…thus critically, it must be learned through Experience.
If you graduated from Design or Production School anytime within the past three years; you are not yet ready to go out on your own.
Rarely, ever so rarely, does one graduate from school ready to open one’s own shop. Virtually everyone from Accountants to Engineers to Therapists and Physicians goes through something akin to an Apprenticeship before putting their own name on a door.
Does a doctor graduate Medical School, grab a scalpel and start transplanting hearts? Years of Residency await; closely supervised, mentored, to be guided through test after test, practice and more practice before s/he begins to Practice solo.
[I do not for a moment, btw, suggest that Experience Design and Production takes nearly the study that Medicine requires – I’m simply making the point that practice is a crucial component in the preparation for virtually any profession or craft.]
Just as any Professional must experience the practical application of the theories, disciplines and methodologies s/he’s learned in school in order to best use said learning with awareness of the random nuance that accompanies the Human Factor; so, too, must Designers and Creatives and Stage Managers and Producers see their work in three-dimensional (and now four-dimensional) presence in the field to truly know how what is created will play.
One must have actually Built It to Know It.
We have spoken of this, before, in “A Word to the Wise”. The subject arises, again now, due to a couple of recent experiences we’ve had, professionally.
These instances? A lecture given last year at EMDI Dubai and this year’s EMDI graduation ceremony.
I love teaching at EMDI and can’t get enough of those students (though may never again be invited, after this post is published); they are intelligent, earnest, committed, aspirational and they listen. But in class that night, during Q&A, after several questions about finding or “getting” clients, something dawned on me; so, I asked.
“How many of you are planning on opening your own Event companies after graduation?” Easily a third of the room raised hands.
I came back with, “Nooooo, nononono. That is not how you get clients. If anything, it is how you will get unhappy clients…” I explained that one must first work for others…a lot; working on an event from concept development all the way through production and load out; sweeping out dressing rooms, bringing water to testy talent, scheduling the loading dock, doing every little job there is that adds up to the Whole of the production.
That is where reputations are made, that is where the beginnings of a career actually take root. Years of working for other companies and Individuals is where one’s own reputation is forged. Being noticed for the work done, the creativity applied, the equanimity under pressure (look it up); that’s where Clients will come from.
Having “interned” by staffing events is good experience, but it is barely scratching the surface. Allow me to put a finer point on that: Staffing an Event is not an “internship” and, while it offers valuable experience, it does in no way render one “Experienced.”
Being a part of the team from the very beginning; discovering idiosyncrasies of clients, venues and vendors and ironing out obstacles and misunderstandings on the fly while keeping one’s production on schedule for curtain up on schedule and being fully responsible for anything that’s forgotten or overlooked is critical to one’s ultimate success as stage manager, production manager, producer, director, anything.
Having to solve one’s own mistakes.
Working three days on an event is not Production Experience; it is only a taste.
Only. A. Taste.
I believe it is the responsibility of Professional schools to emphasize the fact that these schools actually and realistically prepare the students to learn; a learning that will happen after graduation. No student should graduate with the expectation that s/he now knows everything needed to launch a businesses.
This is unfair to the students, vastly unfair to upcoming clients and ultimately deleterious to professionals in the Show and Experience industry, overall.
So. Are they being taught this? That is not my sense, here in Dubai.
Which brings me to last week’s Graduation Ceremony.
As a Production, it was pretty bad; as an event, it was average; as an Experience, it was disappointing; as a showcase for a Graduating Class of Event Professionals, it was downright embarrassing.
A part of me feels awful for saying this; as these students truly are great and most of them carry the potential for becoming good and excellent producers. A few came up to me during the event, asking if the night was going to merit “…better than a C-plus?” (That’s the grade I gave last year’s ceremony; which I had shared in class, this year…)
Plus; the students even gave me an award! Most cool…
Newly graduated men and women of EMDI; I feel a bit bad about this, but I can’t give that ceremony more than a C+. The lighting was better (thanks to ECLIPSE) and the room was prettier on entry; but beyond that, the event was so poorly designed and sloppily run that it elicited running commentary among the guest faculty and event professionals in the room throughout the night.
Specifically and not all-inclusively (diagrams at bottom of column):
- the program started nearly 45 minutes late.
- If any of the speakers had rehearsed, this was not in evidence. Neither most of the professionals nor the students.
- Not all facts had been checked.
- A vast dance floor split the space between the audience and the stage
- on which was a big, ugly, unmasked monitor and
- across which every speaker had to walk to get to the lectern, every student had to walk to collect the Diploma or Class Award.
- Taking perhaps 10 seconds per trip across the boards.
- Ten seconds x even just 100 people = 1000 seconds = 16 minutes while people waited. Sixteen minutes.
- Mounting the stage meant climbing a step unit with no handrails and no ASM (assistant stage manager) at the stairs to extend a hand for security on the way up (and some of these women wore some impressive heels)
- Descending the stage meant descending another stage unit; again with no railing, no ASM, and several hearts in throats as young women carefully found their way down them.
- The stage was just plain poorly placed; requiring travel by anyone called to it.
- The talent entertainment was of and by the students. In theory, this is a nice thought; but what was brought to mind by the seriously off-key soloist and poorly-rehearsed dance troupe was Noel Coward’s “Don’t Put Your Daughter on the Stage, Mrs. Worthington.”
“Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.
Don’t put your daughter on the stage.
The profession is overcrowded,
And the struggle’s pretty tough,
And admitting the fact
She’s burning to act,
That isn’t quite enough…”
These young people are adults; they are old enough to be told the truth. If an act isn’t ready to present; that information should be shared with the Talent…lest they be subject to more public critique. Such as this…but more brutal.
Correcting for any of these above-cited production errors would cost precisely nothing.
But what rumbles beneath the surface here, what is cause for professional concern, the elephant in THIS room is the answer to the question;
“Is this what these kids are being taught is good production?”
Is this what they are off to emulate with their degrees?
EMDI is arguably the premiere Production Management school in the Middle East. That being the case, one would expect the graduation ceremony to be a sparkling showcase of their best work. Flawlessly designed and run with precision, style, professionalism and sophistication, the graduation event is a fantastic opportunity to impress Those Who Hire.
None of this costs money; all it takes is thought and planning.
I believe, strongly, that it is the responsibility of the school to espouse reaching for the best in Production Value; eschewing anything that falls short of the best possible work and sending new producers out into the world with a strong sense of quality of production…including attention to detail, mastery of Time and commitment to smooth and compelling experience.
Otherwise, why do this?
Do these graduates leave that evening thinking they’ve been a part of an excellent production?
If so, they are misled and mistaken and I, as a potential employer, am let down… these graduates, if that Graduation Ceremony is their Standard, are not prepared to deliver the best possible show, event or experience to any clients. While these students pay dearly for the education they get; do they leave there knowing that they need to do far better than their own graduation ceremony in order to be successful in this industry?
If, on the other hand, this is just a party for family and friends; maybe stop inviting professionals and do a separate showcase.
A Final Note:
In my experience, I have worked with scores of EMDI undergrads on other events; finding some who rise to the occasion, some who are a tad challenged by the pressure, many of whom were solid and dependable potential stage managers and production staff; with very few exceptions. They took direction well and I stay in touch with a few of them with intent to continue to hire them.
On the other hand; some I visited on site on projects they worked after graduation. More often than not, I would see what I would classify as obvious gaps in production, sub-optimal staging or craft, and ask the newly-minted Producer / Stage Manager about it…only to learn that the failings of the production under their new purview were not evident to them until pointed-out.
Inductive thinking was not being applied, a critical eye had not been developed and these earnest individuals were not aware. Either unsupervised or not mentored, but evidently not practiced in making a production the best it can be. After a little mini-tutorial in applied stagecraft, they could see…but were often afraid to raise the issue with their employers.
That would be a different problem…
About that Ceremony Set-up:
Rough (VERY rough; I am no artist) comparison of options…)
Interested in a refresher on The Original Five Tenets? These are excellent tools to keep one fresh, inspired, inspiring…
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