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Swiss Army Personnel

By Bryan H. Ackler

We have all seen it; the mainstay of an organization, the most senior employee, or the person who has “been there forever” decides to retire or finally takes that “too often offered” promotion.

Then, it takes two or three individuals to replace him or her. Well, it really is difficult to hire one-half of a magazine editor or one-quarter of a design engineer or two-thirds of a technical director. Finding someone who fits that organically derived job description for one-fifth box office, two-quarters technical director, one-tenth usher, and three-quarters director just doesn’t appear possible.

We all grow into our jobs. Some of us have collected vast amounts of exposure to the procedures and processes that go on all around us. We have undertaken tasks, and collected experience more often than not, just to make our “real” jobs go more smoothly. So in order to insure smooth operation of customer service, you volunteer to “do the phones” just to get the button features required for effortless operations, but you are now the “phone person.”

Somewhere in this, the old phrase “I have been doing so much with so little for so long, that now I can do anything with nothing” starts to rear its head and you realize that the “side responsibility you undertook for self-protection is a serious component of your professional life.

Some of us are just curious; we see methods, we ask questions, we see hardware, and we can make a connection between two diverse but confluent items. Some see an obstacle or a challenge to overcome. Some of us say “back in the old days” or “when I was working at…” just a little too often. Synergy is not an ideological concept; it is an unintentional way of life. Nevertheless, times change, technology advances, ideas that were borderline impractical are now convenient solutions. (Yes, the concept of the actual dimmer being mounted in the power connector for the fixture and receiving its control information without a control wire is now practically possible.).

The important technique for Swiss Army Personnel is being able to see where connections can be made between something old, something new, something borrowed, and something created to overcome an obstacle or provide a resourceful solution – flexibility and creativity being the key elements.

The serious academics among us would mumble something about the benefits of the outlook generated by a liberal arts education; others might just consider it getting a job done right by doing it yourself. Whatever the mental logic employed, it seems that the entertainment profession has happily generated a disproportionably large quantity of Swiss Army Personnel.

And the world is a better place for it.

Mr. Ackler's background includes staffing numerous new or renovated theatres including Virginia's Barter Theater, the Powerhouse at Vassar College, California State University-Bakersfield, University of Maine and Cerritos Center, and work for several manufacturers including Electro-Controls, Colortran-NSI, Strand Lighting, Electronics Diversified, and Genlyte Controls. He attended Virginia Tech and the University of Maine at Orono, and is active with USITT.

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