By: Dan Culhane, USITT President
When I was in college, I had a professor who stood up in front of a large lecture hall and told everyone that they would change jobs an average of six times in their career. I remember thinking that was a lot of jobs and that would not be me. Of course, I was wrong. In the course of my 36-year career, and not counting summer or freelance jobs, I have already held six different jobs with six different companies. With each job change, I relied on the support and guidance of a wide network of friends and colleagues most of whom I met through USITT. Today, the statistic is 10 different jobs by the time people are 40 years old and people just coming into the job market will hold an average of 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime. More than ever, we rely on our network of friends and colleagues to help us navigate through a lifetime of career challenges and changes.
Forget six degrees of separation between people. Technical theater is a small world. In our industry there are really only three degrees of separation. You may not know everyone in the industry, but you know someone who knows someone. Everyone talks to each other and shares information and contacts. When I was a technical director and looking to hire skilled and qualified candidates, I relied upon my USITT network to point me to good people. I was never disappointed. And I have had the great pleasure of championing young technicians and designers on their way up; passing along their names and resumes as they move across the state or the country. Lighting designer Gilbert Hemsley advised students, “Be nice to the people on the way up because you will meet the same people on the way back down.”
When new career opportunities presented themselves to me, my network was crucial. I had trusted and experienced theater professionals who offered advice and also provided a sounding board for my reasoning. They reached out to me with postings and possibilities. And they were the models I looked to when I was ready to transition within the technical theater industry. That was 19 years ago and I am still moving forward and my technical theater network is as crucial to my success as ever.
What goes around comes around, and I am always eager to be the support and sounding board for others in our profession. Sometimes colleagues are looking for a connection, other times for advice or an opinion and still other times a sympathetic ear to listen to their story. Take the time. Pay it forward, as they say, and offer your own experience and expertise to those in your network.
As technical theater practitioners, we must stay current, relevant, and educated in our field. An ever expanding knowledge base not only keeps us relevant in our current positions but gives us the skills to shift jobs within our field. My high school ambition was to be a technical director at a regional theater. At 22 years old I achieved that goal when I was made acting Technical Director for a well-known theater in Ohio. I remember sitting in the shop late one night thinking “Now what?” I realized that now it was time to keep growing, learning, and advancing. I am a curious person and I am constantly learning new ideas, concepts, programs, and better ways to interact and communicate with people. Learning is a lifelong venture, and USITT provided me introduction into a world of generous and knowledgeable professionals who taught and guided me.
Very few of us end our careers in the same job that we started. With each new job there are new or expanded roles to be filled. A strong and varied network of technical theater colleagues will provide you with support, knowledge, and different perspectives on your work and career. Challenge yourself to attend Conference sessions that expose you to new people, products, concepts, and ideas. The people make the difference.
USITT because networking and learning go hand in hand and are a lifelong process.