The students selected to participate in this program are recruited months in advance and must be completely dedicated to the task of producing broadcasts comparable in quality to those of professional television networks. Crew members are typically expected to dedicate three nights each week to preparing for and carrying out the video broadcasts. Just like the football team, as well as groups like Hyline, the marching band, and cheerleaders, we are often pulled out of class early on Fridays when we are traveling to an away game.
I came into the program for the first time this summer with a basic understanding of the basic operations of the Television Broadcast Crew. I was assigned, along with another newcomer, to the tasks of video engineering and computer graphics. I understood the general idea behind my position, but my knowledge more or less ended there. Still, I was amazed when I walked into the Performing Arts Center on the first day of training to learn just how much was involved in broadcasting live football.
We began the first day with a brief history of the program, followed by seemingly endless hours learning the specifics of football, camera operation, and the layout of the facility from which we would broadcast home games. By the end of the day, my head was spinning and I was exhausted. Would I be able to make it through the week? I felt like I could really use a time out.
The next day was more of the same, but we started delving into the individual roles given to different crew members. Each of us learned what the other members were doing in order to better understand how we would fit into the big picture. Things became progressively easier as the week went on.
It was incredible to see the transformation of all the new members, myself included, happen so quickly, going from wide-eyed novice to confident team member. Because there were more new, inexperienced crew members this year than there have been in recent years, there was some concern about whether the group would be able to function as smoothly as in previous seasons. With that thought looming in the back of their minds, the team leaders of video crew were pleasantly surprised to find the opposite of what they had feared. By the end of the first week of training, although they had only just put their toes in the water, the new camera operators looked confident and capable. I, myself, went from knowing almost nothing to being able to take a camera output signal that had purposefully been altered to settings at wildly inappropriate levels, determine what was wrong, and remotely adjust the camera settings to obtain a high quality, visually pleasing image.
At that point, summer training was almost over and I had to spend the next week mentally preparing myself to tackle the season opener, scheduled for Friday of the first week of school. Hopefully I would be able to take the new skills I had learned and contribute to a great first broadcast!
All in all, I had a great experience this summer transitioning to being a member of the Television Broadcast Crew. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was the importance of teamwork for the success of the program. If any one person is not giving their best effort to help the rest of the group, the end result suffers. Without the dedication and commitment of everyone involved, it would be impossible for us to do what makes us so successful: putting on professional quality television broadcasts to entertain the dedicated fans of Chaps' football.
When I was first confronted about the idea of being Head Grip for Zenith, I was terrified. The thought of being responsible for an eleven person crew was scary enough, not to mention the additional responsibility of all the props and equipment that had to move on and off stage during the show. I nervously accepted the challenge after some encouragement from Mr. Poole, and my experiences from that show became some of my most memorable and rewarding in TEC.
Zenith taught me more than I ever imagined about the value of leadership, trust and passion. It gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and a leader, and prepared me for my upcoming senior year. Leadership is much more than being in charge and giving out orders. It includes building the knowledge and confidence of your crew and being a positive role model. During our pre-show meetings, leadership is often called the "glue" that holds our organization together. Strong leaders are imperative to the success of any major production, including Zenith, but leadership isn't limited to the crew heads. Any crew member, regardless of age or position, can exhibit leadership qualities at any time. Even during seemingly trivial set changes, I was always watching my crew members, waiting to see who would take charge. Whether it be rolling the piano on-stage, changing shinbuster gel colors, or even just doing homework backstage, I always enjoyed seeing someone rise to the occasion and take ownership of the task at hand.
With a sophisticated show like Zenith, the grip crew was constantly moving props and equipment on and off stage, so delegation was important in order to take care of the scene changes as quickly and efficiently as possible. It didn’t take long for me to realize how important trust and delegation were to the success of the show. With the amount of moving parts on-stage, there was no way for me to oversee everything going on at once, so I had to trust that the grip crew was following along and ready for whatever came next. At first, this was hard for me. I wanted to personally supervise everything that was going on and help wherever I could, but after a couple long and stressful rehearsals, I realized that it wasn’t necessary. Trust started to grow within the crew and they constantly impressed me with their preparedness and hard-work. This trust led to a much smoother, calmer show because everyone could focus on their own responsibilities without worrying about everyone else’s.
While leadership is the glue that holds TEC together, passion is the motivation to keep moving forward and improving. Passion is what kept us going during the long rehearsals and late nights. Passion is the motivation to put on a successful show. Without passion, the show would seem half-hearted and boring. Whether that motivation came from the competitiveness within the grip crew or just a desire to put on the best show yet, I found that passion was, without a doubt, the most important contributor to a great show. It’s what kept us striving for perfection during the long rehearsals and it paid off in the end after three great shows for the Zenith audiences.
In conclusion, Zenith this year gave me the opportunity to grow as a person and a leader. It was challenging at times but more importantly, it taught me more than I ever imagined about the value of leadership, trust and passion and provided me with memories that I will cherish forever.
Currently, Andrew is a Lighting Director and Producer for film and television in New York City.
At only thirty years old, he is a respected professional and has worked with NBC, CNN, MTV,
Sesame Street, and Nickelodeon to produce over forty shows. Andrew even went to the Beijing
Olympics and was awarded an Emmy nomination for his work.
In 2006, not one week after graduating from college, Andrew began lighting national
television. Only four years prior, he was with TEC on a television set in Los Angeles looking at
thousands of lights in the rig, thinking, "people must have to wait decades to be a part of this."
Andrew's career really began back in high school with our very own Westlake Technical
Entertainment Crew, working every show he could from rentals to Zenith. Andrew collaborated
with Mr. Poole to create a balanced life with school work, lacrosse, and TEC. Mr. Poole was
always accommodating and remains, to this day, "a good friend and mentor" to Andrew. In
retrospect, Andrew "wishes he could have been more involved," but still, TEC helped him pave
his way to success by teaching him the necessity of "persistence, hard work, and understanding
the bigger picture."
Andrew was accepted into many college programs. He chose to continue his studies at
Sonoma State University. He went in looking to major in lighting design, but ultimately became
a "BA in theater as opposed to just lighting." His education provided a method for him to really
grasp a real world sense of productions: "No one understands a deadline like a theater major.
You can't push back deadlines. You have to get it done."
It takes more than being aware of deadlines to become successful. It takes this kind of
passion or drive that sets you apart from everyone else. For Andrew, this was creating content.
In the theater world, you can take internships, but in the end "you are only as good as your
portfolio." Employers "only look at your resume for five seconds. What does your content say
Andrew is naturally a producer. It's his job to find ideas and make them a reality. This
seems like a lot of work, but in actuality all he had to do was go to the English,
Communications, and Theater departments to find other students and create any kind of film.
No matter the size or success level of the production, everyone involved has not only made
connections and gained experience, but has also built up credibility. This may not seem
like "usual" work for a lighting designer, but this work set Andrew apart. He always asked "What
can I do for you?" and continually opened himself up to new opportunities.
Andrew's final advice: "Never stop creating content. Never stop. The more content you
make, the better your skills will get. Keep learning new devices and software that come out.
Never ever ever stop. Go make a short film. It's easy. Use your software. It doesn't matter
where you go to school. Your content is you. Your reel is who you are. If you have a great reel,
people will be climbing over themselves trying to get you. Never stop creating."
At the end of the show, the lights came up, and we were ushered away in the direction of our buses. I snuck another look at the people in what I would later learn to be the control booth. A boy waved at me. I smiled shyly and followed my class out.
It was the children's show in the Black Box Theatre - Charlotte's Web that year - and I was a third grader. In what felt like only five seconds later, I was a freshman in high school, facing a crew sign-up sheet on the call board. The children's show? I could be one of those kids up there! I didn't waste any time in writing my name down.
Soon after, the official crew was selected and the list was posted - I was assigned the job of sound board operator for The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon. It was my first taste of TEC. I met and learned from younger members and upperclassmen alike, and I played back all of the show's sound cues without problems. Once I started, I wasn't going to stop. I worked Zenith, then joined the leadership team, then the Chaparral Stadium Video Crew and worked every PAC production my sophomore year. I was hooked.
Fast-forward to junior year, where I found myself back in the Black Box as the stage manager for Willy Wonka. This show was the longest running in TEC's history, with a total of nine shows, had the largest cast of any Black Box Theater show with almost 40 cast members, and even brought in several elementary students from across the district. For a lack of a better description, it was a big production!
To top it all off, we had a smaller-than-usual crew. However, everyone rose to the challenge and was on top of their jobs, taking notes to help them improve and constantly teaching each other. One TEC member who wasn’t originally on the crew stepped up at the last minute to fill the position of a student who got sick, emulating the camaraderie and leadership outlined in the mission statement by being there when needed and doing what others might not be willing to do. Together, we put on nine great shows, each one better than the last.
Honestly, I was a little nervous to stage manage - what if I messed up the whole show? But during the three rehearsals before opening night, and in the days of the shows after, I asked questions, I took notes, and I remembered the examples set by all the stage managers before me - the same things I had done on all of the shows I'd worked no matter what position I was in. Then, when opening night came, all I could do was my best and trust in the crew.
One of the most important lessons I learned from this experience was that part of being a leader is knowing when to step back and be a follower. With all of the different elements that make up a show, it's impossible for one person to do everything. Specialization makes every part of the show the best that it can possibly be instead of having many people’s focus and knowledge spread too thinly over everything. For the scene changes this show, the stagehands figured out what worked best for them and wrote their own notes instead of me micro managing them from the control booth. Because they were constantly moving the set, they were able to troubleshoot and make changes much better than I would be able to make. Being the stage manager doesn't mean being the person that is in charge of everything. It means being the person that calls the cues. Everything else is being a leader, which everyone on a crew has the potential to be. Everyone can offer encouragement, propose solutions to a problem, follow rules and safety protocol, and embody professionalism, teamwork, camaraderie, and fun. By acknowledging that everybody on the crew is a leader - no matter the magnitude or number of their responsibilities - no one is above anybody else. Every job is equally important. The members of a crew learn from each other and work together, not on different levels based on perceived rank. This dynamic leads to successful productions and contributed to the improvement and eventual accomplishment of this show.
After the conclusion of the ninth curtain call and the final call of the last light cue, I stood up from my stack of textbooks (I was too short to see the stage without them) and happily started discussing how well the show went with the light and sound board operators - my coworkers, and friends - while watching all of the kids exit the theater. Some were chattering excitedly; some were waiting patiently, still and quiet. A few were staring intently up at us.
So I waved.