Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tech Tip: Don't be a Pack Rat!

In this week's Tech Tip we'll talk about a problem that plagues every theatre. And like most plagues it starts small and builds up until it debilitates your shop. It's called set piece hoarding. You walk into the prop storage to find your things for the next show and you can't even walk through the place to find what you need. After strike for a show you try yo put all of the set pieces you used back into the basement but you have to put wherever you can because there's no bare patch of floor to set it. It hurts efficiency, causes injury, and in some cases can be a fire hazard. So how does this start? Let's look at some common causes....

Causes of Set Hoarding

  • Non-Standard Set Pieces: Most set pieces are all of a specific size (usually four feet by eight feet) depending on your company's specific needs. A lot of the time the needs of a certain show require custom pieces (stuff of an odd size) to be built. But that doesn't mean that you have to keep them.
  • Odd Man Out: That one chair that you were so grateful to have for that one show you did two years ago is just lying around in everyone's way. But the minute that you throw it away you just KNOW that you're going to need it again. That's fine for one or two pieces...when it comes to a DOZEN like that then there's a problem. 
  • Turn-Arounds are too short: After every show or high point in the theatre there is usually a period called "Strike". It's equivalent to pressing the "reset" button on the theatre and making it a neutral empty space for the next show to happen. Sometimes the time between the strike for one show and the start of rehearsal for another show is very short not allowing you to clean everything up before you go. This means that the basement and your storage space doesn't get the proper tlc that it needs for reorganization and cleanliness.  
Either way that it happens this pattern can become a serious problem if it's allowed to spread. Here are some ways that you can combat this. 

Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Keep an accurate inventory of all of your stock units. "Stock" units are those basic platforms, flats, backdrops, wagons, and curtains that you're going to be using to build every show. These things should be numbered or tagged in such away that MAKES SENSE TO YOU. Keeping a list of these and what they are keeps you from having to wonder what it is you actually have.
  • Have a place for all of your stock: Have a rack or shelf ready for everything that you're going to need. And it may help you also to keep everything that you use most often close to the stage or the shop. The less you have to lug stuff from place to place the more you can be building things.
  • Don't keep what you're not going to use! I don't care how much work you've put into it or how much money it cost if you're not going to be using it for the rest of the season or even the next... GET RID OF IT. If you can tear it up for parts and use it for something else. 
  • Only keep furniture in sets. You can find a better use for four chairs that all look alike than one chair that has no mate. Those things are easily thrown away. 

Final Thoughts

In the shop sentimentality doesn't have a place. The shop has to be able to work at full capacity all the time and anything that clogs the gears has to be pulled out. And like most of my tech tips this problem can best be solved by proper planning and good organization. If you fail to have proper planning in your shop you've planned for your shop to fail you.

Have you seen instances of Set Hoarding in your shop? Do you have a tip for me? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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