What is a technician? What does it mean? The text book definition for our practical purposes in the activity states that a technician is an expert in the practical application of a science, art, or craft. Let’s see if I can make sense of this. An expert. This would mean that a technician for a color guard would need at the very minimum an awareness and demonstrated proficiency in the areas of conditioning, dance, muscular dynamics, performance concepts and equipment principles. The practical application of color guard is the demonstration that the technician has the ability to coach youth with intent, while using modern teaching principles. They would need to exhibit that they understand behavior modification for the coaching of sports to achieve the highest results. This expert in turn for their diligent hard work, would show results in the realms of competitive success, growth in membership, retention of veterans, and increased success following the current class structure the program exists in. Meaning, the program will get better each and every year.
Now, that is just the general job of a technician. What if they write choreography? What if they have to change drill when there is a mid season glitch a judge pointed out at a show? What if they are the person who makes on the spot design decisions, when the chief designer is only on staff as a contracted employee who is seen maybe two or three times a season?
Now, what about the technician who is at rehearsal every day, every show, football games, parades, and concerts? What about the one who has the skills to clean the show from the perspective of all captions including, but not limited to General Effect, Ensemble, Music, Movement and Equipment in general? What if this person has the skills to help write the show?
Think about it. What is a technician in today’s high paced, highly competitive, and high priced world worth? If you were the band director or director of an independent guard, how do you calculate the cost of a designer at let’s say…50% the staff budget, while the rest of the staff fight over the other 50%? What do you think happens to morale, commitment, and desire to grow as an instructor? What do you think happens to the desire of a technician to stay and build a program if those in charge of the money choose to put their technical role below that of the other side of the sheet? When you look at the sheets in any of our pageantry activities, I often ask, “Which side is more important? The what or the how?” Because dammit, there is no what without the how. They don’t exist separately and we need to start paying a hell of a lot more attention to those whose jobs are to make the what come to life through the expertise of the how.
With all this being said, if how equals the what, then why do we as an activity spend more resources focused on the what?
Let me give you some examples. Drill writers. How many drill writers out there are writing 20 and thirty and 40 drills over the summer for marching bands all over the country without once stepping foot on the field of the band they wrote for? How much is that drill writer worth over the most talented technicians on your field? “But Shelba, if it wasn’t for the designers, you would have nothing to clean.” Very true. I can’t argue that point. I’ll offer you this though, “Without the great technicians of the activity, your design can’t flourish and you won’t be able to put your name on this program.” I mean come on people. We all know that when a designer lands one great band or winter guard gig and if that band is successful, they in the end puts their name on it. Because it’s the designer that wrote it right? However, what if that brilliant technical staff walked off the field in mid-October and said, “Clean this shit yourself.” Would you want your name on that program then?
Here’s another one. Choreographers. I once looked at a budget that had a separation of designer, writer, and then technical staff. The technical staff were at the bottom of the pay scale. I looked at the staff budget from a percentage stand point and realized that the line item percentage for the day to day staff was significantly lower than the percentage for one designer and one choreographer to come in and wave their magic design wands around. This my friends, is not uncommon in our activity. The phrase, “We need to hire such and such to boost our programs standing in the pageantry community.” (fill in the blanks of someone you pay to put their name on your program for saying that blue would be a good uniform choice)
Well…this is what I say to that. BULLSHIT! Spend the bulk of your budget and hire a brilliant technician who has the skill set to work with an average designer and writer, whose job is to set a three year goal and move your color guard/band up through the ranks…then build your budget around that brilliant technician and your staff around them. What would happen? Maybe, your program would grow so well, that you could then hire the big named designer to put their name on your program to just say the uniforms should be blue. Simply put, what if we reversed our thinking all together?
“But Shelba, we can’t find any good techs who have the skills of what you are talking about.” Yes. I would have to agree with that statement….maybe. A great technician is NOT a dime a dozen. Not everyone can clean a well written phrase with the finesse of breath, musicality, and effort changes necessary to reach the pinnacle of the how. Or is it, that you have ignored the how and the people that do the how for so long, that no one wants to work with your program anymore. It also could be that your people are actually pretty brilliant technicians, but you refuse to pay for their services so they put your program on the back burner and come in when they can fit you in. I’ve done it. If I find out I’m working for a program where my services are undermined or devalued, I will stay for the kids…to a point, but I will start the process of moving on and that may come in the form of moving completely to another program or moving your program to the back of the line and I’ll fit you in when it works for my schedule. Why do I do it? Because designers and writers most of the time won’t design page one for free. So why would I do the same as a technician and as a woman? We do this activity for the kids, but I won’t be used and no one should ever feel that way.
I have another example. Local circuit and national focus clinics. I would love to know how many go on each year all over the country that say, “Hey guess what you guys! We are paying this great designer to come and teach you how to design a great show.” The fine print of that clinic or workshop says, “By the way, we’ll teach you how to design, but we won’t teach you how to clean it. We won’t offer workshops on time management, coaching with intent, or cleaning for effect.” The fine print of that workshop will be so small that you won’t even realize it’s not being offered. The result, is a lack of attention to the importance of the technicians of the activity.
Why am I writing this today? It’s because I received an email from a band asking me to consult…for free. FREE. Let me say that again. FREE. When I gave them my price they told me they didn’t have the money. They had already hired a drill writer, but the drill writer is expensive. My response? So am I. “But Shelba, you don’t write drill or design world class shows.” I don’t? Have you ever seen me or any other expert technician work THEIR magic? Have you ever seen me take a mess of design and rework it to make sense? Have you ever seen me clean efforts into a phrase written without the thought of musicality? Have you ever seen me kick total ass when I’ve been given one day to write and clean an entire song for a show, when the drill came in late? I’m that good and so are many, many others.
I have one more. Oftentimes, so much money is spent on the production value side of the show, then when it comes time to pay for the day to day staff, all that’s left over is money for a young, inexperienced person with no resume to speak of. Costumes, silks, props, floors, make up, hair, designers, and writers all make up the what. When you budget first for the production of the show, without figuring out the day to day staff who will make sure the make up is worn correctly or the silks go around together, then my friend…your program will ultimately remain average and forgettable. You will spend your time wondering why staff turnover is so high and you can’t ever seem to make it to the top. This pattern will set you on a path of bitterness and the feeling as if it’s everyone’s fault besides yours.
“The staff don’t care.”
“The boosters don’t want to pay.”
“The judges are bad.”
“The kids never practice.”
No…those are excuses. The reality? No one wants to work for you because you put the what before the how.
The moral to the story…Start paying your technicians equally and in time we will see more devotion to programs and more experts will come out of the wood work who make the what truly come to life, because they will devote their time in the activity in honing a skill that is valued both financially and visually.