My job field is going through massive upheavals that we in the industry don't necessarily see. And the current state of the economy will do nothing but help those changes. What I'm speaking of is the high cost of labor and how technology will remove certain jobs mostly to completely. Look theatre, as all performance arts, are expensive if you're trying to do it above a certain lower limit. This article outlines some of it for the music industry but the sentiment is the same for us too: http://www.newmusicbox.org/article.nmbx?id=5001. Simply put, people keep needing to be paid and you can only cut so many people from the performance end before the show suffers or is a one shot appeal. So you cut costs on the production end, specifically crew.
I recently did a show where I ran both sound and lights from the same computer in the same program. And almost any dance show I work on could do the same thing. You digitize the music files; bring in a sound op for tech to set the levels and do the necessary tweaks and then hand the whole thing over to the light tech to run the show. Or vice versa. Additionally several times in the last couple years I've done shows at the Royal George where I was there to program the show through tech and do notes and then hand it over after tech or after opening to the Stage Manager. Since it's cheaper to pay the SM the, I think, $50-$150 week under current equity rules than hire a light op in Chicago. This could be scaled up to larger productions that have strictly playback sound. We could of had a computer run both lights and sound for Dublin Carol or even Superior Doughnuts, either doing through one program or firing midi triggers to connected decks and gear.
This won't take over us in the next 5 years but expect to see this expand sharply then. Look at it this way: with Horizon I can pay $2500-$5000 and own a one or two universe moving light desk that can compare to a Hog 2 in many ways for moving light capability plus having a whole multimedia capability that the hog doesn't have. And for about the same to half the cost: http://tinyurl.com/dy2f7m. Or ask Dustin up at the Center East what he's doing with his lighting system. With the decreasing costs of this technology we are starting to see it in smaller and smaller venues. An example of this is the Lakeshore Theatre; they added 12-16 Robe moving light fixtures 3 years ago. Now they don't hire techs since they just need one house guy 99% of the time since the conventionals are rep and the movers take care of everything else. Yes they will need more people if something goes wrong but that’s a once or twice a year thing at best for the rest of us.
And if we're looking at the union to save us from this, remember that they caved and early versions of modern lighting consoles replaced with one person the jobs of 2-5 others. This is normal and it will happen again. Heck we've seen in our own industry the shortening of some Mariott calls by adding the 8 VL2000's replacing about 4-8 systems of lights that were doing the same thing. Cable calls used to 12-hour affairs all the time instead of the 8-9 hour events they are these days. That may not sound like much but even if you add the 1-2 times a year maintenance calls for the movers they are still saving money on labor costs.
A projection of what this will mean for us in the next decade may look like this: Video effects and lighting becoming closer together if not the same thing. At the least a heavier use of movers and the possibility of medium sized venues using them more often to the point that they may be considering purchasing movers for a rep set up. They will still add heavy banks of specials and washes of conventionals but most of their conventional FOH and backs needs may be taken up by movers. We're doing it in dance more and more often these days, so why not theatre. Yes there will always be exceptions but we should expect to see this. This will mean less work for larger crews overall. Additionally we should see the consolidation of operators expand into the smaller events of major theatres with maybe the SM running everything off one comp with maybe a house tech on standby if something goes wrong. Plus the unions will start having to cave to fiscal pressures and allow this condensation of personnel into their smaller venues. Though it may take another 20 years min before you start to see this to happen.
What does this mean to us? Well there always be ME's but expect your knowledge of Movers and multimedia systems to increase or rather it should to keep up with what looks to be a rising tide of technology. Or maybe it will consolidate with projections with specific lighting and video heads, with heavy cross platforming. There will be needs for techs to put up touring shows and larger theatres that want/afford to move away from rep plots. And any live music requires at least one or two sound ops; there is no way to get way from that. So see a reduction of the number of console jockeys in smaller venues that go down this path. The short of it is there will be fewer jobs for a smaller number of highly specialized techs.
Or this may never happen. Or maybe everything will return to business as usual after we get though this financial slump. Maybe it will be limited to smaller venues where this sort of consolidation would bee a boon to them. Who really knows? This is just what I see happening around me. And for the smaller theatres and companies this access to technology is a boon to them, letting them do more with less. Remember as technology is used more and bought more the costs go down. Maybe expect to see small movers with CYM mixing marketed at clubs and theatres for low cost. It's possible if it hasn't happened yet I honestly haven't looked. In short this is all speculation.
So what do you think: is this a boon, is it a bad thing, will it help some and hurt others, or will it never come to pass? I want you, my fellow professionals, to tell me what you think based on what you know and observed. Is this just speculation or do you see some truth in all this?