May Issue - Stage Directions Magazine

May Issue - Stage Directions Magazine

TD Talk

By Dave McGinnis

I Can Do It for This Much

Does the bid system prove that you get what you pay for?

Many theatre artists have found refuge in governmentally

funded entities. These institutions, whether they’re universities,

performing arts centers or community theatres, provide

a relative haven in which to pursue your artistic goals. The pros to these

entities are obvious, but there is one skeleton in the closet that loves

to show its face whenever you open the door on a new project: the

bid system.

For those not familiar with the bid system, the governing body

(state, county, etc.) will set a dollar amount below which the TD has

the right to find whatever materials they need to get the job done. For

anything above this amount, whoever is in charge must solicit bids

(estimates) on the job from various contractors. Whoever submits the

lowest bid gets the contract. This applies to construction projects and

equipment purchases.

Officially, contractors are bidding on exactly the same work —

materials, equipment and labor/installation. This would lead you to

believe that you are saving money on the job. However, according to

a friend of mine, everybody in this business works with their friends

because they know they can trust one another. This is where the bid

system causes a clash.

I once worked for a performing arts facility that had contracted

some new wall pockets. These were not being set up to require DMX

or anything, just simple hot-neutral-ground wiring. The contract had

gone to the lowest bidder, and that contractor hired a sub-contractor

to install the new wiring out of the dimmer racks and into the wall.

When the job was supposedly completed, these pockets had no

power. Only after numerous trips back to the facility did the pockets

work…when the crew chief for the installation came out personally

and alone.

If you are operating on a bid system, how can you protect your

space from this kind of incident? Here are a few suggestions:

4. Hold the contractor and/or architect accountable.

If a contractor bids on a large project, like the construction of your

facility, they must be held to the blueprints on which they initially submitted

the bid. If the initial bid involved two catwalks, then the building

had better include two catwalks. If they bid on a 96-dimmer rack, then

the rack had better end up being 96 dimmers, and it had better work.

If not, then make sure the contract facilitates some means by which

payment can be withheld until the requisite work is done.

5. Be involved.

If you have the option, make sure that you are involved in as many

steps of the process as possible. When in conflict, the way the facility

looks will likely trump the way the facility functions if left to administration.

If you are involved, then the functionality of the space will always

have at least one person “defending the faith.”

Of course, every administration operates differently. Some have

rules that prohibit some, or possibly all, of these guidelines. They want

blind bids, and they believe that cheaper is always better. Always

remember, though, that it is your crew who will shoulder the burden

for whatever contract goes out. Try to explain to administration that

the long-run costs of repairs on substandard equipment will outweigh

the immediate costs of implementation of quality gear.

Let me know how your install went:

1. Make sure companies you trust receive the bid request.

I don’t even like to buy toothpaste that I haven’t tried out in a travel

size, so why would I entrust my livelihood to some stranger whose

work I have never seen before? Quality work that you can trust will save

capital in the long run when you consider repairs and maintenance.

2. Establish a requirement that the winning contractor performs

the work personally.

Many construction and installation issues fall apart because the

lowest bid involves sub-contracting to a cheaper source. It begs the

question, “Why is the sub-contractor so much cheaper?” Often, it’s

because the sub-contractor may rely on day laborers who know little

about working in entertainment venues. Depending on the complexity

of the contract being offered, it might behoove you to specifically

prohibit the use of day labor, either on specific portions of the contract

or altogether.

3. Specify everything.

If you fail to specify what dimmer rack you want, you might get

whatever came cheapest while still providing the contractor the

widest profit margin on installation. Specify every possible piece of

equipment, from the dock to the booth. Not every administration will

allow this. They sometimes will want bids on equipment, too. If this is

the case, then make sure that you specify every possible function that

every piece of gear you want should have. Leave nothing to chance. • May 2007 39

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