If you’re interested in pursuing tech or production in theater, film, and other entertainment fields, be prepared to forge your own career path. There are a number of ways to do this, but the key to success is working hard.
“I would say in three simple words: volunteer, intern, and work,” said Matt Adelman, a lighting supervisor at the A.R.T. and a panelist at last Wednesday’s OCS event on careers in tech and production. “Theater is a very small world for the large number of people who do it. I am currently employing a person who started out as an intern for my predecessor and he went from intern to paid intern to regular member of crew to temporary staff. You get that way through repetition and learning your craft, and the only way to do that is to be in theater and be hands-on.”
It also helps to have a partner. “If you can find someone who can be a counterpoint to you – if you’re weak at tech stuff, for example – find a partner. Then you have double the power when it comes to looking for jobs.” said Dewey Dellay, a sound designer and composer.
The three panelists all agreed on the importance of having a good attitude. Sara Brown, a set designer at MIT, emphasized developing a positive reputation among professionals in the field. “It’s such a small community,” she explained. “Even in big places like New York. People will always find out where you worked before, and who you worked for. ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ This is a sword that cuts both ways. Every work experience and every internship is your interview for the next job.” Sara gave some advice to help prospective job-seekers develop a better attitude: “Don’t badmouth people. It will never help you. It will only hurt you. Pretend everyone is listening all the time – because everyone is listening all the time.”
Furthermore, a good attitude will help a job-seeker establish a network. The panelists emphasize that connections are critical to success in this field. “I got where I am because of who I know, not what I know,” Matt admitted. “A friend recommended me for my first job. And once I had that on my resume, it helped me out.” Dewey added, “You need the intimacy of being recommended in a trustworthy way to someone. Sound design in theater has been much more of a game-of-catch that people would admit. In general, it’s who you know, the networking you do. It has a lot to do with trust. People don’t want to take the chance to recommend you if they don’t have such an emotional commitment to your integrity.”
How does one create these essential connections? According to Sara, it’s important to take the initiative and reach out to people. “I encourage people, if they see someone’s design, to reach out to those people. If a student wrote to me and asked to shadow me, I would say, ‘Sure!’ You’re going to be shocked at the return you get if you go out and ask people. Everyone had help getting their first job, and everyone wants to help everybody. If you reach out, you’ll find that people are pretty generous.”
Nian Hu ‘18