A number of recent events and discussions have gotten me thinking again about one of the central problems with training young designers and technicians, especially in projections but also across the field. In the past 30 years, the gulf between the cutting-edge technologies in the field and the equipment available to universities has been widening. (Actually, from the projection perspective the divide has been narrowing a bit in some ways, but it was pretty darn big to start.) To some extent even a number of high schools have made bigger attempts to close the gap, as evidenced by a number of features in Live Design and other trades.

This problem has come to a real head for producing entities working in the upper echelons, like Cirque du Soleil. For the past two years at its university partnership retreats Cirque has presented a laundry list of technologies and skills they associate with their ideal candidates. While acknowledging that “ideal candidates” very seldom exist, they are still searching heavily for technicians with training in fluid systems, advanced networking, the latest automated lighting, automation control, and projection from soup to nuts.

In another part of the market, designers crossing lines between traditional theatrical presentation and corporate events face a similar challenge. When the budget expands beyond the reach of most theatres, and high-end clients are expecting high-end results (possibly Barco results, these days?) how much of an additional stretch for that designer to not only work in an unfamiliar arena but with unfamiliar technology.

In this climate, what are universities, training programs, and especially the students themselves supposed to do to close this gap? It’s clear that schools can seldom afford to purchase—and keep purchasing—equipment at this level. Partnerships between entertainment technology companies and some universities provide some relief, but there are enough of those to go around. Professional training academies like Full Sail and Live Production Institute can help to fill the gaps, but they are expensive propositions for most students.

In the end it comes down to the student’s drive and willingness to seek out their own opportunities—like so many things in life. In order to get exposure to the cutting edge, students need to push to find opportunities outside of school—with summer jobs, internship programs, and a willingness to put themselves out their. Even short-term connections help, like participating in the LDI internship program.

I’ve been feeling a bit demand-side in my opinions on this issue, and would love to hear a variety of fresh perspectives. If you have comments on this article or suggestions on new ways to bridge that gap—or if you are a student interested in participating in the LDI internship program—please contact me at jake.pinholster@gmail.com.