21st April 2021

Talent Versus Technicians: Changing the Culture of Division

Talent Versus Technicians
Elisabeth Weidner

With all of the forward motion in the entertainment industry over the past few years, I just can’t believe that we still live in a culture of “Us vs. Them.” I’m talking about actors, musicians, “the talent,” vs. technicians. Even in my list, I’ve used a term I’m used to hearing: The Talent. Here’s the thing, I am also the talent. The spot ops are also “the talent.” The stage manager is also “the talent.” The deck crew, the A2, the board ops, the wardrobe techs, etc. are all “the talent.”

We’ve stopped thinking about what language that has been used for generations actually means. I cringe every time I hear “actors on a ten” during tech rehearsals. What about technicians and designers? Should we just power through?

Obviously, this announcement actually means that this is the time everyone should take a break, but the language just needs to change. What about the rehearsal report that refers to the actor as “Mr. Smith” but refers to the technician as “the board op”? It only perpetuates an already unspoken and uncomfortable divide between those that work on the stage and those that work just off the stage.

This is not a one-way street; the sentiment goes both ways.

We always hear about “actor-proofing” gear for the stage. What does that even mean? Does an actor suddenly lose all ability to think logically about the thing they are holding, or sitting on, or walking over once they hit the stage? I mean, we’re not actor-proofing an actor’s day to day life, are we? If what we mean is we are going to make sure a cable is run properly and taped down so that it can be crossed over many times without being a trip hazard, we should probably just say that instead.

The theatre conservatory that I taught for the better part of a decade has a policy that all acting students must serve as a technician on at least one show during their training.

I love this policy, and honestly, a few of my best A2s were actors. Why just hear about the other side when you can actually experience it? The benefits are massive. The actor learns a bit about a technical trade, will be able to incorporate that new knowledge into their craft, and hopefully has a newfound respect for the life and work of the technician.

The tech crew also benefits from working with the actor-tech.

One of the coolest and most functional homemade mic belts I’ve ever used was made by an actor-tech who used his prior experience of uncomfortable mic placement to develop a beneficial design.

Also, an actor’s knack for memorization has come in super handy when I’ve had to rattle off a list of instructions that needed to be performed in a timely fashion. And let’s face it, actors almost always know every character and every word to every song way earlier in the process than a technician. It is so much easier to be able to say, “Fix that mic on Sibella” without having to add, “She’s the girl that’s always dressed in pink.”

Acting conservatory classes often feature a lot of exercises that include self-reflection, group trust, and team-building. Over the years, I’ve heard tech students talk about how awesome it was that they didn’t have to take classes like those, and that has always boggled my mind! Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of free therapy? I know (possibly more than anyone) how uncomfortable and difficult it is to open up about feelings and stuff, but think of the personal growth!

If we were all taking team-building classes together, actors and techs, US and THEM, just think of all of the positivity that would come from it.

If nothing else, it would let us get to know one another. Maybe get coffee together, maybe collaborate, maybe learn from each other. My challenge to you all is simple: Cut this phrase in half. There is no Us vs. Them; There is only US. It takes all of us to make a show.

I wanted to say something here about symbiosis, and my first Google search turned up this definition:

“Symbiotic relationships are a special type of interaction between species. Sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, these relationships are essential to many organisms and ecosystems, and they provide a balance that can only be achieved by working together.”

I really can’t do better than that. So just keep reading that definition, and thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

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Article by SoundGirl: Elisabeth Weidner

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The mission of SoundGirls.org is to inspire and empower the next generation of women in audio. Our mission is to create a supportive community for women in audio and music production, providing the tools, knowledge, and support to further their careers. SoundGirls.Org was formed in 2013 by veteran live sound engineers Karrie Keyes and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato and operates under the Fiscal Sponsorship of The California Women’s Music Festival, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. In 2012, Karrie and Michelle participated in the “Women of Professional Concert Sound” panel at the AES Conference in San Francisco. The panel was hosted by the Women’s Audio Mission (WAM) and moderated by WAM founder Terri Winston. Terri brought together five women working in live and broadcast audio. The groundbreaking panel (which also included Jeri Palumbo, Claudia Engelhart and Deanne Franklin), provided young women and men a glimpse into life on the road, tips and advice, and a Q & A with the panelists. More importantly though, was how incredibly powerful the experience was for the panelists. We had all been in the business for 20 years or more, yet most of us had never met before that day and within minutes we bonded like long-lost sisters. We were struck by how similar our experiences, work ethics, and passions were and wondered why our paths had never crossed and how our careers would have been different had we been there to support each other through the years. Each of us are strong on our own, but together we were even stronger and a powerful force. We were empowered. Each of us had been asked hundreds of times in our careers: Are there other women doing sound? How did you get into sound? How would a young woman go about getting into sound? Through creating SoundGirls.Org, we hope to establish a place for women working in professional audio to come for support and advice, to share our success and failures, our joys and frustrations, and for empowerment and inspiration.

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