Known by many as the best-kept secret in the entertainment world, the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas provides professional-level training by some of the most well-respected minds in the industry, on the most powerful equipment, such as ETC lighting desks. "The Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas is a total immersion experience," explains faculty member and lighting designer Brian Gale. "It's where you get the muscle memory that is required to work efficiently in stagecraft disciplines."
The non-profit Stagecraft Institute began in 2006, and provides an immersive education to around 70 individuals each summer, 90 percent of whom receive either a full or partial scholarship. All of the topics of study revolve around disciplines within the world of stagecraft and live entertainment, including lighting design and programming, media programming, sound, costumes, AutoCAD, Vectorworks, ESP Vision, rigging and special effects. The intensive summer program lasts eight consecutive weeks, during which students study one topic per week. The curriculum changes yearly based on the students' interests, industry trends and who is part of the faculty. "We take the role of mentor very seriously," says Stagecraft faculty and board member and
product manager, Anne Valentino. "There is no other education program that I'm aware of where students have direct programming experience with leading professional programmers and designers who have a keen interest in giving back."
Don Childs -- a lighting designer and well-known force in higher learning, who passed away in 2011 -- and his partner and wife, Jane Childs, created the organization. "He really loved what he did and was driven to share it with others," explains Jane Childs, who currently serves as the managing director of the Stagecraft Institute. The organization's philosophy revolves around Don's closely held belief that the best way to learn anything was by getting hands-on experience. "Donald never took a lighting class in his life," Childs elaborates. "He was determined to find a better way to teach theater to others. He firmly believed we are all simply conduits of knowledge and it is our obligation to share what we know."
Two of the total eight weeks focus on programming and designing with digital media and moving lights. "The students do everything, and I mean everything," explains Gale. Students begin the two weeks with a bare stage and then load in, plug in, patch and set up all lights and consoles. "They do get verbal instruction from the faculty, but mostly we are completely hands off," elaborates Gale. Once the students install all 120 moving lights, the rig is then divided into three nearly identical sections, each controlled by one of three different brands of industry-leading consoles, including
ETC's Ti™ desks
. "Most of these kids worked on an Eos console when they were in high school, so many are already familiar with it coming in, and most will go out into the professional world and will likely encounter one."
Towards the end of the lighting session, students show off their new skills in a final lighting showcase, a final exam and a two-day busking exercise when their programming skills are really put to the test. They must design a mini-show on the fly, set to music. "Our goal is to give these individuals marketable skills. Many small venues design their shows on the fly - clubs, small concert halls, hotel ballrooms and whatnot. It's a very important skill to possess as a lighting designer," says Gale, "and anyone who is a professional lighting designer will need to know how to use an ETC console."
With such limited time to learn how to program and design on three different types of consoles, ease of use is paramount. "The Eos family is great for quickly mastering basic skills. You don't have to master sophisticated programming to get cues to move fast. It's a much quicker learning curve than most desks," describes Gale. This year, Stagecraft faculty and students really got the most from their Ti programming experience, thanks to the new v2.2 software update. "It was super fast! Many times we were literally waiting around for the other consoles to catch up," he explains. "The maturation of the software, desk layout, Magic Sheets and the top-down architecture of the desk all make it a nimble tool for beginning lighting designers and programmers."
With over $12 million of the most innovative equipment available in the entertainment technology market, Stagecraft is undoubtedly leading the way in practical theatrical education. "Students are truly working with some of the most state-of-the-art equipment on the market today. Most colleges and universities aren't able to afford that kind of equipment," explains Gale, "which is why what we do is so valuable for those wishing to pursue a professional career in stagecraft." The support that Stagecraft provides students goes beyond the classroom. Former students have begun teaching and lecturing as well as donating money towards scholarships for students. "More and more people are supporting Stagecraft," says Gale. "We are truly grateful for all our supporters. We couldn't do this without them."