If you look at my career path (and I’ve had many careers) they would look like a winding road. In college, I had my heart set on being a lighting designer on Broadway. I worked at Marriott’s Great America for the first 4 seasons they were open and provided the lighting designs for 2 of the shows I worked on – Silver Screen and Bugs Bunny’s Wonder Circus. I also did some work in community theatre when the park was closed for the season. Due to family responsibilities, I never made it to broadway – at least not to work. I was able to work in the entertainment industry for a great number of years, which is more than many people who want to make a career in the theater business are able to say.
My first full time job was as a motion picture projectionist at a small art house in Walnut Creek CA. The El Rey (yes, I know its redundant) Theatre was a gem of a venue showing great flicks from around the world. Also The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Fridays and Saturdays at midnight. I worked there until it finally closed its doors to make way for the Walnut Creek Civic Plaza construction. It still makes me sad to think of the old place being torn down.
While working as a projectionist, I made connections with other theatre managers, which allowed me to find work at the nearby Festival Cinemas (now also gone). I worked with Festival Cinemas in multiple locations, including as a secretary in their home offices, for about 10 years. The skills I built there, working in management and office support, were to be useful a few careers later.
Since non-union theatre jobs don’t pay particularly well, I needed to work multiple jobs. During my stint at the El Rey, I trained a friend to be a projectionist, so that he could use a connection to get into the union (IATSE). He returned the favor and brought me into the union, a few years later. I worked relief shifts in projection booths around the East Bay, as well as finally being able to start working as a stage hand at the Concord Pavilion. This made for some really long days, but I enjoyed getting back into the live production scene. Ultimately, my stagehand career allowed me to work on film and television productions, as well as supporting dozens of touring shows that passed through the area. During this period, the projectionist positions added an element of theatre maintenance, and I was trained to work on HVAC systems, repair seats, lighting and pretty much everything in the facility. This also turned out to be useful in a later career.
In the early 1990’s the road took a dramatic turn. I met and ultimately married my husband. When we met, I lived and worked in the east bay and he lived and worked in the south bay. When I moved in with him, the commute started to become more than difficult – especially if I had a gig that ended at 2 in the morning. I began looking for work in the south bay. I first approached the union local in that area, but found them to be disorganized. I’d also be starting from scratch on the call list. This is where we go back to the experiences I had in the main office of Festival Cinemas. I started looking into Administrative Assistant roles. My background was very different from the majority of applicants, and most hiring managers couldn’t imagine how my diversity could be applicable to an Admin position. Finally, a Biotech startup took a chance on me as an admin supporting the Director of Operations. He was interested in me because of that facility maintenance experience at the theaters. They were about to embark on a facility expansion, and I had the good fortune to learn on the job how to work with architects, general contractors, and site supervisors. I was also thrown into the world of procurement since I had to specify and purchase cubicle, scientific equipment and all the elements that go into outfitting a biotech facility.
After a couple years there, my boss change, and I wasn’t able to find a way to work with the new guy – who like to bellow at me from inside his office. I had made more connections by that time, and upgraded my resume, so off I went to a hight tech company: Network Appliance, now known as NetApp. There I continued my work as a Facilities Specialist, and ultimately built several buildings containing office and manufacturing space as well as computer data centers. I had a great 12 year run with them. In the later years, I built and operated an HD video production facility, where we produced training and sales videos, as well as being an early pioneer of live streaming events such as company meetings.
Jumping to the present, I’ve started a consulting business developing WordPress websites for small and family businesses here in Hawaii. I don’t look for work, and am happy with purely referral business. I’m spending much of my time going back to the theatre. I have done some performance at Diamond Head Theatre, which was something I’d been wanting to do since high school. I’m also taking dance classes – another thing that I’d had to miss out on earlier in life. I’m not very good, but I love the learning and fitness that comes along with the classes, as well as the friends I’ve made.
It’s remarkable how each step you took opened up other opportunities, each with more responsibility and more satisfaction. A great lesson for young people just beginning their careers.
I think that the generations after ours jumped around in their careers more than we did. Perhaps this behavior will influence future bosses to accept diversity of skills.
Wow, circuitous indeed! Your career path is a testament to learning and adaptability as the core traits needed for success in work as well as life. If only we could convince more businesses of the value of this.