Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Scientific Management in Entertainment Lighting

In the 1880’s, Frederick Winslow Taylor was just getting started on his ideas that would become the basis for scientific management. As a chief engineer at Midvale Steel Works, Taylor was able to study, test and apply his theories in an actual factory setting.

From his experiences as day laborer, Taylor knew that the men working the machines limited themselves to between one third and one half a full day’s work. Once Taylor was made a foreman, he was able to enact changes to the management system that would eventually become the “piece-rate system”, one of the major points of his system. The basic idea behind the piece-rate system is that a first-class worker should be able to produce set amount that has been determined by careful study. The first-class worker is expected to meet or exceed the task in order to be payed a higher wage than average (Boddewyn 105). The practice of this system is beneficial to both the laborer and management since the laborer gets a higher wage while the management receives a full day’s work from the laborer. While the piece-rate system prohibits many of the original laborers from continuing in that line of work, Taylor firmly believed that every man had a place and a line of work that he was particularly suited to (PSM 31).

The guiding principle behind scientific management is to maximize the profit of the employer as well as the employee. In order to achieve this, Taylor laid out four principles or guidelines that must be practiced in order to achieve true scientific management. The first principle is “the development of a true science” (68). This principle requires careful observations of how every aspect of a task is carried out. While working at Midvale Steel, Taylor realized that the combined knowledge of the task of the laborers he oversaw was much greater than his own. He started his implementation of scientific management with a study of the techniques used by several first-class workers. Using the data obtained, he determined a set of motions and tools that would optimize the completion of the task.

The second principle is the “scientific selection of the workman” (68). This step is the process of studying specific traits a person exhibits and comparing them to the requirements of the task. The most famous example of this is case of a pig-iron handler. The laborer, Schmidt, was selected to receive training that would enable him to handle 47 tons of pig-iron per day instead of his previous amount of 12.5 tons per day. The work he was to perform consisted of heavy lifting; therefore, the ideal worker would be incredibly strong but also quite unintelligent. As long as he could follow instructions, was able to lift the 92 pound pieces of pig-iron and physically capable of working at the increased rate, he was perfect for the task.

The third principle is the “scientific education and development” of the workman (68). In this step, the workman who has been chosen for the task is trained in the methods developed through the studies that specific task. When being trained, the workman must be instructed in every aspect of the task so that there are no wasted movements. Along with the new movements comes training with new tools. The tools are developed by studying what every individual worker uses in the first step to complete the task. From the observations, a new tool is created that is set up to be the most efficient tool for the task.

The fourth and last principle is the “friendly cooperation between the management and the men” (68). This is an extremely important principle because without the cooperation, the entire system ceases to function properly. Under scientific management, much of the foreman’s responsibilities, including training and setting the rate of production, are removed. This enables the functional foreman to work more in a management capacity, overseeing the workers, coordinating and preparing materials for tasks, maintaining machinery, etc. (Nelson 485).

The principles of Taylor’s scientific management revolutionized the way many industries were run. Even today, Taylorism can be applied to any situation involving a management team overseeing a work force. The examples I will use come from my experiences as an entertainment electrician, specifically my work as a Master Electrician (ME).

An organization that helps promote the principles of scientific management in the theatre industry is the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). USITT works for the optimization and standardization of theatre practices and techniques. They constantly hold workshops and forums to educate the technical theatre work force. Every year USITT holds a national conference that contains a large variety of educational sessions as well as opportunities to discuss practices and techniques with peers and first-class workers. One of the major accomplishments of USITT is the creation of data communication guidelines. Prior to the USITT guidelines, proprietary data communication systems threatened to destroy entertainment lighting.

Along with the standardization of data communication and drafting procedures, USITT has helped support the creation of an Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP). In order to become ETCP certified, an electrician must be extremely well trained and educated in many different aspects of entertainment lighting. The ETCP certification is the mark of a first-class electrician.

One of the roles of the management is to organize all the materials the workers will need to complete their tasks. In theatre, this is primarily accomplished in production meetings. In these meetings, the heads of each department (electrics, set, costumes, props, sound, projections, construction) and the direct overseers of the work force come together to discuss the stages of production and the various aspects that accompany them. Production meetings are where budgets and possible rentals are discussed, new ideas and concerns are brought to attention, the various designs are presented, and, most importantly, the schedule is set. In these meetings, the most important dates for the ME are set. These dates include the due date of the light plot, the hang date, the focus date, the tech days, and the strike date.

Upon receiving the light plot, the job of the ME is to make sure that all of the required information is there and everything makes sense. If there happens to be any missing information or an aspect of the plot is not clear, it is critical to get any questions answered in a timely manner so that the production is not held up. After everything has been set straight, the ME must order any needed materials and organize what is already owned. The electrics orders for most productions consist mainly of colored gels (example) and patterns, also known as gobos (example). Most of the organization of materials that are already owned concerns the inventory of lighting instruments. The ME is responsible for organizing the required inventory in the performance space prior to the hang in a way that is convenient for the workers. The last part of preparation before the hang is to organize how the instruments will be hung and powered. Depending on the space, this could take a great deal of time.

On the day of the hang, the ME is responsible for organizing the workforce into small groups. At the University of Pittsburgh Reparatory Theatre, the ME usually has several experienced electricians or Assistant Master Electricians (AME) to lead the groups, much like a gang boss or functional foreman. The job of the foreman is to train the less experienced electricians and help them as needed. The smaller groups allow the foreman to pay more attention to each individual. This is a point Taylor constantly stressed since “each workman has his own special abilities and limitations” (SM 43). With the foreman’s able to focus on individuals, the ME is able to move around more freely and help the laborers when a foreman is either unavailable or unable to.

Once the instruments are all hung, it is necessary to power them. Depending on the space, it is usually in the best interests of both the management and the work force to plan out where each instrument is getting plugged in ahead of time. If the ME does this, it gives the work force a distinct task and the ME does not have to write down everything each group plugs in. Planning ahead like this also enables the ME to be available to help the workers with any problems they might encounter.

The next major event for the ME is the focus day. If the ME has planned well and done his job, he should be able to concentrate on first training the work force and then helping troubleshoot any problems that arise. It is during this time that the designer may want to change the location of certain instruments. It is the responsibility of the ME to instruct the laborers in the necessary changes and keep track of it on paper.

After the focus, the next major date is the tech weekend. This is the time when all aspects of the production come together for the first time. The set is in place and painted, the lights are hung and focused, the sound design is complete and the actors are on the stage. During the tech process, it the ME must train the person who will be the light board operator how to use the light board and how to troubleshoot minor problems. The ME also provides the board op with a preshow/post show check list. Once tech is over, the ME is only called if there is a problem that the board op cannot handle.

As the production comes to a close, the ME starts to prepare for the electrics strike. Part of the process is determining the work force available at the strike and organizing how to split them into groups. In general, the strike consists of the dismantling of the set, storing the costumes and props, and taking down the lighting instruments. The electrics strike requires a designated area for each variety of instruments and a collection point for the gels and gobos. Once all of the gel and gobos have been collected, the last task of the electrics strike is to store all of it.

Throughout the production process, the ME has several powerful tools available to organize the information. The first is a computer aided drafting program called VectorWorks (VW). VW enables the ME to print the design (example) in order to give the workers a better look at their tasks. Another tool available to the ME is a program called Lightwright (LW). LW is a specialized spreadsheet utility (example) designed specifically for entertainment lighting. Integrated into each program is the ability to export and import stored instrument data (i.e. channel number, gel color, position, purpose, etc.), making them very powerful tools when they are combined. However, as with many tools, VW and LW are constantly being updated and added to according to the needs of the tasks. Soon, a new version of each program, VW 2009 and LW 5, will be released and electricians and designers will start using them because “the moment we find a new and improved or a better way of doing the work everyone will …[work] according to the new method” (Testimony 780).

My personal experiences start two and a half years ago with productions of Ghost in the Wire and Vinegar Tom. As far as electrics is concerned, these two plays were run under the old management system, not scientific management. With the old system, the management was extremely disorganized and left almost all of the work up to the laborers. As I said earlier, the role of the ME is to prepare the required materials for the hang. In both of these cases, there was a complete failure to prepare which ended in longer hours for the laborers and a slight delay in the production process.

The first two productions for which I was in the role of the ME were The Recruiting Officer and Desdemona (plot) in the Henry Heymann theatre. As part of the management, I organized everything ahead of time so as to create an easier task for the laborers as well as a friendlier atmosphere. As part of the preproduction process I created hang cards (example 1, 2, 3). After organizing the work force into small groups, each with a gang-boss, and training gang-boss’s how to read the hang cards, I was able to be available for questions instead of have to carefully keep track of where each group was hanging and giving them information as they went. The grid of the Heymann is only about eight feet high, so the workers used ladders to hang the instruments. Once the groups started hanging, my main task was to hand out the hang cards in an order such that the groups did not run into each other.

With the use of the cards, the hang was completed within three to four hours each time. The hang for Vinegar Tom took a full six hours to complete, without putting all the gel and gobos in the instruments. Completing the hang quickly enabled the laborers to move on to cabling the instruments. Again, I had cards set up for the laborers to make their tasks easier.

Another production that I worked on recently was Lysistrata in the Studio Theatre. The Studio is different from the other spaces we have at Pitt in that instead of plugging directly into the power source or dimmer, the instruments are first plugged into a circuit that runs back to a wall mounted circuit panel. The connections from the panel are then plugged into the dimmer. On previous shows, plugging the instruments into the circuits has been done with one person doing the plugging while another writes down the circuit number. After all the instruments are circuited, everything was plugged into the dimmer in the same manner. It is easy to see how inefficient this method is since it requires very few laborers when there are quite often many available.

As the ME on Lysistrata, I planned out the circuiting and dimmer hookup (example) ahead of time so that while most of the laborers were hanging and circuiting the instruments, someone could be connecting the circuits (example) to the dimmers at the same time. This method of hanging and circuiting kept all of the laborers busy and did not waste any manpower.

My most recent experience as an ME is for the production of Angels in America. This production is taking place in the Charity Randall Theatre, a proscenium space. Being the largest space Pitt Rep uses, an organized management is crucial to the success of the production. Since the Randall is such a large space, it was harder than working in the Studio or the Heymann because I could not be as readily accessible to all of my work force. As ME I needed several assistants that I knew I could trust to act as foremen for the different sections of the theatre. Along with functional foremen, the laborers had access to paperwork that was easy to understand.

Throughout all of my experiences as an electrician and later an ME, I have been able to observe other workers, discuss techniques with first-class electricians and develop a science for the different steps leading up to the culmination of the production. As an ME, I am able to better place my laborers with the jobs that suit them best and am more able to train them in the actions of their task. Last of all, I have found that the more prepared I am as an ME, the easier it is to get along with my work force.

Works Cited

Boddewyn, J. “Frederick Winslow Taylor Revisited.” The Journal of the Academy of Management. 4.2 (1961): 100-107.

Nelson, Daniel. “Scientific Management, Systematic Management, and Labor, 1880-1915.” The Business History Review. 48.4 (Winter, 1974): 479-500.

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. New York: Cosimo, Inc, 2006.

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. Scientific Management. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1947.

Taylor, Frederick Winslow. Testimony before the Special House Committee. U.S. Senate. Washington D.C. 64th Congress 1st Session, 1916.


Adam Johns said...

This project has two structural components: the history and summary of the principles of Taylorism, and your personal experiences in Theatre. The first half is relatively well-written but ultimately long-winded: you could have trimmed this substantially, and it would also have been easier to read if you'd spent some time preparing us with a detailed introduction.

The second part is far more interesting: it's a longer, more elaborate, or more interesting version of your blog post from much earlier in the semester.

There are two major issues here. First, is that the argument isn't well-presented: implicitly, you're arguing that scientific management is deployed consistently in contemporary theatre (I think), but this isn't stated initially and directly. The more important issues is that you *still* only talk about the third and fourth components of scientific management. I see nothing about the scientific selection of workmen, or shared profit between employers and employees. I suspect that, deliberately or not, this is why your argument remained vague and implicit - because you don't really have evidence for the whole thing.

In short, it still reads like your original blog post. It's longer, more elaborate, does a better, more detailed job explaining both your own experiences and Taylorism, but the analysis of contemporary theatre as Taylorism is still a mixed bag.

Jessie Newburn said...

The version of Vectorworks Spotlight 2009, which you mention in your post, has been released recently. http://is.gd/bQUI for a look at what's new.