Balancing Act: Smaller Companies and Technical Growth
Every seven years or so Saint Louis goes through a creative theater resurgence. New companies emerge, old companies grow, and some fade away. With every new surge come new opportunities for theatre professionals. For the actor, the pool of productions and roles increase giving more changes to be cast in a show; but what about the tech side? What opportunities are allotted for technical professionals?
This is where things get tricky.
Opportunities for Technical Professionals in St. Louis is a problem spot. Paid gigs are far and few to come by and many opportunities will be given to seasoned professionals. In many cases pay for tech crew, in a small professional company, is limited or non-existent. This makes the position less desirable to those seeking to make a living wage or those knowing they will not be compensated fully for hard work and long hours. I know first hand what a minimal budget for a small professional company allows – it’s not a lot.
I would love to pay my tech people more than the stipend they get at the end of production. Working for a small theatre company wishing to grow I am constantly seeking talented crew to take our shows to the next level, but with a limited stipend budget, my jobs may not appeal to the individuals I am seeking to bring to the production.
Like other small budget companies, we usually seek out people we know and barter an exchange of time and resources for work done, but how can a small company grow if they do not have the financing to pay people what they are worth? In truth – they can’t.
Talent gravitates towards companies who can compensate fairly. When I am given a show, I try to look at the absolutes starting with a few questions: What type of tech will make this show higher quality? What is the director willing to give up in order to obtain a higher quality show? What wiggle room does the budget provide? The answers to these questions will vary depending on the type of show you are producing, but you also run into isolating one job for another. For example, if I think lighting is more important and focus budget there, it could put a set designer out of a job. These are tough decisions with no clear answer. I seek to be fair and balanced, but sometimes it’s not possible.
Discovering ways to enhance production value, hire qualified tech professionals, and grow a small company you need to be inventive and flexible. I am currently looking to into grant opportunities that focus on technical theatre. Yes, these grants do exist, but you have to dig for them. Many come with so many provisions you become overwhelmed and wonder if its even worth the time and effort. Ever feel like they do that on purpose? St. Louis does have some amazing grants for theatre companies. If it wasn’t for the generosity of the Regional Arts Commission, Missouri Arts Foundation, or the Fox Educational Grants many smaller companies wouldn’t be able to compete in St. Louis. However, seeking grants outside of our city is extremely competitive and steeped in stipulations. Something I am interested in pursuing is finding ways to connect with college students currently in a technical theatre program. Giving a student the opportunity to test their craft and what they are learning in a company setting appeals to me. Granted, it comes with its own challenges, advantages, and disadvantages, but I am thinking outside the box here. My first professional theater experience was at the tender age of 16. I worked props for Spotlight Productions “Annie”. I was a mere high school student at the time learning the basics in theatre class, but when I was given an opportunity to learn hands on in a company setting I was ecstatic! I learned so much by watching. It was a thrilling experience. I feel college students can benefit from this experience because they can take what their classes are teaching and apply it to real world experience. I grew much more when I combined real world experience with what I was learning in the classroom.
I do not assume what will work for me will work of other companies. I also don’t have all the answers. I simply want to pose some thoughts and open a dialogue on how we may be able to open the market in Saint Louis for paid technical positions in smaller companies seeking to foster quality and growth.
Krystal Stevenson is the producer for First Run Theatre, an adventure seeker, teacher, and part-time writer.
**DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of THE SCENE SHOP.