 12:17AM)
Sorry- didn't mean to offend. It's getting late, my eyes are feeling fuzzy. Yes, I misinterpreted your post as saying that "painting a good hardwood floor" was the one big thing he did. I do hope it got him inspired to learn more, rather than relax on his laurels and become an expert hardwood floor painter. ;)

When I learn a new process, I usually either teach myself, or, -if I'm learning from someone directly- I do what I'm told. But I rarely just leave it at that. I ask the "why's"- and if they don't know, then I go and try to figure them out myself. Frequently, I'll end up learning more than the person who taught me. (I've ended up writing in-house tutorials for quite a few software applications just because I'm the guy who figured them out first.) I hope I'm not sounding arrogant, but I know what you're talking about. As a kid, I was one of the little terrors who disassembled everything to try and figure out how it worked. I don't know exactly who made me learn how to think, but I was lucky to have some excellent teachers.

And I didn't get into theatre until college, but yeah, we had try-outs. And absolutely, not everyone made the cut. Which was fortunate, because we always needed crew. Either way, it was always a learning experience.

(Afterthought- note to self: stop posting and go to sleep, idiot.)
Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Feb 26, 2010 10:54AM)
No problem. I had a long day myself and needed my beauty sleep... really bad. :)

You raise a very good point as to asking "why." I've found over and over that understanding why is what helps someone either follow the instructions or not follow them. In this case, I explained why the colors were layered the way they were, why the grain wanted to run the way it did, why use two different brushes, and why other stuff. Then I took him out into the house and showed him what it looked like and why it wanted to look like that. In the case of your marbling technique, you need to understand why a particular type of marble looks the way it does; otherwise it's just a generic wet scumble with some generic veins... and it ends up not looking like any type of marble in the galaxy.

As far as taking stuff apart :) , yeah, I did that too. Drove my parents nuts. Eventually they got used to the idea that I put it all back together and it still worked.

Well, I got my sleep. Hope you did too.
Message: Posted by: Tom Bartlett (Feb 26, 2010 02:02PM)
On 2010-02-26 00:16, George Ledo wrote:
As far as "No Child Left Behind," don't even get me started. Just a couple of days ago, I was talking with a high-school drama teacher, who told me that she teaches this class where every student is guaranteed (her word, not mine) a part in "the school play." Excuse me for not being PC and all, but in the real world NOBODY is guaranteed anything, and teaching kids to think... blah blah blah... is, IMHO, horse doo-doo.
[/quote]You mean, NOBODY is guaranteed anything except free healthcare. ;)
Message: Posted by: Magnus Eisengrim (Feb 26, 2010 03:20PM)
It has nothing to do with your original intention, George, but the No Child Left Behind legislation has nothing to do with including students in activities. The legislation put in place a number of measures intended to standardize and enrich American education. More details are [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Child_Left_Behind_Act]here[/url].

Message: Posted by: George Ledo (Feb 26, 2010 03:59PM)
Thanks for the link! :)