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Re: [TheCostumersManifesto] Questions for University Shop Managers

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  • Paula McWhirter-Buck
    i work as costume designer/shop supervisor/manager for a private college in western north carolina...after spending 20 years (off and on) working for a small
    Message 1 of 6 , Dec 12, 2008
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      i work as costume designer/shop supervisor/manager for a private college in western north carolina...after spending 20 years (off and on) working for a small summer stock theatre in a near by town.  the college theatre arts department turns into a (different) professional summer stock theatre, which i also work for, now, in the same possition, but i choose the productions i want to work on in the summer, and the rest are contracted out.
      during the school year i have 2 "work study" kids that come in for a couple of hours every day...in the summer i have 2 paid assistants that have come with me from my former job.  these work study kids may or may not be department students (not neccessarily theatre students...in the case of THIS semester i had one that was in the musical theatre department and one that was a chemistry major, but has decided to change her major to theatre emphasizing on technical theatre).  they also may change from semester to semester, and usually have little, if any, costumeing skills and require constant supervision.  my first year i spent more time redoing their jobs then i did doing my own.
       
      First, what would you say you spend MOST of your time doing?
       
      waiting...for students (and a couple of the faculty as well).  they dont seem to have much of a sense of time.  pretty much ignoring appointments, schedules, etc.  leaving me to wait for them.  and sometimes not showing up at all. rescheduling...
      the next most amount of time i spend on cleaning up after the help. straightening up used work spaces.
      redoing projects.

      What do you think are the most difficult parts of the job?
       
      see above.
      after coming from a professional theatre, it took (and i'm still working on it) a while for me to understand that these kids dont understand theatre ediquette AT ALL.  they have no concept of it.  in this particular school, they get one hand-out with a list of do's and don't's from one of their professors, but not much else is ever said about it.
      most of the kids get into the theatre department because it's fun...and it is.  but they dont understand that it's A JOB.  there's something we need to get done, and the playing can start after the working is finished.
      also faculty doesnt share with me when they have projects for the students i'm depending on.  when they need extra rehearsal time, study time, etc.
      students will play me against professors and vice versa.  telling them they're with me and telling me they're with them, when actually they're godknowswhere
       
      i also have to MAKE DO with things.  not being able to afford the exact thing i have in mind.
      money's more readily available in professional theatre, i think.

      What do you like least about your position?
       
      the lack of respect i'm shown for my time.  the way i feel blown off by students and faculty.
      when i build a piece for a show which was hard to do and then see pictures of it on facebook being worn by everyone in the cast and being tossed around the greenroom AFTER i've given everyone the speach about how it's the only one we have and it must last through 10 performances looking as fabulous as it did for dress rehearsal.
       
      my shop needs dont get met unless i take care of them personally (fixing doors, windows, heating, etc)...then i have to deal with re-imbersment after i pay for...whatever.  campus maintanence cant be bothered.
       
      oh yeah....and the money...for the school i work "part-time" which, of course still turns into 1-2 am during tech week.  i get paid salary.


      What do you like best?
       
      my boss...love him...he's leaving... :(
       
      i make my own hours.  only being REQUIRED to be there for theatre labs (3-5 monday - thursday and whatever hours my work study students are there...which isnt untill 11 am, and gone by 2, except for tuesday when my one department student is with me all day).
      i generally have friday, saturday, and sunday off (subject to change during tech week or if we get behind).
       
      when a show finally clicks.  seeing it up and running.  seeing the kids be proud of a project.  seeing my helpers OWN a project that they've done themselves.  and making sure the actors respect their work.
      when my chemistry major got a quick change done in 3 seconds with no glitches, and actually be proud of the accomplishment (she's now very good at them).
       
      and i get to use the space for personal projects.

      Do you think you are better or worse off than you would be in a
      professional shop? 
       
      about the same, now.
      i'm MUCH better off then i was in my last theatre. working conditions are MUCH better (though there's a lot of room for improvement, here too) and the money's much better.
      but in summer stock i have 2 weeks between shows and i'm working on 3 or 4 shows at a time.
      for the college i have 6 weeks between shows and i'm only working on 1 at a time so i can focus on it exclusively.
      but in the summer the casts are usually MUCH smaller and people do as i need when i need...usually.
      most of the theatre department productions have big casts (they want to give the kids as much experience as possible), and we all have to work around scholastic schedules (voice lessons, dance classes, labs, exams, etc.  and all those come before costume fittings/builds, work study, etc. not to mention the students seem to think i'll cut them slack when they stayed up all night partying...i dont)
       
      Why?
       
      they both have their points...and their dissappointments.
      i love the team spirit of my crew in summer stock. 
      but the company is harder to impress.
      the students are more easily "wowed"...which cracks me up.  but they're also more self centered.  they dont get the concept of everything being about the show.  and the only time it's about them, individually, is when it's in the context of their CHARACTER . ("i look frumpy in this dress"...."well, dear, you're playing someone's maiden aunt who is FRUMPY."  and that conversation happens every show with the same actor EVERY time).
      professionals USUALLY get that what they wear in the show probably isnt they'd be seen in on the street.
      and the students dont understand that they need to wear things differently on stage (like pants in the 1940's werent worn BELOW the buttcrack...i dont care how many times i've told them....i see them onstage, and there it is...).
       
      i'm told i dont take crap from anyone like the former designer/manager did.  she, evidently sat in her shop quietly and minded her own business.  gave the kids stupid "busy work" when they'd come in for labs, and let them go after a few minutes to get them out of her hair (i give them a job that needs doing...when they're done they organize something in storage that always needs it or they clean the shop/green room/dressing room.  i let them go when lab is SUPPOSED to be over).
       
      i'm also told the space has never been so organized as since i've been there.
       
      i think it takes a particular personality.  but it's rewarding in it's own way.
       
      good luck.
       
      brightest of blessings,
      paula mcwhirter-buck
      costume designer/shop supervisor
      mars hill college theatre arts department
      southern appalachian repertory theatre
      mars hill, nc
      828-689-1385


      "THE TIME HAS COME", THE WALRUS SAID,"TO TALK OF MANY THINGS.
      OF SHOES, AND SHIPS AND SEALING WAX, OF CABBAGES AND KINGS.
      AND WHY THE SEA IS BOILING HOT, AND WHETHER PIGS HAVE WINGS."

      --- On Thu, 12/11/08, Kate Murphy <costumerkate@...> wrote:

      From: Kate Murphy <costumerkate@...>
      Subject: [TheCostumersManifesto] Questions for University Shop Managers
      To: TheCostumersManifesto@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 8:35 PM

      Since I'm considering a university position, I thought I would ask
      those of you who are costume shop managers at colleges or universities
      a couple questions -- I could use some input!

      First, what would you say you spend MOST of your time doing?

      What do you think are the most difficult parts of the job?

      What do you like least about your position?

      What do you like best?

      Do you think you are better or worse off than you would be in a
      professional shop? Why?

      THANK YOU to anyone who can respond; I truly appreciate it.

      Kate


      ------------------------------------

      Yahoo! Groups Links








      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
    • Kate Murphy
      Wow...thank you for your extensive and thoughtful answer, I really appreciate it. The position I am a finalist for is at a conservatory theatre school with an
      Message 2 of 6 , Dec 12, 2008
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        Wow...thank you for your extensive and thoughtful answer, I really
        appreciate it.

        The position I am a finalist for is at a conservatory theatre school
        with an extensive tech (including costume tech) program, so hopefully
        the students, while not necessarily skilled, would at least want to
        be there.

        You have given me a lot to think about!

        Thanks again,

        Kate



        --- In TheCostumersManifesto@yahoogroups.com, Paula McWhirter-Buck
        <keridwyn_98@...> wrote:
        >
        > i work as costume designer/shop supervisor/manager for a private
        college in western north carolina...after spending 20 years (off and
        on) working for a small summer stock theatre in a near by town.  the
        college theatre arts department turns into a (different) professional
        summer stock theatre, which i also work for, now, in the same
        possition, but i choose the productions i want to work on in the
        summer, and the rest are contracted out.
        > during the school year i have 2 "work study" kids that come in for
        a couple of hours every day...in the summer i have 2 paid assistants
        that have come with me from my former job.  these work study kids may
        or may not be department students (not neccessarily theatre
        students...in the case of THIS semester i had one that was in the
        musical theatre department and one that was a chemistry major, but
        has decided to change her major to theatre emphasizing on technical
        theatre).  they also may change from semester to semester, and
        usually have little, if any, costumeing skills and require constant
        supervision.  my first year i spent more time redoing their jobs then
        i did doing my own.
        >  
        > First, what would you say you spend MOST of your time doing?
        >  
        > waiting...for students (and a couple of the faculty as well).  they
        dont seem to have much of a sense of time.  pretty much ignoring
        appointments, schedules, etc.  leaving me to wait for them.  and
        sometimes not showing up at all. rescheduling...
        > the next most amount of time i spend on cleaning up after the help.
        straightening up used work spaces.
        > redoing projects.
        >
        > What do you think are the most difficult parts of the job?
        >  
        > see above.
        > after coming from a professional theatre, it took (and i'm still
        working on it) a while for me to understand that these kids
        dont understand theatre ediquette AT ALL.  they have no concept of
        it.  in this particular school, they get one hand-out with a list of
        do's and don't's from one of their professors, but not much else is
        ever said about it.
        > most of the kids get into the theatre department because it's
        fun...and it is.  but they dont understand that it's A JOB.  there's
        something we need to get done, and the playing can start after the
        working is finished.
        > also faculty doesnt share with me when they have projects for the
        students i'm depending on.  when they need extra rehearsal time,
        study time, etc.
        > students will play me against professors and vice versa.  telling
        them they're with me and telling me they're with them, when actually
        they're godknowswhere
        >  
        > i also have to MAKE DO with things.  not being able to afford the
        exact thing i have in mind.
        > money's more readily available in professional theatre, i think.
        >
        > What do you like least about your position?
        >  
        > the lack of respect i'm shown for my time.  the way i feel blown
        off by students and faculty.
        > when i build a piece for a show which was hard to do and then see
        pictures of it on facebook being worn by everyone in the cast and
        being tossed around the greenroom AFTER i've given everyone the
        speach about how it's the only one we have and it must last through
        10 performances looking as fabulous as it did for dress rehearsal.
        >  
        > my shop needs dont get met unless i take care of them personally
        (fixing doors, windows, heating, etc)...then i have to deal with re-
        imbersment after i pay for...whatever.  campus maintanence cant be
        bothered.
        >  
        > oh yeah....and the money...for the school i work "part-time" which,
        of course still turns into 1-2 am during tech week.  i get paid
        salary.
        >
        >
        > What do you like best?
        >  
        > my boss...love him...he's leaving... :(
        >  
        > i make my own hours.  only being REQUIRED to be there for theatre
        labs (3-5 monday - thursday and whatever hours my work study students
        are there...which isnt untill 11 am, and gone by 2, except for
        tuesday when my one department student is with me all day).
        > i generally have friday, saturday, and sunday off (subject to
        change during tech week or if we get behind).
        >  
        > when a show finally clicks.  seeing it up and running.  seeing the
        kids be proud of a project.  seeing my helpers OWN a project that
        they've done themselves.  and making sure the actors respect their
        work.
        > when my chemistry major got a quick change done in 3 seconds with
        no glitches, and actually be proud of the accomplishment (she's now
        very good at them).
        >  
        > and i get to use the space for personal projects.
        >
        > Do you think you are better or worse off than you would be in a
        > professional shop? 
        >  
        > about the same, now.
        > i'm MUCH better off then i was in my last theatre. working
        conditions are MUCH better (though there's a lot of room for
        improvement, here too) and the money's much better.
        > but in summer stock i have 2 weeks between shows and i'm working on
        3 or 4 shows at a time.
        > for the college i have 6 weeks between shows and i'm only working
        on 1 at a time so i can focus on it exclusively.
        > but in the summer the casts are usually MUCH smaller and people do
        as i need when i need...usually.
        > most of the theatre department productions have big casts (they
        want to give the kids as much experience as possible), and we all
        have to work around scholastic schedules (voice lessons, dance
        classes, labs, exams, etc.  and all those come before costume
        fittings/builds, work study, etc. not to mention the students seem to
        think i'll cut them slack when they stayed up all night partying...i
        dont)
        >  
        > Why?
        >  
        > they both have their points...and their dissappointments.
        > i love the team spirit of my crew in summer stock. 
        > but the company is harder to impress.
        > the students are more easily "wowed"...which cracks me up.  but
        they're also more self centered.  they dont get the concept of
        everything being about the show.  and the only time it's about them,
        individually, is when it's in the context of their CHARACTER . ("i
        look frumpy in this dress"...."well, dear, you're playing someone's
        maiden aunt who is FRUMPY."  and that conversation happens every show
        with the same actor EVERY time).
        > professionals USUALLY get that what they wear in the show probably
        isnt they'd be seen in on the street.
        > and the students dont understand that they need to wear things
        differently on stage (like pants in the 1940's werent worn BELOW the
        buttcrack...i dont care how many times i've told them....i see them
        onstage, and there it is...).
        >  
        > i'm told i dont take crap from anyone like the former
        designer/manager did.  she, evidently sat in her shop quietly and
        minded her own business.  gave the kids stupid "busy work" when
        they'd come in for labs, and let them go after a few minutes to get
        them out of her hair (i give them a job that needs doing...when
        they're done they organize something in storage that always needs it
        or they clean the shop/green room/dressing room.  i let them go when
        lab is SUPPOSED to be over).
        >  
        > i'm also told the space has never been so organized as since i've
        been there.
        >  
        > i think it takes a particular personality.  but it's rewarding in
        it's own way.
        >  
        > good luck.
        >  
        > brightest of blessings,
        > paula mcwhirter-buck
        > costume designer/shop supervisor
        > mars hill college theatre arts department
        > southern appalachian repertory theatre

        >
      • Curtis
        Wow...I don t know if conditions are still the same at my alma mater, but if students had shown that little respect for their appointments, costumes, and
        Message 3 of 6 , Dec 12, 2008
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          Wow...I don't know if conditions are still the same at my alma mater,
          but if students had shown that little respect for their appointments,
          costumes, and roles, they wouldn't have stayed in the department for
          long. The professor in charge of the costume shop did NOT take
          crap--from anyone...and if you annoyed her sufficiently, she would
          chew you out in a fashion that would have been the envy of any
          military drill instructor (I saw her do it once...that's all I needed
          to see to make sure that I did what I needed to do). By contrast,
          however, if you were conscientious about your work in the shop, if you
          were on time for your appointments, if you didn't whine about your
          costumes, and wore them the way they were intended to be worn, she was
          one of the greatest, most supportive and enthusiastic people I've ever
          worked with.

          Granted, I wasn't the shop manager, but I spent a LOT of time in the
          costume shop for several shows. We had the work-study students, but
          we also had practicum students every semester that had to put in so
          many hours in order to secure a grade. We had introductory theater
          tech students that also had to work in the shop for some of the time
          (they also had to spend some time working in the scene shop, and some
          time painting the sets). We also had several students, in any given
          semester, that came into the shop to help out--for fun, to enjoy the
          social atmosphere, to satisfy their curiosity, because they realized
          how much effort went into costuming a cast of thirty people, or
          whatever. We had one mainstage show either running or in development
          at any time, but we also had several secondary productions--childrens
          theater, student productions, graduate productions, directing classes,
          etc--that had costume shop support (though each one had their own
          costume designer, so that the design burden was shared around and as
          many people as possible got the chance to design a show). We also ran
          a summer stock theater (I never worked on that particular project...)
          and costume rentals (which required constant attention to return
          rented costumes to the proper locations in the storage area...)

          Suffice it to say our shop manager had a very different experience
          than was described below...which one is more indicative of the college
          environment, I can't say.

          --- In TheCostumersManifesto@yahoogroups.com, Paula McWhirter-Buck
          <keridwyn_98@...> wrote:
          >
          > i work as costume designer/shop supervisor/manager for a private
          college in western north carolina...after spending 20 years (off and
          on) working for a small summer stock theatre in a near by town.  the
          college theatre arts department turns into a (different) professional
          summer stock theatre, which i also work for, now, in the same
          possition, but i choose the productions i want to work on in the
          summer, and the rest are contracted out.
          > during the school year i have 2 "work study" kids that come in for a
          couple of hours every day...in the summer i have 2 paid assistants
          that have come with me from my former job.  these work study kids may
          or may not be department students (not neccessarily theatre
          students...in the case of THIS semester i had one that was in the
          musical theatre department and one that was a chemistry major, but has
          decided to change her major to theatre emphasizing on technical
          theatre).  they also may change from semester to semester, and usually
          have little, if any, costumeing skills and require constant
          supervision.  my first year i spent more time redoing their jobs then
          i did doing my own.
          --<block deleted the rest for the sake of brevity>
        • Cheryl McCarron
          Hi Kate, I manage the costume shop at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY.  I pattern & build all the costumes for 3 drama productions and one dance concert
          Message 4 of 6 , Dec 14, 2008
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            Hi Kate,
            I manage the costume shop at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY.  I pattern & build all the costumes for 3 drama productions and one dance concert per semester. I supervise student crews 3 days a week for three hours each and have 6 student aides that work for me. I also design for the department although that is separate from my responsibilities as shop manager.
             
            I spend most of my time patterning and cutting and then handing stuff off to my student aides to assemble. I also teach my student aides patterning as most of them are very motivated to learn and it helps me as well. Technically though, the department is not allowed to say that I "teach" because my position is in the secretary's union and secretarys don't teach. That is the most annoying aspect of my job. It's sort of a glitch that happened many years before I was hired and any effort to remove my position from the secretary's union has failed.
             
            Another frustrating (I wouldn't say that anything is really difficult) part of the job is dealing with students who are forced to do crew but don't want to be there. Some of them have no pride in their work or motivation to do anything that they feel doesn't relate to acting.  Fortunately, they are the minority. I am very lucky to get lots of students who really want to learn and have a sense of pride in the work they accomplish, which is the best part of the job for me.
             
            The big advantage to managing a university shop is being able to use the shop when I need to. I do a lot of freelance design work and love being able to do it in a spacious shop rather than my studio apartment. I also have access to the costume stock and to students who I have trained who are always eager to make some extra cash if I need stitching help on freelance projects. My department has allowed me to be very flexible with my hours which has enabled me to continue my freelance design career.
             
            On the flip side, I have occassionally had to turn down design jobs due to the university schedule. And since I am also full time during the summer though there is little to do, sometimes finagling time away to do summer projects can get challenging.
             
            Hope this is helpful. Good luck with your decision.

            Best,

            Cheryl McCarron
            NYC Fabric Finder

            --- On Thu, 12/11/08, Kate Murphy <costumerkate@...> wrote:

            From: Kate Murphy <costumerkate@...>
            Subject: [TheCostumersManifesto] Questions for University Shop Managers
            To: TheCostumersManifesto@yahoogroups.com
            Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 8:35 PM






            Since I'm considering a university position, I thought I would ask
            those of you who are costume shop managers at colleges or universities
            a couple questions -- I could use some input!

            First, what would you say you spend MOST of your time doing?

            What do you think are the most difficult parts of the job?

            What do you like least about your position?

            What do you like best?

            Do you think you are better or worse off than you would be in a
            professional shop? Why?

            THANK YOU to anyone who can respond; I truly appreciate it.

            Kate


















            [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
          • Cheryl McCarron
            Hi Kate, I just read Paula s response to your e-mail and want to add a couple of things to my response now.   In my department, I have gained the reputation
            Message 5 of 6 , Dec 14, 2008
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              Hi Kate,
              I just read Paula's response to your e-mail and want to add a couple of things to my response now.
               
              In my department, I have gained the reputation among the students of not tolerating lateness for fitting appointments, so it is usually not a problem. If a student is late or doesn't show, they receive a strongly worded letter from the chair of the department which means it usually doesn't happen again.
               
              As far as my student aides, I give them a sewing test before I hire them. I am not looking for an extraordinary level of skill - I just want to know that they can follow directions and sew a straight line. If they have some pride in their work and are interested in learning, I can teach them sewing skills. As a result, my junior and senior student aides are capable of assisting me in supervising the student crews. Sometimes, I have three crews at a time with 30+ students, so it is too much for me alone. Occassionally, we do have to fix some of the crews' work, but I rarely have to fix the work done by my student aides.
               
              Also, since my position is in the secretary's union, I am paid hourly based on a 35 hour work week. For any hours over that (and I do lots), I get paid overtime. I think, however, that is unusual for shop manager positions.
               
              If you have any other questions, feel free to e-mail me at NYCFabricFinder@....
              -Cheryl 
               
               
               
               

              Cheryl McCarron
              NYC Fabric Finder

              --- On Thu, 12/11/08, Kate Murphy <costumerkate@...> wrote:

              From: Kate Murphy <costumerkate@...>
              Subject: [TheCostumersManifesto] Questions for University Shop Managers
              To: TheCostumersManifesto@yahoogroups.com
              Date: Thursday, December 11, 2008, 8:35 PM






              Since I'm considering a university position, I thought I would ask
              those of you who are costume shop managers at colleges or universities
              a couple questions -- I could use some input!

              First, what would you say you spend MOST of your time doing?

              What do you think are the most difficult parts of the job?

              What do you like least about your position?

              What do you like best?

              Do you think you are better or worse off than you would be in a
              professional shop? Why?

              THANK YOU to anyone who can respond; I truly appreciate it.

              Kate


















              [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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