Today we’d like to introduce you to Matt Smith.
Matt, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My story begins at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas. I graduated with a BA, double majoring in Drama and Communication. Immediately following graduation, I moved to San Antonio, where I worked for companies including Six Flags Fiesta Texas, SRO Associates, and the Alamodome. All of the work I was doing was to support live entertainment across the city of San Antonio and beyond. My work with SRO Associates can be seen in a variety of theme parks around the country, as well as cruise ships and concert halls. After a few years of this work, the Technical Director / Resident Designer position became available at Angelo State University. I applied and was selected for this position… so it was time to move back to San Angelo, Texas. This job position provided me the opportunity to work closely with undergraduate students while they were earning their required “shop hours” each week. Students would come into the theatre and assist with all aspects of technical production i.e. building sets, hanging and focusing lights, installing sound and projection systems, etc. While this job was fulfilling, I also recognized how much joy and satisfaction I received from teaching.
With this knowledge, I landed on a new goal… to transition from a staff member to a faculty member at the university level. In order for me to accomplish this goal, I knew obtaining a terminal degree in the area of Technical Theatre would be required. The idea of applying to graduate programs across the country with my existing undergraduate GPA didn’t seem like the best option for my success. My grades were fine as an undergraduate student, but I wanted a better representation of my academic abilities. To help accomplish this, I decided I would try and complete a Master’s degree prior to submitting applications for an MFA program. With my double major as an undergrad, I was able to apply for the MA in Communication there at Angelo State University. To keep a long story short, I was able to complete my MA in Communication from ASU while working at the university full-time and starting my family. While working at ASU, I got married to my wife Teresa, and we added two new members to our family… Paul and Payson. I was able to finish my MA in Communication with a 4.0 GPA and “Exemplary Status” on my comprehensive exams.
With my MA in Communication complete, it was now time to begin looking into graduate programs for Design and Technical Theatre. I decided to submit my materials to URTA, University Resident Theatre Association, which would allow me to travel to Chicago, where I would have the opportunity to be interviewed by universities from across the country… all in one convenient location! To keep another long story short… I narrowed my choices to my top few and visited those campuses. I accepted an offer to come to the University of Texas at Austin and join the Department of Theatre and Dance as an MFA candidate for Theatrical Design and Technology. Three years later, I graduated with my MFA.
Upon graduation, I was fortunate enough to be offered a full-time teaching position here at UT Austin. I am currently with the Department of Arts and Entertainment Technologies as an Assistant Professor of Practice. Over the past five years, I have had the pleasure of introducing many students to the world of live entertainment technology. So much of the joy I experience with my job comes from my students and being able to watch them grow as young technicians and designers. Myself and my colleagues work hard to provide a variety of “real-world” scenarios and opportunities so our students may gain as many “hands-on” learning opportunities and experiences as possible. These opportunities are both on and off the UT campus.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Finding a work/life balance is a constant ongoing challenge. Completing an MA in Communication with two young children and a full-time job was definitely an obstacle. Once I arrived at UT Austin, working a full-time job was not possible with the demands from the MFA program… finding ways to afford to stay in school proved to be an additional challenge.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am a classically trained theatrical designer specializing in Lighting and Projection Design. I have had the pleasure of working with companies including Austin Opera, Paramount Films, Long Beach Ballet, and The Rep St. Louis, to name a few. Today, my professional career, outside of the university setting, is divided into two categories: design and programming. As a designer, you are responsible for the final visual product the audience will experience. As a programmer, your focus is much more narrow and often closely associated with one of the production’s designers. For instance, a production will hire a Projection Designer, but will still need to hire a Projection Programmer… someone who specializes in a particular set of hardware and software skills, to be able to quickly operate the console or computer while the production is under technical rehearsals.
We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
I believe to be successful in Live Entertainment requires a certain amount of risk-taking. The methods and technology learned just a few months ago may already be obsolete. So the risk here is not knowing what new methods of working are going to be on a given production… and knowing that you are able to adapt and overcome challenges under the given timeline.
All risks should be calculated so you can ensure both the success of a given production as well as your personal success as a collaborator regardless of the position held. The world of Live Entertainment is a rather small one… you want to be sure your reputation is one to be proud of.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: https://designcreativetech.utexas.edu/department-arts-and-entertainment-technologies
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