We sat down with Emily Hope, our Pittsburgh, PA Project Manager to learn more about how she became interested in the theatrical industry and how it led her to become a project manager!
At VLS, we offer a wide range of career opportunities that many who aspire to work in the entertainment industry never thought would be available to them due to their focus on technical theatre or other arts-focused degree programs. Project managers play an integral role in the success of VLS; with their keen organizational skills, industry background, and a deep understanding of the elements of a theatrical lighting and rigging system, our success would not be possible without them.
The specific requirements of our sales team and our customers are always fulfilled by our extraordinary project managers. At VLS, when you utilize our project services on your new build or renovation, you can rest assured that your sales and project management team at VLS is capable of understanding your unique needs as many of our team members spend their free time volunteering and working in the theatre, in their worship communities, and have the knowledge and experience to help you better understand all potential options.
While working on her technical theatre degree from Wright State University, Emily had her sights on becoming a lighting designer. After a number of internships and freelance opportunities, she found that she enjoyed lighting design for fun, but would be something she would prefer to do part-time. In her junior year, Emily was searching for other ways she could utilize her degree and came across our internship program and the rest is history.
What made you start your career in technical theatre?
Honestly, it was a genuine accident. I would credit my high school public speaking teacher for setting me on this path. I was in class one day and my teacher, came up to me and asked me to be a spot op for the musical my sophomore year as they were short on people. I was more than happy to help as a lot of my friends were in the drama club so I saw it as an opportunity to hang out with them more. The first rehearsal I attended sealed the deal for me. I found that I really enjoyed the organized chaos that those in theater know all too well and I enjoyed the collaboration between all the different departments. The year after, I got to run the light board and one of the shows we did was a collection of student-written plays. This was the first time I was able to play around and try out different designs along with my co-board operator and I enjoyed the feeling of being able to have another medium bring what I saw in my mind to the real world in a new medium. Using light to bring scenes to life clicked for me and it was something I found I really enjoyed and wanted to continue to pursue.
What made you desire a career in project management?
Originally when I was going to get my degree, I thought 100% I wanted to be a lighting designer. After working on a couple internships and going freelance for a while, I decided it was fun but more of something I wanted to do part-time. In my Junior year, I took an internship with VLS where I was given the opportunity to move through their different departments; the rental, project management, product management, sales, and production management. The department that ended up really calling out to me was Project Management. What I ended up finding out was that the job wasn’t stagnant like I had anticipated. There was always a new puzzle to solve and we were helping design systems with our sales team and contractors. Since I have moved to Project Management full time, I have found that the puzzles don’t stop so you are constantly having to learn and grow with the industry as new products and gear come out. Some may think that sounds exhausting, but it’s something I really enjoy. The job is never boring.
What are the ways that VLS helps support your career goals and encourages you to be your best?
VLS offers a lot of flexibility which is something I enjoy. Given the circumstances of the last year or so, we have had to be flexible in more ways than one. Because of this, VLS now supports an easier way to work remotely which makes it easy to meet with customers who aren’t right around the corner and it allows me to help prioritize my own health while being able to accomplish my day-to-day goals. I would say that the way VLS encourages me to be my best is that I genuinely enjoy the people that I get to work with every day, both past and present. There really is a team atmosphere and everyone will dig their heels in to help whenever there is an issue or a question.
Any recommendations for technical theatre students, or those interested in project management?
My biggest recommendation for technical theatre students is do not put yourself into a box. There are lots of career opportunities out there that aren’t just designing or tour work if that isn’t your cup of tea. Don’t be afraid to do those internships with your local theatrical suppliers, don’t be afraid to talk to manufacturer representatives, don’t be afraid of those internships that aren’t the regular production-type internships. Specifically, if someone is interested in project management, I would say go for it if you like organizing chaos.
What has been your favorite project thus far?
My favorite project is probably the first project I had ever worked on. About 2 months after I started, I was putting a bid together that was out of Philadelphia. Overall, it is one of the largest projects I have ever worked on. Villanova University was getting a new theater with 3 different performing spaces and they were needing a new fixture package. I remember the day that I read that we had won the contract and I couldn’t believe it. From then on, the project was a wild ride but I got to see my first project from start to finish and really get into the weeds of what it meant to be a project manager.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I think my favorite part of the job is estimating. As a Project manager at VLS, I get to not only manage projects but I get to be on the front end a bit. I like taking a concept from a salesperson and finding ways to make their system work and figuring out how to bring everything together. Specifically, I really enjoy working on bid work estimations and the collaboration between working with architects, consultants, electrical contractors, and end-users.
What is the greatest challenge that arises from being a project manager?
As with any job, Project Management does come with a few challenges. It is easy to get overwhelmed during busy times because you could be managing anywhere from 7-12 projects at a time and you are the first point of contact for all of them and you may have a few of them install at the same time with limited crews. With that being said, the challenges come with the equal and opposite feeling of relief and accomplishment when you finally close out that project that you have been working on for a year or are able to figure out a scheduling nightmare.