Magazine article TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)

Job Satisfaction among Technical Directors in the Performing Arts

Magazine article TD&T (Theatre Design & Technology)

Job Satisfaction among Technical Directors in the Performing Arts

Article excerpt

Nearly thirty years ago, the subject of job satisfaction among theatre technical directors arose as a topic that merited serious investigation. There was a suspicion among some in the profession that the field of technical production was experiencing a large turnover in jobs and that many were leaving the field before reaching retirement age.

In order to determine if there were any validity to those suspicions, a survey to investigate job satisfaction among technical directors was conducted in 1987 by Lisa Aitken, under the guidance of Professor Dennis Dorn, as the subject of her MFA thesis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The results from that initial survey of technical directors did indeed show that many had recently left, or were soon planning to leave, the field. The study also was able to point out some of the issues that were at the root of the problem. Noteworthy among them were long hours, low pay, lack of job security, and a lack of control in the work environment. However, none of the negative responses were universal to all TDs, and, in fact, the survey identified many issues that TDs felt very positive about. Issues like recognition from co-workers, job challenge, and job variety all rated very high. The results from the survey were published in the 1989 spring issue of Theatre Design & Technology and were discussed at USITT conference panel sessions in both Anaheim (1988) and Calgary (1989).

My involvement with the project began ten years after the initial research was conducted. Like Lisa, I was a MFA student at UW-Madison in need of a thesis project. Dorn suggested I take up the project to see if conditions had changed in the years since the 1987 survey. Using the same methodology and keeping the core survey intact, I went about updating the study. The results obtained were very similar to those obtained in the first survey, but the numbers were slightly better and seemed to indicate some movement in a positive direction.

Armed with fresh data, and what I felt were encouraging signals, I presented the results at the 1998 conference in Toronto. The reception from the session attendees was not entirely what I expected. I was taken aback by the amount of frustration in the room. What I didn't realize from analyzing the data was just how strongly the technical production community felt the negative aspects of the job. The session in Toronto became a forum for some of those in attendance to vent their frustrations.

Toward the end of the session, someone asked me why I wanted to be a technical director. I don't recall exactly what I said in response, but I do remember seriously pondering that question in the weeks that followed.

Fifteen years later and I still think about that question and the results from those two surveys. In fact, the results are never far from my thoughts. Most major career decisions, and countless minor ones, have been made with the survey data in mind. It has been a tremendous help to me personally as I've navigated the industry. Which is the major reason why I wanted to conduct the survey again. To inform the next generation of TDs, and those of us who have been working for a while, of the challenges that are present for TDs at the start of the twenty-first century


The survey has gone through a few structural changes over time. The 1987 survey was divided into three parts with a total of forty-nine questions. Part One covered general demographics, Part Two dealt with satisfaction issues, Part Three was for active TDs only, and contained questions pertinent to career longevity. In 1997, I kept the original forty-nine questions and added an additional twenty-four questions to Part Three to explore that area more fully.

The 2011 survey is nearly identical to the 1997 survey, except that I eliminated seven questions from Part Three that many respondents of the 1997 survey had skipped. Those questions related to health concerns associated with technical production work and, in retrospect, seemed difficult to correlate with satisfaction issues. …

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