Archive for Thoughts

An Epiphany of …..

My stress level has been growing over the past year.   In some ways, it came to a peak last night and that made me realize something.    Last night I was in tech for a dance version of “Wizard of Oz” featuring over 100 kids between the ages of four and 18.    I am the lighting designer and also calling the show.  Tech was stressful.  The theatre is a rental, and the budgets are (like in all arts) tight — the producer cannot afford overtime.   At one point we were 40 minutes behind schedule. For lots of reasons, I am less prepared on this show than I like to be (although in this case I am as prepared as I can be).  I worked through our first two breaks of the evening (which is not uncommon).   Durring the third break, I decided to get up from the tech table, hit the restroom and water fountain. Those important tasks completed, I returned to the tech table and saw I still had a few minutes left, and decided to check my messages.

The messages had nothing to do with the show I was working on, nor any other show I am working on.  In fact they had nothing to do with my work or art at all.   They did send my already high stress level through the roof.  I quickly realized what was happening, and in trying to de-stress myself from the messages so I could focus on the show, I just sent my stress level even higher.

Well, I made it through the night.  We actually got back on track and finished 5 minutes early.  On the way back to where I’m staying through the Los Angeles traffic I reflected on what happened, and how to make it not happen again.  I came to the following conclusions:

1) Lighting dance (especially with talented dancers and great choreographers) is one the the most joyous exciting things in my life.   Yes it can be stressful, but the rewards are so great it is worth it.

2) A large part of my stress seems to be coming from a lack of releases for my stress.

3) I constantly decide that my time to do art for arts sake, and my time to get physical exercise should be subjugated to other commitments (i.e. they are just for me, and therefore selfish and therefore unimportant).

4) I’ve never been good at saying “no” to requests.   I have gotten better.  I have learned to figure out when I just cannot do a show, and I try to help the producer that wants to hire me to find someone else.   For a long time, I did what ever was asked of me at work regardless of what it meant.  In the last year or so, I’ve gotten much better at saying “no” there as well.   I need to get better at saying “no” in other areas.

5) My “selfish” stress relievers are not selfish, they are actually important.

This whole process got be back to thinking about a time several years ago when I no longer wanted to attend theatre in my free time.   Somehow my involvement and love of theatre resulted in me avoiding going to the theatre.  I found a solution to that — I stopped going to the shows that I “really ought to see,” and started going to the shows I wanted to see.   I’m now going to the theatre more.  (In fact, now the biggest things keeping me away from the theatre I want to see is the 3 hour drive to San Fran or LA, and the cost — not my dislike of theatre).  I’m enjoying going to the theatre more now as well — even when I am attending for professional/work-related reasons.

I found a solution to that problem that made me a happier person and a better artist.  I need to find a solution to the current problem, and I think I can.

I’m very simply going to set goals, and find a way to track them.  The draft version of the goals are three fold:

1) Art for arts sake 5 times per week.   Writing articles for theatre publications counts. Working on my text book counts. Composing music counts.  Painting, other writing, photography, etc.  counts.    Designing shows I’m being paid to design: Does not count.   Painting/building a set/hanging lights/installing theatre gear (paid or not): Does not count.

2) Exercise 5 times a week.  Riding the bike around Woodward Park or to Central Fish, or around down town: Counts.   Riding the bike to/from work: Does Not Count.   Going to the Gym: Counts.    50 Sit ups and 50 push ups at home: counts.  Long walks with the dog: counts (i.e. not just around the neighborhood).  I think the minimum requirement is 30 minutes of exercise per attempt at exercise.

3) Eat healthier.  I’m not sure what that means.  Less cookies.  Less red meat.  More vegetables.  This combined with goal 2 will help me loose 20 pounds by Christmas or 4 inches off my waist measurement.

With these goals, some other things in my life are going to have to give.   One organization that I volunteer a good bit of time with is going to be told “no.”   When my husband and I are on different schedules, if that means exercising without him, then I have to do it.

SO What does all this have to do with theatre design? (Since this is a theatre design blog after all.)

Well, the answer in one simple sense is:  Dying from a stress related heart attack at age 40  is not good for my attempt to become a famous writer about theatre or famous designer.

In the broader sense, every job in the world has its own unique demands and stresses.  Much of the work of the artist has the stress of the job *plus* the stress of the next job.  (If one design sucks, you have a harder time getting the next design gig.)  Forcing myself to have less stress allows me to focus on those things that are most important to me: My shows, my teaching and my family.

Healthy people have less stress.   I would feel better about myself if I weighed 30lbs less and could fit into mediums again.   I am happier and have great feelings of accomplishment when I work on my art and my writing.

Being happy and excited about design makes makes my designs much better than when I’m angry and bitter about designing.  I need to make myself happy.

The End of the Semester

Tonight, I’m sitting on my back patio, listening to Christmas music on my phone, my dog laying at my feet, lit by the shimmer of LED stars hanging in my window. What an idyllic view!! I’m contemplating something that I spend time thinking about at the end of every semester: Retention and Success rates — and other measures of educational success.

For those of you not working in higher ed, let me start by defining a bunch of terms.

Capacity: The number of students signed up for the class at census (1/6 of the way into the class) divided by the number of seats allocated to the class.

Retention rates: The percentage of students who were registered for the class when it finished divided by the students at census date (1/6 of the way through the course).

Success Rates: The number of students who earned a C or better in the class divided by the number of students who completed the class

Efficiency: A new (to me) metric involving how many hours students have face to face time with us (for my classes it means 28-35 students for the semester depending on the class)

This semester, my classes were not very efficient. Our department has an issue: the classrooms originally built and assigned to us are not large enough to efficient (my main classroom has 22 seats). The semester still has about a week an half to go, so grades may still change a bit. But my most successful class (by the above metrics) is in the 22 seat room. At census I had 20 students, which was 90% capacity for the class (I had 22 students up until 2 days before census, when 2 students dropped). At the end of the semester I have 17 students on the roll sheet, or 85% retention. Prognosticating, I suspect I will have 13 successful students, or 76% success. Excepting for the efficiency, these are not bad numbers. And honestly is better than the class has done in the past. Some of my other classes are not as good. (one is 68% capacity 66% retention, 80% success).

I consider all of this as I put my syllabi together for the following year. Why was one class more successful than another? Something I had not noticed before until two other instructors pointed it out to me: Tues/Thurs morning classes have better capacity, retention and success. I spent some time looking back through older records, and the pattern does seem to exist. I don’t know why.

My Tuesday Thursday afternoon class has worse stats than it has had in the past (although the class has been dramatically retooled, and the new version is on its first time through).

One of the things I’m frustrated by is the new metrics we are being judged on. I’m not an expert on when to schedule classes so they will be well attended. I’m perfectly willing to teach on whatever schedule the dean wants me to teach on (as long as I’m not booked to teach classes in two different rooms at the same time). I’m willing to attempt to teach “efficient” numbers of students — give me the room and give me some tools to help get students registered.

The big thing I think I can effect is retention. In my 8 years of teaching I have seen a change in the students. The students we have today are less prepared to analyze material then those from 8 years ago. Although I have heard people say that the batch of students we have now are “dumb,” I don’t think they are. They are unprepared. Not only are their analysis skills lacking, they aren’t prepared for college. They don’t know how to budget their time. They also don’t know how to do in depth reading. I think these lack of skills has harmed my retention in my design classes. I have slowly been revising the class each time I teach it, and am making some big changes next semester. Instead of each student doing two different projects, we (as a class) will do one project step by step…. the students’ homework will be to do that same step of the design project on their semester project. I hope this will allow me to do two things: 1) show them how to do more in depth analysis as we look at the group project, 2) force them to budget their time better. I will have much much more homework to grade next semester, but each assignment contributes to their final project which means that it should all be done at the end of the semester when they need to hand in the design project. I will miss the simple and the advanced project that I was able to do when I started teaching, but if I can communicate the analysis and process skills needed, the students should be able to apply them to any design project that gets thrown at them.

I do feel that each semester the syllabus I prepare would be perfect for last group of students. Just when I think I have a course down I have a particularly unsuccessful class and work to adjust to whatever the new reality is.