Wu Chen Recommends: US History

I’m deeply interested in history. Often grossly mischaracterized as just a series of facts and recorded events, history is better viewed as a narrative, not unlike a piece of theatre. How that narrative is told and understood is extremely important to everyone, and shapes how people view and interact with the world.

US history is especially interesting to me, and this particular podcast is an excellent survey of the subject, from the civil war to the early 2000s. Professor Jennifer Burns is a professor of US history, with a particular interest in Conservative history (she’s the author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right). This lecture series, given at UC Berkeley in 2006, is very good and well worth a listen even if you are a reader in the subject.

You can also get it on iTunes!

Spotlight May 2015

<![CDATA[Spotlight May 2015: Making It Together, IASTE 13, & LED 101!]]> Spotlight May 2015: Making It Together, IASTE 13, & LED 101!
News, Events, Interviews, and More!
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May 2015
 
A Note from Wu Chen

May: Spring; planting season; May Day celebrations.

2015 has been very busy for us so far, with this May being a bit of a break before things rev up again in June. We’ve got a 3-day Power Distribution and Electricity workshop coming up at CTC, and our Rarig Series returns at the end of June with four excellent workshops. We’ve got a Wardrobe series planned for August, and we’re planning more seminars, roundtables, and panel discussions!

We’re particularly proud of those last ones. Bringing our community together – whether they are production folks, performers, producers, or consumers– is central to our mission and brings us tremendous joy when people want to keep at it! We aren’t pretending to be the solution, but we hope to inspire people to seek their own answers. To that end, we feel that we have made some small impact.

This month in Spotlight we’ve got a Sightlines article from Bill Devins on IATSE Local 13; Carl Atiya Swanson expands on his blog article on paying artists; and Seth Scott gives us am introduction to budget and theater-friendly LED technology. Next month, we’ll continue the Sightlines series and we’re going to talk to Liz Neerland, Technical Director of the Fringe.
Thanks for all your wonderful support this year, and stay tuned for much, much more!

Now go and enjoy the sunshine; we still don’t typically build theatres with retractable roofs.


Cheers,

Wu Chen Khoo
Tech Tools co-founder and Operations Director
techtools.wuchen@gmail.com

Tech Tools Calendar of Events


Covering the basics of electrical knowledge and skill as used by technicians in the entertainment industry.  Registration coming soon!

Visit our Events Calendar for information!

Not seeing something you'd like TTT to offer? Let us know HERE!


Making It Together

Article by Carl Atiya Swanson,
Springboard for the Arts, Creative Exchange, Savage Umbrella, and more...

By now you will have heard that Equity in Los Angeles has decided to change their much-debated 99-seat plan, the structure that allowed small theaters to pay union actors wages at below scale. This was after the Equity members, by a two-thirds majority, voted to keep the plan in place in an advisory vote. As Derek Lee Miller noted on Minnesota Playlist, it was a weird place for a union to be, writing, "We ostensibly have a situation where a union has a choice between representing its members' financial interests or respecting the opinion of its members, which seems to run counter to their financial interests."

The situation in Los Angeles highlights the paradox of living as an artist: we love what we do so much that we want to make a living from it, and yet we love what we do so much so that we'd do it for free.

Now this piece won’t be about Equity or the 99-seat plan, there has been plenty of bandwidth taken up by that conversation on all sides. But I would like to propose some things here that can be done – whether we are Equity members, self-producing artists, contractors or company players – by us and for us as we work to make our creative lives supported and sustainable. 

Read the full article HERE!

Sightlines: IATSE Local 13

An Article by Bill Devins,
IATSE Local 13

In January 1894, fourteen men joined together to form Local 13 of the National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes. When our neighbors to the north joined in we became the International Alliance. Are you ready for the full name? Take a deep breath:

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians,
Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories, and Canada.

That’s the IA for short.


Monkey Business:
Budget-Friendly LEDs

Article by Seth Scott,
Monkey Wrench Productions

Many of us in the theater world turn-up our noises up at fixtures that contain the word “DJ” in their names.  In the past that may have been the correct response with their flash and trash attitude and sound activated modes. However in recent years many of the DJ companies have started to cater to a new clientele, crossing over into the theater world by adding smooth dimming and broader color ranges. This new sub category is “up lighting.”

Up lighting has become big business for small wedding DJ’s and large scale event companies alike. Because as theater folk know that nothing makes an old dingy barn look better than columns of light on a textured wood wall or makes a boring ball room pop more than some color. Up lighting has opened doors and made the products we’ve been wishing for more affordable and easily accessible.  I’m not going to touch on the army of LED par cans that are out there, but rather on some other more specialized products.  Some great off brands have also been created that many might not know about, so let’s explore some budget and theatrer-friendly LED options.

Read the full article HERE!

Wu Chen Recommends...

I’m deeply interested in history. Often grossly mischaracterized as just a series of facts and recorded events, history is better viewed as a narrative, not unlike a piece of theatre. How that narrative is told and understood is extremely important to everyone, and shapes how people view and interact with the world.

US history is especially interesting to me, and this particular podcast is an excellent survey of the subject, from the civil war to the early 2000s. Professor Jennifer Burns is a professor of US history, with a particular interest in Conservative history (she’s the author of Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right). This lecture series, given at UC Berkeley in 2006, is very good and well worth a listen even if you are a reader in the subject.

You can also get it on iTunes!
Guthrie Technical Director Josh Peklo demystifies the fly system at the Guthrie Theatre.
All the photos used in this publication are copyrighted to Farrington Starnes and used with permission.
 
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Monkey Business: Budget-Friendly LEDs

Article by Seth Scott, Monkey Wrench Productions

Many of us in the theater world turn-up our noises up at fixtures that contain the word “DJ” in their names.  In the past that may have been the correct response with their flash and trash attitude and sound activated modes. However in recent years many of the DJ companies have started to cater to a new clientele, crossing over into the theater world by adding smooth dimming and broader color ranges. This new sub category is “up lighting.” Up lighting has become big business for small wedding DJ’s and large scale event companies alike. Because as theater folk know that nothing makes an old dingy barn look better than columns of light on a textured wood wall or makes a boring ball room pop more than some color. Up lighting has opened doors and made the products we’ve been wishing for more affordable and easily accessible.  I’m not going to touch on the army of LED par cans that are out there, but rather on some other more specialized products.  Some great off brands have also been created that many might not know about, so let’s explore some budget and theatrer-friendly LED options.

Mega-Light

Mega is a small, family-owned lighting company based in Houston, TX that offers great products and services, and really listens to what customers ask for.

Baby Q70 - This is a crazy small (5in cubed) and bright Multi-CHIP RGBW LED fixture that offers the best bang for its buck in its class. With a street price of $200, I have had theaters and churches alike buying these by the dozen to add punch in small places or replace conventional rigs all together.

The Vatz series from Mega offers a COB (Chip on Board) LED that offers an amazing dimmer curve, the ability to use barn doors, and the look of a single source. Not to mention great colors due to its RGBAW.

Elation

Years ago Elation was known as the professional line of American DJ. While the lines are still connected, Elation has gone on to become a brand name to be reckoned with in the professional moving light industry. They have been featured on everything from national tours to the Super Bowl. Elation has a wide range of fixtures that are a little more budget-friendly than what many would consider from professional brands. In my experience the savings and features more than make up for the few and far between shortcomings.  They offer a LED Leko and a long list of pars, but here are my favorites:  

Arena Par Zoom Q7 is the smaller of 2 in a range of fixtures that offer impressive output and a zoom range of 10-60degree’s, making them great for a down light special or for full on washes effects when zoomed out.  With a street price of around $650.00, this is may not be for everyone but does have more to offer than simply another LED par.

The Zoom Q7's Bigger Brother is also worth a look.

To complement its vast array of LED Pars, Elation has recently released the ColourChours line. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Chroma-q should be red with envy. These units are about ½ the price of their name brand pioneers and offer all of the features including some improvements.  $1600 for a 4ft unit is pretty great.

American DJ

ADJ has an impressive line of LED fixtures that might be worth putting in your space. They offer a complete line of COB LEDS. Although they don’t currently have barn doors, I am told they are in the works and with 3 models to choose from (50, 100. or 150W), there is something for everyone and every electric height. Prices range from  $150-350

COB Wash Units

The COB Cannon Wash 

The ADJ Dotz Par 100 

The ADJ Dotz Par 

American DJ also has a wildfire killer on its hands, The UV CON Cannon, an inexpensive UV LED COB fixture that is bright and dmx controllable. No more need to put a dowser on a UV fixture to deal with 4ft tubes or very expensive discharge lamps. With a price of $400, it’s worth a look.

ADJ also has a line of moving and zooming fixtures that are so well designed that the professional line Elation decided not to make something in the same size factor - since they knew it would only be a new sticker not a new product. Coming in at $850 and $1150 for the larger unit. And it’s bigger brother.

Chauvet

Chauvet has recently split into two distinct production lines, Chauvet DJ and Chauvet Professional. While the professional line has more of the crossover products aimed specifically at the theater market, the DJ line has one or 2 to offer as well.

Chauvet Professional has its sights firmly set on the theater market with a line of Fresnels and Lekos that are not as budget-friendly, but should be considered if you are going that route. In the cyc arena, they do have an offering that has impressive colors, punch, and a price tag that will shock you (in the good way).  $1100.00 for an LED cyc is a steal. 

Need a flame, but don’t have a big budget for an expensive flame effect? Give these a shot!

Chauvet DJ also offers a small frame zooming and moving LED head.

Something that Chauvet beat a lot of others to market with was a small LED image projector. These even offer framing shutters!  I’m not saying they will beat out a S4, but if you have a short throw or need a custom gobo you can print at home, they might make a lot of sense. Chauvet has a couple good options, the LFS-75DMX and the LFS-5D.

While none of these products are the perfect replacement for everything in your traditional rig, there are some very budget-friendly options out there that can not only improve your show, but hopefully make your life a little bit easier.

Sightlines: IASTE Local 13

Article by Bill Devins, IATSE Local 13

Current IATSE Local 13 President Bill Devins is a predecessor of mine as Technical Director at the Jungle Theater and currently the Head Electrician at the Orpheum. Many excellent people who are now at the top of their craft made their days for the Union Referral List and learned the trade at the Jungle under Bill. Curious about a history of organized stagehand labour (there’s more than Local 13 in our past!), I approached Local 13, and was kindly pointed towards my old boss. - Wu Chen Khoo

In January 1894, fourteen men joined together to form Local 13 of the National Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employes. When our neighbors to the north joined in we became the International Alliance. Are you ready for the full name? Take a deep breath:

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians,
Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, its Territories, and Canada.

That’s the IA for short.

In 1994, the Locals in Minneapolis (13) and St Paul (20) celebrated their 100th year of existence. At the time, I was President of Local 13 and had this to say in our Centennial Book:

…What dreams do you have for our Local? I dream of having a Stagehand from Local 13 in every position, at every performance, in every shop, in every venue in our jurisdiction. Can you imagine the strength we would bring to the bargaining table? There are a number of Theatres in our area who do not come close to paying our rates. These are some of the places where workers need us most. We must strive to protect the stagehands at the ninety-seat Jungle Theater as well as in the twenty-eight-hundred-seat Orpheum Theatre.

How far along are we in achieving that dream and, equally important, how have we arrived where we are? The simple answer is work. Work, training, work and more work. Work that other people wouldn’t, couldn’t or didn’t want to do. In the beginning most training was on-the-job. In many venues, especially music venues, our skills at rigging got us in the door and our other stagehand skills kept us there. New techniques were developed; ever wonder who started using a split 15 basket for high rigging? Local 13 had members out on the road for years. The experiences boiled down to what works best in Twin Cities’ venues.

As for reaching toward the dream, we have a collective bargaining agreement at the Jungle Theater and have just won, by unanimous vote, a representation election at the Varsity Theatre. We are on our way to a Small Theatre Area Standards Agreement to go along with our regular Area Standards Agreement. We are educating the workforce, members and non-members, about the perils of our craft; in the workplace and beyond, at the bargaining table.

The entertainment industry is rife with misclassified independent contractors. Local 13 is on a mission to correctly classify workers as employees whenever possible. Misclassified employees working as independent contractors enable employers to save substantial amounts on FICA, Workers Compensation and withholdings paid on behalf of employees. Naïve young workers oftentimes do not realize they are entitled to protections as an employee and the financial burden of an independent contractor.

One hundred and five years after their humble beginnings, IATSE Local 13 Minneapolis and IATSE Local 20 St Paul merged together along with Theatrical Wardrobe Union 781 (TWU) to form what we now know as IATSE Local 13. Stagehands and Wardrobe in Minneapolis, St Paul, St Cloud, Brainerd, St John’s University/College of St Benedict, Mankato, and Little Falls. The ranks of Local 13 has swelled to over 360 members. We represent workers at eighteen+ venues across the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

 Following are some highlights of IATSE 13 History:

Vaudeville opened the Orpheum Theatre and the Pantages Theatre on Hennepin Avenue, Local 13 staffed it.

Minneapolis Stagehands were in a bitter labor dispute in 1927. The Stagehands wanted one day rest in seven, “All we ask is what is given horses and cattle”. The situation was finally settled with the involvement of the International Alliance President and the Department of Labor. The day of rest was abandoned in the contract in favor of a seven dollar per week raise throughout the term of the contract. The day of rest issue returned to the bargaining table during the next contract negotiations.

In 1948, Local 13 Business Agent Bill Donnelly was elected Regional Vice President for the IATSE. Several years later, in August 1952, the 41st International Convention was held at the Minneapolis Auditorium.

Local 13 was working the stage of Northrop Auditorium for the first season of the Minnesota Symphony, now the Minnesota Orchestra. We worked on innumerable concerts at the old Met Center and the St Paul Civic Center.

We were there when Tyrone Guthrie’s great regional theatre experiment opened. There were three scenic carpenters in the shop and a stage carpenter, electrician and sound. Now with costume, wardrobe, scene shop, lighting and audio departments, prop shop and run crew there are over 50 jobs that grew from the original six.

As with rigging in previous decades, the foot-in-the-door skill for the 21st century is AV, operating projectors, switchers, power-point presentations and the like. Corporate theater is big across the country, largely driven by advances in AV. There are four “A”s in AV; they are proper Attire, Attitude, Attitude and Attitude. Local 13 is preparing AV workers to become Certified Technology Specialists.

The Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP) established certifications in Arena Rigging, Theatre Rigging and Entertainment Electrician from within the entertainment industry. Local 13 has recently welcomed ETCP certified trainers to present education to interested parties and the effort has been rewarded by new Certificants in Rigging and Electrics.

By providing representation to workers Local 13 fulfills its mission, as stated in the Local Constitution:

This Local is dedicated to the principles of trade unionism. Its objects are to unite all workers within its jurisdiction for the following purposes:
(a) To improve their wages and hours of work, to increase their job security and to better their working conditions.
(b) To advance their economic, social, and cultural interests.
(c) To establish peaceful and harmonious relations between its members and their employers, and to increase the stability of the industry.
(d) To assure full employment

It should be noted that “all workers” are the object, not only union members but all workers.

New venues and new events are the very real future for IATSE Local 13. We are striving to provide all workers in the Minnesota entertainment industry a safe workplace environment, training to improve their skills and better their situation, and health & retirement security for their future.

 

 

Soapbox: Making It Together

Article by Carl Atiya Swanson

Carl is a Twin Cities' creator, performer, writer, and artist. He is Director of Movement Building with Springboard for the Arts where he where he manages Creative Exchange, a hub of toolkits and stories for artists and communities to work together on fun, relationship-building and inspirational projects. He is a theatermaker with Savage Umbrella, a company dedicated to creating new, relevant works of theater, as well as serves on the Board of Directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network - Twin Cities. Swanson holds a BA in Studio Art from the University of Southern California and an MBA at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

 Photo of and by Carl Atiya Swanson

Photo of and by Carl Atiya Swanson

By now you will have heard that Equity in Los Angeles has decided to change their much-debated 99-seat plan, the structure that allowed small theaters to pay union actors wages at below scale. This was after the Equity members, by a two-thirds majority, voted to keep the plan in place in an advisory vote. As Derek Lee Miller noted on Minnesota Playlist, it was a weird place for a union to be, writing, "We ostensibly have a situation where a union has a choice between representing its members' financial interests or respecting the opinion of its members, which seems to run counter to their financial interests."

The situation in Los Angeles highlights the paradox of living as an artist: we love what we do so much that we want to make a living from it, and yet we love what we do so much so that we'd do it for free.

Now this piece won’t be about Equity or the 99-seat plan, there has been plenty of bandwidth taken up by that conversation on all sides. But I would like to propose some things here that can be done – whether we are Equity members, self-producing artists, contractors or company players – by us and for us as we work to make our creative lives supported and sustainable. These things do not necessarily need to come with a membership structure, but I believe that they come from a fundamental place of union, an in-it-togetherness that is needed to recognize the breadth, depth and strength of our creative community. Here are a few notions:

Be in the budget – Budgets aren’t just a dry, crazy-making list of numbers that have to add up to the same thing on both sides. They are a story, in numbers, about the priorities of an organization and the work being done. As such, whether we are making the budget or being offered a role in it, our own creative work needs to be represented. When people want you to work with them but tell you that there is no money to pay you in their project, ask where they are spending money. Can they re-align some spending to pay you as an artist? What is the value they are offering to you? On the flip side, when we are creating our own work and writing our own budgets, we can’t consider our own creative work as separate or write it off just as an in-kind donation. I have written more about this here, and Huge Theater also has a post about their process for arriving at their ability to pay artists. To build in the practice of asking to pay ourselves as a whole part of our work enables us to turn around and communicate that value to others.

Don’t die of exposure – An extended, specific point on being in the budget and about the value exchange that is being proposed when you are being asked to work for someone for free, or on a speculative venture that “may lead to other opportunities.” If that speculative venture is with your best friend who you love and make things with all the time, great, go for it. But more often than not, that proposed exchange of your work for “exposure” comes from other, larger organizations, and you should challenge that proposal. As an artist, you create specialized, unique experiences that draw people in, create emotional connections, and offer new avenues of meaning and understanding. That should not be devalued because the organization asking has a lot of people walking through it. I’ve written more about it here, but those organizations don’t hold the negotiating cards, you do. You bring the value, audience and experience with you, and don’t forget it.

Say “No” more – This is hard. It is hard for me as someone who wants to do all the things, all the time, and who wants to have no opportunity pass me by. It is hard to do to an outside ask, and harder still to do to ourselves when we are formulating a new project. But a well-placed “No” is an affirmation of your own value and can lead to being a better artist, a more focused collaborator, and a better representative of your own agency. As Psychology Today put it, “No says, "This is who I am; this is what I value; this is what I will and will not do; this is how I will choose to act." We love others, give to others, cooperate with others, and please others, but we are, always and at the core, distinct and separate selves. We need No to carve and support that space.”

And if you feel as though saying “No” or pushing back on budgets and advocating for your own value is causing you to miss out on opportunities, let it go. There are an abundance of ideas and moments in life to create new work, both under your own steam and coming from others. There really are, if you live and frame your work in abundance. As Andrew Simonet writes in his excellent book Making Your Life As An Artist, “The success of other artists is good for me. I chant this because, first of all, it’s true. If another contemporary dance artist gets attention in the world, it creates opportunities for me. I also chant this because I don’t want to live in a community of artists defined by competition and backstabbing. Once in a while, another artist will get a specific opportunity or gig or grant that I want, and I may have to grit my teeth and say it. But I still do. Art isn’t a race where the winner erases the efforts of others. Other art magnifies and enriches the art I make.”

Say it to yourself a couple of times – “The success of other artists is good for me.” Say it and then we get to the heart of the union – that as we are all makers, we are making the conditions of our work together. By standing up for our own value, we stand up for the value of our fellow artists.