Archive for the Uncategorized Category

“Recycled” Scenery for The Marriage of Figaro

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6, 2016 by stevenjmclean

My latest production opened on February 26.  Although I am a faculty member for Simpson College’s theatre department (Theatre Simpson), this opera was produced by the music department (Music at Simpson).  The two departments have a complicated history and relationship that has evolved over time.  Under our current arrangement, the Theatre Department hosts one music opera production per year in our home facility (the Blank Performing Arts Center).

This means that the Theatre Simpson Designer/Tech Director faculty serves as Technical Director and the Theatre Simpson ATD/Scene Shop Supervisor faculty oversees construction; Theatre Simpson provides a lighting designer for the production (either faculty or student); the scene shop provides 350 or so of work-study and service-learning labor-hours toward the building of the scenery and another 200 or more work-study hours lighting and running the light board.  All other labor (including building scenery during two 7-hour Saturday work calls, stage managing, run crew, etc) is provided by music students or volunteers.

The Music department contracts their own Set Designer for these productions.  They often contract me (under a separate contract since my load doesn’t cover another design) to design Music at Simpson productions. This year, in addition to Technical Directing Marriage of Figaro, I was assigned by the theatre department to design lights for the opera production as part of my load.  In December, when the Music department was struggling to arrange for a set designer, I became the set designer as well.

Part of the reason for the Music Department’s delay in arranging for a designer was their hope to save production budget by borrowing a setting from the Des Moines Metro Opera.  When it became clear that none of the available sets would lend themselves to the particular scenic needs of The Marriage of Figaro, they were left in a quandary.   I have designed The Marriage of Figaro for the music department two times previously and some of the scenic elements used in previous productions remain in various forms in the theatre and music department’s stock, so I offered to design the sets at a reduced fee and proposed a similarly minuscule set budget with the understanding that we would be using a lot of repurposed scenic elements.

I conceived a spare abstract theatrical environment with late eighteenth-century details to coordinate with the 1790s period costumes that were to be provided for the production. I designed the set  using Vectorworks software.   In addition to producing the standard plans, sections and elevations, I extruded all of the elements from each scene into 3-dimensional virtual models.  Viewed as Renderworks Style Realistic Colors White, the “models” have the visual appearance of a standard theatrical white models.

A1MODELMarriageOfFigaro2016_B12-17-15Act I of The Marriage of Figaro takes place in an empty room that Figaro (the Count’s manservant) and Susanna (his betrothed and the Countess’s handmaiden) will move into once they are married. The room has doors said to communicate between the Count’s and Countess’ rooms and has another entrance.  It also features  a high-back chair that is needed for business involving one character hiding from another by hiding under a sheet over that chair
MarriageOfFigaroS16A1_2702Two of the doors and pediment on one of them were originally built for a 1996 Theatre Simpson production of Arcadia.  The third door was was built to match for a 2002 production of The Marriage of Figaro.  These scenic elements have been used for countless productions and are kept in stock because of their usefulness and versatility. The polychrome marble floor is painted using galzes over a “sprayed-up” black floor.  The backdrop is a black velour panel lit from below by cyc footlights hidden behind a 1’6″ high black-painted ground row.

A2MODELMarriageOfFigaro2016_DAct II of The Marriage of Figaro transpires in the Countess’ bedroom.  There are a number of features that are important to the room.  It needs to include a closet door behind which Cherubino, the Count’s page  is trapped when the Count’s jealousy has him convinced that the Countess is carrying on an affair behind his back.  The door to Figaro’s & Susanna’s soon-to-be-bedroom allows Susanna to sneak into the room when the Count locks the room’s main entry doors while he goes to get keys to open the closet.  Susanna frees Cherubino who jumps out of the window and she replaces him in the closet.  The director also insisted on a four-poster tester bed.

MarriageOfFigaroS16A2b_2729Two of the doors from Act I were moved to new positions onstage flanking the purpose-built four-poster bed.  A double-door main entrance doorway and pediment was built years ago and has been used several times since.  The doors, themselves had to be constructed since the  French windows that remained from their last use were unsuitable for this production.  The wagon on which the double doors stand needed to be built from scratch as did the window and window seat unit.

MarriageOfFigaroIntermission_2716We took intermission between Act II & Act III.  The cartouch remains from the 2002 production.  constructed of carved foam, it needed to be repainted after water damage incurred during storage.  The swagged drapes creating a soft false proscenium are a pair of stock black masking legs.

A3s2CourtMODELMarriageOfFigaro2016_BAct III is a complicated affair with action shifting back and forth between three settings.    When the curtain opened the playing circle was dressed as a music and art room in the palace, while the stage is fitted-up as a courtroom where the Count is to hear a complaint against Figaro lodged by Marcellina

MarriageOfFigaroS16A3s1_2736The playing circle is one of the idiosyncrasies of Pote Theatre which superficially resembles a classical Roman Theatre. The upstage portion of the playing circle level is removed to open up the orchestra pit.  Bridges over the orchestra pit on either side of the stage provide performers access to the downstage portion.  Pit rails and bridge rails give the bridges and back of the playing circle a finished look.  The current set of “Bridge Rails”  was built for Music at Simpson’s production of Street Scene in 2014.  The furnishings in the playing circle came from Music department stock, from Theatre Simpson stock and some was borrowed from the Des Moines Metro Opera stock.

MarriageOfFigaroS16A3s2_2740The courtroom consisted of an assemblage of elements from other productions.  The window is part of a window unit built in Spring 2013 for Music at Simpson’s production of Massenet’s Cendrillion and Theatre Simpson’s production of The Winter’s Tale.  The drapery and the folding screen were created for Cendrillion, while the desk and chair came out of Theatre Simpson stock and the 8 light-colored chars were used in Theatre Simpson’s 2012 production of Alice’s Trip: A Movement Adventure.

A3s3BallroomMODELMarriageOfFigaro2016_BToward the end of Act III the action shifts to the palace’s ballroom for Figaro and Susanna’s wedding. This scene must accommodate the entire 40-plus member cast and chorus .
MarriageOfFigaroS16A3s3a3 large window panels were repurposed from the Cendrillion/ Winter’s Tale windows while the 4 paired columns were purpose-built for the production.  These windows are constructed of welded square steel tubing.  The backs of them are covered with a clear plastic membrane MarriageOfFigaroS16A3s3bavailable from home improvement stores for winterizing windows.  The thin plastic is held in place with double stick tape and then it is shrunk to the appearance of glass by strategically applying heat with a heat-gun or hairdryer.  Under the right lighting, reflections of the actors onstage appear in the windows, effectively doubling the apparent size of the cast.

A4MODELMarriageOfFigaro2016Act IIII is set in the garden that evening where the Count believes that he is meeting Susanna for an assignation, but, instead woos the Countess, his wife.  Meanwhile Figaro who is not in on the prank temporarily believes the Count is having success wooing his new wife (really the Countess in Susanna’s clothing) and resolves to have revenge by wooing the Countess (really Susanna in the Countess’ clothing).  Though he quickly sees through the disguise, he continues pretending to woo the Countess, and upsetting Susanna who briefly thinks that he thinks she is the Countess.
MarriageOfFigaroS16A4c_2752This setting used both the playing circle and the stage.  In the playing circle, a bench borrowed from DMMO is paired with two topiary bushes built for Theatre Simpson’s 2002 production of To Fool the Eye and used frequently for Theatre, Music and even DMMO productions ever since. MarriageOfFigaroS16A4a_2746 Onstage flanking gazebo halves represent the “pavilions” called for in the text were originally built for a production of The Merry Widow in 1996 and have been used for at least 10 productions since then (last for the 2014 production of MarriageOfFigaroS16A4b_2758Carousel).  The bench center stage has been hanging around for 25 years, having been designed and built for the 1991 production of Les Liaisons Dangeruses.  Flanking the bench, the flowering bushes also date form that 2002 production of To Fool the Eye.  Overhead at the back of the stage, I repurposed windows from the 2014 production of Street Scene.  Originally there were 4 of that particular size, however one did not survive its use as a window in Julie’s house in the second act of the 2014 production of Carousel.  Cosequently, we only hung 3 of them for Act IIII.  The windows were covered by stretched window sheers and back-lit to offer the impression of a brightly lit  piano nobile at night.

As I hope the reader can see, the production achieved both an economy and an elegance that belies the repurposed nature of the majority of the scenery used onstage for the production. Even though scenic elements were drawn from a half-a-dozen or more disparate productions, through careful selection, a strongly unified period production can be maintained even on a minimal budget.  However, without the foresight to save valuable items and the space to do so, even this could not be possible.

That’s all for now!
Be safe!
MrBigBeardPonyTail
SJM
All photography and CADD models used in this post by Steven J. McLean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lost Summer: Laying Ceramic Tile on a Basement Floor

Posted in Liberal Arts Applied: Tiling a Basement Floor, Uncategorized on October 23, 2015 by stevenjmclean

I went into the summer hiatus from my college teaching and theatre designer / technical director job with the intention of catching up on the backlog of planned posts to this site.  My thinking was that except for a 3-week vacation in Florida, I would have plenty of time.  After all, for the first summer in several years I had no summer theatre gig, no major renovation plans and the two sets that I was scheduled to design for the Fall semester were both well on their way to being designed.

Then life happened.  A whole lot of bad things:  a pair of deaths in my wife’s immediate family, a flooded basement and a cat with a broken leg.  While the family losses took the greatest emotional toll, the flooded basement had the greatest impact on my time

NikoInCast

Niko’s Cast

My wife and I were one day into a 3-week vacation,  having driven from the midwest to southwest Florida.  Our son (who was home for the summer from his first year of college) called to tell us that one of our cats had broken her leg.  The next day he called again, having  awoken around noon, to enquire as to why the carpet in his basement bedroom would be wet following a heavy rain.  Turned out that a critter had dug a borough clear down to the bottom

RustedSumpPump

The failed sump pump

of the foundation beneath one of the downspouts and the sump pump had utterly failed.  The entire wall-to-wall carpet and carpet pad was wet and moisture was wicking up the drywall.  Eventually, the whole house would smell of mildew.  Of course, this all only became clear to me after I returned home following several days of updates where the report of the condition of the floor and the failure of attempts to dry it out with portable pumps, shop vacs, and fans became increasingly dire.

30YardDumpster

30-yard roll-off dumpster

My son enlisted the help of some of his friends to rip all of the carpet out of the basement and I rented a 30 yard roll-off dumpster in which to dispose of carpet, pad, and a whole lot of ruined furniture.

The carpet itself was no great loss. It  was installed by a previous owner and was in questionable condition when we moved in over 10 years ago.  Since that time, The basement had seen heavy use, first as a family room , then as quarters for my daughter and son-in law, then as quarters for my mother-in-law and step-father-in-law.  Finally my son moved down there at the beginning of high school.  As a general rule, I don’t think that wall-to-wall carpeting  is a good idea in a basement anyway, so we decided to take this opportunity to replace the floor with ceramic tile.

BasementAfterCarpetRemoval

“Stuff”  following Carpet Removal

I have laid  tile in the past, but at approximately 650 square feet this proved to be the largest tile project that I have ever undertaken. The task was complicated by the immense amount of “stuff” that we have accumulated.  Though some of that was ruined by the water and  discarded  in the dumpster, I still had to work around a whole lot of furnishings and other “junk”.

As a result of this,  and the experience of consolidating the households of the expired relatives, and the prospect of one day moving from our current home, my advice to the reader is to get rid of anything that is not absolutely necessary to your livelihood, comfort or security.

I have yet to take my own advice.

Since it was such a large floor (and relatively flat) I selected a  16″ tile, choosing  to lay it in a brick pattern off-setting every other course.  I planned the installation by dry-laying the tiles to determine the best way to maximize whole tiles and minimize cut tiles (resulting in less work and a more attractive layout).

TileTools

Brick-laid 16″ tiles & tile-laying tools

The actual work of laying tile is more laborious than you might expect.  The thinset mortar  must be mixed one batch at a time.  I used a 5-gallon bucket and mixed about 3 gallons of mortar at a time.  I used a grey powdered mortar mix and a liquid  acrylic modifier (instead of water to maximize the adhesion properties of the thin set mortar).   Adding the liquid to the powder a little at a time to mix properly, it took about 10 minutes to mix

MorterAndGroovedTrowel

Grooved trowel used to spread mortar

and required another 20 to 30 minutes to  “slake” or permit the liquid to fully absorb into the powder. Another 30 seconds of vigorous mixing readied the mortar for application.  I prepared the floor (scraping, sweeping, mopping and moistening it) and applied the mortar to the floor  with a 1/2″ square notched trowel (notch size is determined by the tile size).

BackButterMorterOnTile

Back-buttered tile & mortar bed

I  back-buttered each tile to assure that mortar completely covered the back of each tile (again to maximize adhesion).   Once that was done, I pressed the back-buttered side into the troweled mortar bed making sure that it was level and evenly centered.  Small foam spacers assured regularity of the gap.  I also carefully removed any mortar that squeezed out between the tiles so that the beige-colored  grout would have a generous depth

TileWithQuarterInchSpacers

Tile laid into mortar bed with spacers

of gap to fill and would completely cover the grey mortar.  Each mix of mortar was sufficient to lay between 12 and 15 tiles and took about an hour to apply.  The tools and mixing buckets needed to be completely cleaned and rinsed out between batches.  You can imagine that with each batch taking about 2 hours or more and yielding 20-25 square feet, it took around 25 of batches and a lot of time to lay all of the tile.

RosinPaperOnFloorForPainting

First Section:  Tiles laid (not grouted), wallboard repaired, ready for paint

 

I worked the floor in 3 large sections so that I could leave some of the bigger items including floor-to-ceiling bookcase, tables, pool table and other large pieces of furniture in the space (so as not to have to move them up the basement stairs).

DetailOfWall

8″ of soaked drywall replaced with MR wallboard

 

Once a section had been laid, I let it cure for a week before grouting and let that cure for another week before moving furniture on it.  Meanwhile, I also repaired the drywall over the finished section and painted the walls.

TileCuttingWheelOnAngleGrinder

Diamond wheel on Angle-Grinder

Of course, the tiles did not work out to whole tiles around the edges so, I used a tile cutter that I bought at my local big box store to split tiles to fit the margins around the edges  tile field against the walls.  The tile cutter has a sharp wheel like a glass cutter that scores the front of the tile, and a lever that applies pressure on both sides of the score to split the tile in a nice straight line. Sometimes the cuts needed to be inside corners or close enough to the edge of the tile that the tile cutter wouldn’t work.  After some experimentation and research,  I purchased a diamond cutting wheel that fit my angle-grinder to get those hard-to-do cuts.

TiledCabinetEnd

Clara the cat (Nicco’s sister) inspects the first section before grout

I staggered these operations so that there was no down time, with something going on practically every day. In this way my summer slowly ebbed away until I was finishing up grouting the last section in mid-August.  After the grout had cured I installed  pvc baseboard along the bottom of all walls and sealed the grout with grout sealer.

 

Tiled&GroutedEastEnd

Clara approves of the final section

Well,

that’s all for now.

Thanks for reading and Be safe!

SJM

MrBrowlingGlass&Ponytail

Taking Stock of the designandtechtheatre Blog

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2012 by stevenjmclean

Those who have followed this blog will remember that I am a faculty member in the Theatre Department at a small regional Liberal Arts College in central Iowa and that I started this blog as a way to share any discoveries and revelations that I hoped to make during my sabbatical during the spring of 2012.  That sabbatical is now over. While on sabbatical I researched a number of newer lighting technologies that budgetary, resource, and schedule limitations at my school prevent me from adequately exploring under normal circumstances.

I began this blog in December of 2010 in preparation for the then-granted sabbatical scheduled to begin January 2012.  In that first year I wrote 13 blog posts (a little over one per month).   By contrast, between early January when my sabbatical leave began and late June when I took what was to evolve into nearly a 3-month hiatus, I wrote 46 blog entries and over 3300 words.  I am surprised to realize that this amounts to an estimated 132 pages of text.

I am a firm believer in visual images.  As numerous contributors to the Stagecraft Mailing list (on which I am a continual lurker and sometimes poster, and about which I have written in earlier entries in this blog) have said: “If there aren’t pictures, it didn’t happen”.  With this in mind, most of the blog posts contain several images: process photos, research photos, photos of materials, products and tools, photos of productions and finished products, graphs, charts and drawings.  I estimate that 1/4 or more of the physical content of each blog consist of such imagery.  As I review the content of the posts since my sabbatical leave began, I find that they cluster into several categories.

Of these posts, the bulk, 23,  deal directly with theatrical lighting.  The Lighting posts cover a wide range of subjects.  6 posts cover introductory material describing principles and processes that a lighting designer must be familiar with.   A 12-post series examines a basic system for lighting a sample stage space and explains the logic, planning and paperwork used by me for each step of the process.  A 3-post series (this series is incomplete and will one day expand to 6 or more posts) examines the DMX protocol and some of the capabilities and gear used in the industry to allow lighting control, dimmers and fixtures to communicate.  One of the posts examines the step-by-step procedure for repairing the burnt-out socket on an Altman Q-light, while another examines the lighting aesthetic, gear and effects of a major rock concert that I attended at Des Moine’s Wells Fargo Arena during the sabbatical.

9 of them document the process of designing scenery for two different productions for two different community theatre organizations.  4 of these examined the design and production (including construction) of scenery for The Quiet Man for Winterset Stage.  4 more entries covered the design and production of the setting for The Divine Sister for Stage West at Des Moines Civic Center’s Stoner Theatre.  An initial post described the circumstance of engaging the 2 projects within hours of one another and briefly outlined each project.

8 of the posts documented the process of remodeling my kitchen during the summer of 2010.  While the work was long finished before my sabbatical, I was caught up in the challenge that I set for myself of trying to document the techniques and materials that I used for the project, and in doing so in a clear, precise way.  I also intentionally tried to draw a connection between the skills that our students learn in constructing scenery and how many of those skills can be translated into lifelong pursuits beyond the theatre application.  Incidentally, one of these posts received the only directl feedback that any of my blog posts has received when a reader wrote to thank me for explaining the installation of glass tile backsplash.

Among the remaining blogs were topics as wide-ranging as: the process of creating a prop telescope for a 2010 production of The Learned Ladies for Theatre Simpson, the repair of an antique Windsor chair, musings concerning sabbatical volunteerism and service to community and a travelogue describing my attendance at the annual United States Institute of Technology (USITT) convention held in late March at the Staples Center in Long Beach California.

As I reflect upon all that was accomplished in this blog, I am also reminded of the many things that were not accomplished or that remain unfinished.  In addition to the unfinished series on DMX 512, I have not documented much of the research that I accomplished in the areas of LED lighting technology, lighting control consoles, or of moving light technology.  I have not even begun to record in this blog the many worthwhile and informative workshops that I attended at the USITT Long Beach convention, nor the interesting and important things that I learned from them.  I have not written up the observations that came from attending 3 additional rock concerts (all featuring the same band) in 3 wildly different venues, and on the impact that those experiences has had on my regard for some of the technologies involved,  nor have I recounted the demo session that I attended at a local lighting distributer of ETC lighting equipment.  In short, there is a lot of outstanding material left to share!

Even though there is a lot going on in my department and at my school right now, I am making the commitment to continue this Blog indefinitely.  I can probably only commit to an entry a week (rather than the target of 3 per week that I made and regularly hit weekly during the height of my sabbatical.)  In future posts I hope to share some of the research and insights described above, as well as share any new and developing events and discoveries that may be made along the way.  I will continue to strive to illustrate my commentary with informative images and graphics as well as to populate the text with meta-links to salient interweb sites.

 That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!

SJM

 

Sabbatical Volunteer Work

Posted in Uncategorized on March 16, 2012 by stevenjmclean

One of the surprises of my sabbatical leave has been the number of opportunities for community service have come my way.  Normally, every weekday, many evenings and weekends are so occupied by academic and production-related duties that in a normal spring, it is simply not possible to take advantage of these opportunities.

Not so this semester.  With no academic or production-related conflicts, I have been able to engage in several volunteer and community service activities.

Many of these have come my way through my wife who assumed responsibility of a local High School library (she is a trained teacher/librarian) last fall.  Since there were several issues that she was having trouble coordinating with the persons who were presumably available through the school and since the tasks were within my technical ability and since I come with tools, she coerced me into lending a hand.

Over the course of several days I repaired 6o or so wooden chairs.  Some only required tightening of existing screws.  However, many had sheered-off  or stripped-out screws that required re-filling over-large pilot holes, repositioning screws,  and other minor woodworking.

The administration at my wife’s school is working on creating summer storage for all the text books that are checked out at the beginning of each semester to students who require them for their classes and in creating an additional teaching computer-lab.  To that end, all of the stacks (shelves of books) needed to be moved from the mezzanine of the library to the main level.  Consequently, I spent a day moving 7′ long x 4′ high x 20″wide  shelves to their new locations.  This entailed maneuvering them single-handedly (on a dolly and with a student helper to hold doors) through an adjacent classroom through 2 lever-latching doors, through a double-fire door, through a single lever-latch fire-door to the elevator, into, down one level, and out of the elevator, through another double-fire door and through the double-doors of the library.  Thank heavens for the refrigerator dolly that my step-father-in-law left when he moved out!

My wife also asked me to create and install a 4′ x 4′ chalkboard behind her circulation desk. A half-sheet of  1/4″ hardboard and some chalkboard paint and it was done.  I didn’t have room in the library to create it there, so I did the work at home.  The hardest part was getting the chalk-board to the school.  It wouldn’t fit in any of our vehicles, so I had to strap it to the rack on my roof.  My wife was less appreciative than I expected.  It might have something to do with the fact that after I installed it I inaugurated the chalk-board with the legend “Print is Dead!  Egon Spengler–Ghostbusters”

I also had the unbelievable opportunity to chaperone a formal dance at a local high school a few weeks ago.  Enough said!

I am scheduled at a future date to run sound for a belly dance workshop and performance that my wife’s dance troupe will host at a local vineyard.  Tough work, but somebody’s got to do it!

The highlight of my volunteer activity this semester is the opportunity to chaperone my son’s band trip in the coming week.  We are taking about 12 adults and 140 students on a week-long bus trip to Orlando so that they can march in front of  the Disney World Electric Light Parade one evening.  I am told that it is a 26-hour bus ride in 3 busses and that I  will be one of three adult males among the chaperones.

This blog will experience a 3-week hiatus while I conduct this last activity, followed immediately by a road trip to Long Beach for the USITT convention.  In that interval I will have spotty internet accessibility (and sometimes precious little time to blog on the topic of Theatrical Lighting).  In the meantime, expect some off-topic blogs that I created and scheduled for publication.

That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!

SJM

A Tale of Woe and Betrayal

Posted in Uncategorized on September 2, 2011 by stevenjmclean

With the start of a new Academic year a colleague of mine at an academic institution related to me the following sad incident.   It seems that their Theatre Department is suddenly seeking a new staff Costumer. I have never been accused of excessive brevity, so bear with me, if you will, as I relate this sad tale.

The former costumer for the department resigned suddenly a scant couple of weeks before the onset of the school year.  This, following a spring-long period of conflict arising from her abrupt verbal resignation during another in a string of less-than-stellar annual employment evaluations, followed once the opening was advertised by her retraction of that resignation on the grounds that she “misspoke”.   Reportedly, the institution’s Personnel Officer and Academic Dean, citing perceived technical irregularities in the documentation of her performance shortcomings and lack of clear and properly documented remedy in the annual evaluations, and the lack of a proper, written resignation, insisted that the job search be suspended, the costumer’s employment be extended and that a process of remediation to address the identified shortcomings be implemented.  These things were supposedly done.

Over the summer, there were reportedly incidents that could have served as indications of how things were set to unfold.  Staff obligations were not met, communications were never responded to, and the like.  This concluded with an early August written communication from the Costumer that she was terminating employment.

So far, dear reader, aside from the retracted resignation, I will warrant that this is neither hardly a new story nor a particularly interesting one.  However, the plot thickens.

It is reported to me that when said colleagues at this institution met with this individual to accept her keys, and conclude any final details,  he discovered that the institution’s Costume Shop computer that the Costumer used had been retrieved from summer storage (the Costume Shop being annually converted to another purpose over the summer months).  This the now former-Costumer explained away as the consequence of the Institutions Information Technology Service department needing to “test something”.

The savvy reader already probably knows the next plot twist.  When the student assistant from the Costume Shop started the computer during the first week of school she discovered that all of the files relating to the operation of the costume shop were mysteriously (or, perhaps, not-so-mysteriously) absent.

Is this simply the case of an employee retrieving material that could be rightfully considered her property?  Or is this something more: Betrayal? Vandalism? Sabotage? Theft?  More learned and credentialed minds than mine may debate the morality and legality of these events.

However, I believe that at least one moral of this story is unambiguous. For any number of reasons, an institution had best take steps to back up critical documents and data.

Have fun!  But be safe!

SJM

Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized on November 21, 2010 by stevenjmclean

My name is Steven McLean.  I have been teaching at a liberal arts college since graduation with an MFA in Design and Technical Theatre from The Pennsylvania State University in 1986.   My first position was as Technical Director and Lighting Designer for an active theatre program at a small Catholic-affiliated college in College Station PA, Just south of Allentown.  The institution was at the time called Allentown College of St. Francis De Sales.  It is now known as De Sales University.  I taught theatre and served in this capacity through the summer of 1991.  During late summer 1991 I relocated with my family to Indianola Iowa, just south of Des Moines, Iowa to take a position as Designer and Technical Director at Simpson College.  Simpson is also a liberal arts college.  I have taught there ever since.  I joined the faculty as an Assistant Professor.  Twenty years later, I serve in the same capacity (but at the rank of Professor).

One of the perks available to those of us in academia is an institution known as sabbatical leave.  Each school has their own procedure for and expectations of a faculty member while on sabbatical leave.  Simpson College is pretty traditional in this respect.  Once a faculty member has achieved “tenure” (another institution peculiar to education and a few other industries) a faculty member at Simpson College is eligible to apply for and be granted sabbatical leave every 7 years.   The sabbatical leave typically consists of a one-semester hiatus in which the faculty member is relieved of teaching and other responsibilities to the school during which time the faculty member continues to receive their full salary.

While it is popular among academics and non-academics alike to characterize a sabbatical leave as a vacation, it is not my experience that a sabbatical is awarded for a superficial purpose such as this.  While on leave, my administration and faculty colleagues expect the faculty member to engage in meaningful activity.  Research, additional training, professional work in the faculty member’s industry, the opportunity to publish are all considered legitimate activities for sabbatical leave.

Not every faculty member who is eligible in a given year might be granted such a leave; a lot rests on the quality of the proposal.  I am grateful that my colleagues who served on the Faculty Personnel Committee (committees and committee service being yet another institution peculiar to educational organizations) that they recognized the legitimacy of my proposal.

This blog was born out of feedback that the committee passed along to me through the Academic Dean when he informed me that my sabbatical had been granted.  My proposal revolved around my need to become much more familiar with the use, function and application of moving-light and related next-generation lighting technologies.  One of the disadvantages of teaching design and technical theatre in a small liberal arts program is that because of the relentless progression of classes, designs, supervision of student designs and performing technical direction functions for productions, and other non-curricular expectations of the college, there is precious little opportunity for individual research or professional development not directly related to courses taught or productions staged.  The weakest aspect of my proposal in the view of the committee was the lack of an articulated “contribution to the field” and “demonstration of interaction with peers in my discipline”.  One of the recommendations of the committee was that I take steps to find a mechanism for sharing any findings with some constituency.

I have never blogged before.  Therefore, although the eventual purpose of this blog once my sabbatical is in process will be to act as a journal to record my experiences, I need to work out the logistics of maintaining a blog.    I realize that I am not proposing to undertake any industry-shaking innovation.  There are  many in our industry who are far more qualified than I to explain cutting-edge lighting technology to like-minded professionals than I am (or am likely to be even after the completion of this research). I also recognize that I have peers in similar positions in similar liberal arts institutions who I imagine find themselves with similar constraints toward professional development.  My sabbatical is scheduled for spring of 1012.  Consequently, I propose to spend the intervening 13 months exploring issues related to designers and technicians who chose to teach in liberal arts educational institutions.

That’s all for now.

SJM