Conferences 101: Technician Edition
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Hello my lovely readers and happy #TheatreThursday! I took to Instagram to see what you all wanted to hear about this week and you all voted for a little conference breakdown. And I am so excited you did because I have been wanting to write this post for quite some time now.
And I promise you all a resume post will be coming very soon.
So during my time at James Madison University I spent a lot of time (& money) attending different theatre conferences. And hands down, it was one of the best decisions I could have made and one of the main reasons I have had consistent work since graduation. So that is why this #ConferenceQueen is breaking down the similarities and differences between three of the biggest theatre conferences from a technical theatre perspective.
Because sometimes I felt like I was grasping at straws as a young technician trying to figure out all of these conferences and I want everyone to know what they are getting themselves into.
Stands for: The Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival
Years I attended: 2
When is it: Early January
How it works: Nomination (by a director) for your work as a designer or stage manager or technical director on a show
What to go for: Recognition/Awards
A little background:
Fall semester my junior year of college I stage managed a production of Anton in Show Business. It was my first time stage managing a show in college and my first time actually calling a show. So needless to say it was a bit of a hot mess with me flying by the seat of my pants. One day after the show closed, my friend Lauren mentioned she was on the KCACTF website and noticed I was nominated as a stage manager. I had no idea why. I asked my advisor and he had no idea either. Turns out my director had nominated me without telling anyone!
Talk about an audible.
The trouble was my university pays for hotel and travel for this conference and typically it's a senior only event for technicians. But I really don't like being told no and was at my advisor's door every day begging him to let me go. Well my resilient attitude paid off and I was able to go and I learned so much from that first trip.
So KCACTF is broken into different regions & each region works a little differently. My first year I was in Region 4 and all of the stage managers nominated helped out with different events at the conference. I was assigned to help on a 10 minute play festival and I had an absolute blast working on it! There were also two different stage management workshops I attended while I was there. I honestly don't remember the interview at all because I'm sure I blacked out a little because I was lil baby Chels who got beyond nervous for interviews.
My first year, I didn't make it to the second day. I also had people constantly questioning and prying about why a junior stage manager on her first show got to go.
But regardless of that I went and I learned so much from that conference that set me up for all the conferences yet to come.
Round 2 of KCACTF was for my work on Serpentine Pink. My beast of a show, but I loved it with my whole heart. This time was Region 2 and it was WAY different than Region 4.
Here's the basic outline of KCACTF:
Nominated by director for your work (designer, technical director, stage manager, etc.)
You fill out a application form online. This is a basic form you fill out stating your name, contact information, the show you were nominated for, what award you were nominated for, and if you will need power for your display. As a stage manager you won't need power. Sound designers: you probably will need power. Copy this link to see the Region 2 form: https://www.kcactf2.org/designers/dtm-exhibition-entry-form/
There is another form that involves cost- if your university is paying you should not need to fill this out. Confirm with the powers at be to see if you do!
As a stage manager you have to send in a resume, a letter of intent, and a letter of support (typically from the director). Be sure to send this in because sometimes this information isn't shared with you!
Stage managers just bring in their prompt book! BE SURE TO KEEP YOUR BOOK UP TO DATE AS YOU GO. It is supposed to be the book you used/called from, so print/clean as you go and don't try and pull it off the night before (#Antonwasamessyall). Also be sure to black out any contact/personal information.
They also don't like the name of your school/university to be listed at all so be sure to black that out as well.
Stage managers then have an interview. I don't remember the first one. The second year it was a group interview to start with feedback immediately following. I loved this because I got to hear feedback on my book and other stage manager's book's right away. Then in the second round (I made it this year! ) it was an individual interview.
Designers/TD's: You bring your model/research images/ etc. and get a few hours to set it up on a pin up space. The exact orientation of the space varies based on where in the room you are located so be flexible.You then have three to five minutes to present your work to a panel (As well as friends, faculty members, or other designers who come watch). This followed up by a short Q and A from the panel.
Tips: Be flexible, have things printed, don't be afraid to ask for help (I helped the whole Serp team set up their presentations!)
*Your school can also nominate an entire production to tour to KCACTF, which I'm sure works a little differently. I'm still a little bitter about Serpy not going so I wasn't going to mention it, but figured it's worth noting.
Also just a little side note: The 2nd year at KCACTF it was snowing really hard and the professors were only going to let the students who were up for the awards go to the ceremony. Everyone got really sad though and eventually they managed to convince the faculty to let them go support their friends. This was just a beautiful Dukes moment I couldn't resist sharing.
Also the 2nd year I went I noticed they had some auditions and interviews for some jobs. There was only ONE interview for technical theatre jobs, but I figured I'd go for it and get some practice for SETC which was coming up in a few weeks. (Because remember how bad I am at interviews?)
Everything was behind/ the hallway was chaotic. My interview lasted maybe five minutes.
& that's how I ended up at as the SM intern at one of my favorite places on Earth.
Stands for: Southeastern Theatre Conference
Years I attended: 2
When is it: Mid March (The week before USITT)
How it works: Register online
What to go for: JOBS
As a technician/designer you do not need to pre-screen for SETC like actors do. You sign up for the Theatre Job Fair online and then you show up! Here are some SETC tips for beginners:
For the interviews (taken from my interview specific post, for more information click the photo):
1. Wear comfortable shoes.
You will be standing in lines for hours upon hours. Don't wear shoes you aren't comfortable standing in for long periods of time.
2. Snacks, water, and use the bathroom.
Always always always have a water bottle and granola bar stashed in your bag. The hours and days can go on forever and you don't want to have your stomach grumbling throughout your interview. Also try to go to the bathroom before hand so you don't spend 20 minutes waiting in line only to realize you have to pee when you are next to go.
3. Start small.
Don't go interview with your dream company first. Talk to a few companies to get comfortable before heading to theatre you've been dreaming of working with for months now.
4. Stay positive and energetic.
As long as the days are for you, I guarantee you they are longer for the companies doing the interviews. Stay positive and try to keep up your energy. Companies will appreciate your enthusiasm even if you are the 90th stage manager they have seen that hour.
5. Avoid the right before lunch hour interview.
People tend to be less focused when they are hungry. So go beat the crowds and get an early lunch and use the normal lunch hour to prep for your next set of interviews.
Networking here is huge. People will remember you from the year before if you visited there booth. Use this to establish connections.
Interviews can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 15 minutes. Don't freak out if your interview was shorter or longer than the person in front of you.
The job fair is typically broken into three rows of booths: Summer Only, Year Round Only, and Both.
Talk to people while waiting in line. You never know who you may meet!
Some theatre companies will email you and schedule a follow up interview later in the weekend. Sometimes this happens on the job floor, but other times it happens in hotel rooms. This seems weird the first time you go, but it's just so they can interview you away from all the chaos of the job fair.
COMPANIES CANNOT MAKE OFFICIAL JOB OFFERS UNTIL THE MONDAY FOLLOWING SETC. Some companies will be like hey we like you a lot and be very upfront that you will be getting a call on Monday. But officially, nothing is allowed to happen until Monday to make it fair to everyone attending
Stands for: United States Institute of Theatre Technology
Years I attended: 4
When is it: Mid March (The week after SETC)
How it works: Register online
What to go for: Education
USITT is my absolute favorite/kind of my baby.This was the very first conference I attended, the conference I have attended the most, and where I have met some of absolute best friends (hey SMMP & AV). This is conference I'm the most upset I'm going to have to miss this year. This is the basic outline of USITT:
Workshops. These are huge at USITT. There are workshops in every topic imaginable and the list gets posted WAY ahead of time so be sure to try and look at it to get an idea of what you may want to check out. My first year at USITT I was in workshops almost the entire time. Don't feel obligated to stick to a certain workshop schedule though when you arrive at conference!
New Products Showcase. A huge event where vendors try to sell people with $ their products. But for most people it's a massive event with free food and tons of free stuff. Pro tip: Any event/workshop that has the word reception on it means free food.
Expo floor. Massive part of conference with tons of booths -some are selling things, some are grad schools, some are companies that are hiring. They also have a lot of free stuff to give away the first two days. Pro tip: Be sure to head to the Syracuse Scenery booth first for their famous curtain bags.
Tech Olympics - It's like sports for theatre people! Compete in hanging/focusing a light, setting up a speaker, a quick change, taping out a ground plan and more! The winning team gets ultimate bragging rights!
SMMP. I can't even start with this program because it's the most life changing program (especially for me during my second time around). I wrote a blog post about it before so click the photo to the left for more details (and lots of emotions). Or feel free to message me if you are interested in applying/or get in to know more about how it works!
Gateway. Similar to SMMP! You get paired with a mentor but it is open to all areas of technical theatre. This program is focused on reaching underrepresented populations within the industry.
Student Volunteers. Help work different events/ workshops of conference and save money on registration!
If you can attend all three of these conferences at some point in your career, I would highly recommend it. But I understand some people are not as fortunate to have a university that helps out with funding, so here's a reminder of the main focus points of each conference:
KCACTF: Awards/ Recognition
However, you can get all three of these things from each one of these conferences. I didn't get a summer stock job from SETC, but through a 5 minute interview at KCACTF and then another one through connections I made at USITT! So here's my best advice for all conferences to get the best experience at whichever one or ones you may attend:
Open eyes, open mind. See a cool workshop but it's not in your field? Go check it out! You never know what you might discover.
Carry business cards and resumes with you always. Honestly, just a business card will suffice when your at the bar, but make sure to have your resume on you if you are at the job fair (SETC) or on the expo floor (USITT).
Never shit talk. This should be common sense, but you never know who may be around the corner. Be professional and encourage your friends to do the same.
Don't pack the heels/booties. Chances are you won't wear them. To much walking around/standing.
Follow up emails go along way!
Go out. Even if it isn't your cup of tea or for a long time. Theatre people are social and going out is a huge part of networking. Just don't get trashed!
Try new restaurants! Most of the time these conferences are in some pretty cool places so try eating local because you won't tend to have much downtime to explore!
Be sure to eat /drink water/ take a moment to breathe. You won't get a lot of sleep (even if it's just from the adrenaline) so be sure to take care of yourself as best you can. Conference will tire you out, but don't kill yourself.
Meet new people. Conference friends are the best of friends. Don't be afraid to say hello to people because you never know who you might meet and friends you might find!
So I know I missed things. Because conferences are a beast and even I'm still learning with every new trip! Let me know if you'd like to know more about conferences and I will be happy to post more in the future! Maybe a conference packing list?
The Conference Queen👸🏼