Being Proactive for your Students and Your Program

By Mitch Critel posted 08-10-2020 08:51


Mitchell L Critel is the Technical Director and Production Manager at the University of Evansville. His work has taken him into many different venues and disciplines; Film, Television, Professional Theatre, and recently the University of  Nebraska- Lincoln where he led the BFA and MFA programs in Technical Production and Management.


Being Proactive for your Students and Your Program  

As the world shifted from on campus to remote, I found myself trying to wrap my mind around how to teach hands-on production and management classes in an online format in an equitable way. If this stress was not enough,  I was also faced with decisions for an in-house Equity Theatre Company, and student projects attached to those productions. In both cases I found thinking of the student to be the most valuable focal point, with a hearty backing of what other resources we had at hand.  Technical theatre students and educators are resourceful humans. They have a “get it done” attitude, which leads to discoveries, because we all know that often the best problem solutions emerge from working inside of some parameters.

Some Things to Consider

Do you have a budget?  Are their funds leftover from this year?  Are there other forces that will affect the budget you have left? In our case, we did still have the budget but rumors of a “give back” were swirling. So, I looked at the remaining budget and ear marked a few spots where we could make a good faith effort to not spend budgeted resources without affecting the possibility of moving the production to the next season.

Will you have access to the spaces you usually do? In our case, we did not. We spent a week storing things, until the University shut down the campus fully. Now the University is reopening slowly, and the staff is in the beginning stages of accessing where we can work within the guidance of on campus Health and Safety. Understanding just who is responsible for the health and safety of your venues is a new reality for a lot of folks and is everyone’s job. Learning how you fit into the grand scheme of safety on your campus is very important, especially as you look at reopening! 

What do your students do for the common good? This may seem like an easy “We Make Art!” spot, but it is not. Simply put the way we have made art in the last 100 years is not going to be easily pulled off in the fall of 2020. Theatre Technicians are resourceful, we have trained and untrained skills in a broad range of things. We can write policy, we can make budget tracking sheets, we can run lights and sound for public school addresses. This is the point where I started to look at my students, and what sort of skills each of them possessed that could be leveraged for other purposes. An example I have used in the last few weeks is the Stage Manager in a ZOOM call. SMs often take attendance at rehearsal, track movements of actors and scenery, and write a report at the end of it to catalog the progress. These exact things need to happen for an effective ZOOM meeting or class. Get the SM control of the meeting, monitoring the waiting room to allow just the right people in, have them take meeting notes, and then have them catalog them in a cloud storage folder for safe keeping. These sorts of things can also go into a portfolio for the SM if they are looking for jobs and could be value added for certain companies as we all use ZOOM and continue to find new pieces of online cloud based file management.


Recommended Actions You Can Take:

  • Educate yourself; where do the budgets come from that normally support your productions? Dig as far up the chain as you can.
  • Be realistic. Understand the true costs of doing certain things, both material wise and human wise.
  • Articulate the value of Tech Students; Look at learning outcomes and where you students’ strengths lie and use that as leverage. They are much more than backstage crew- their skills are foundational to many things possible in the ‘new normal’.