The art behind a good technician5:55, 26th February 2020
Mig Burgess provides some advice for teachers to help the budding technicians in their classes start out in the industry.
Whether your technically-inclined students join an apprenticeship scheme, complete a university course, or simply work their way up the ladder in the theatre business, they will need to spend some time working as an entry level technician. They may have aspirations to be a designer, programmer or head of department; their specialism may be lighting, sound or stage – but the start of their career begins as the humble technician.
To be a great designer or successful leader of a department they need to know what it means to be the technician. Technicians are the hidden workforce behind any good designer or head of department; without them their visions are merely fictional, and shows cannot be realised and built. Not only will the position one day make your students a great leader, but they will find the key to a successful, productive and happy team. Some people make hugely successful careers out of being great technicians, and being the best involves developing many attributes of your personality, as well as stamina and knowledge – some of which I will cover in this toolkit.
- Multiskilling: If your students are good lighting technicians, have them learn
some more about sound; if they are stage managers, they need to learn more about how wardrobe works. Employers are after this multiskilling attitude more and more
- Understanding: It’s important to understand what the other departments do and how they fit into the theatrical process; this involves learning the significance of the box office staff, the ushers, the marketing team – without them, the show is
being built for nothing
- Ethic: This isn’t a 9-to-5 job – the hours are long and often finish very late into the night. Potential technicians should develop a great work ethic early on and push their motivation into every shift they undertake.
It takes time and practice to adjust to long working hours and late nights. Students should take the time to learn how best to manage these patterns and understand what their body needs to maintain them. They should learn about food and drink, Offering help to other departments goes a long way; not only is there more to be learnt, but it makes for an invaluable multiskilled technician, and can provide double the job opportunities.
Offering help to other departments goes a long way; not only is there more to be
learnt, but it makes for an invaluable multiskilled technician, and can provide double the job opportunities.
It takes time and practice to adjust to long working hours and late nights. Students should take the time to learn how best to manage these patterns and understand what their body needs to maintain them. They should learn about food and drink, how much sleep they need to remain energised, how to manage their time effectively, and not to forget to rest.
Aside from physical and mental wellbeing, they will need to learn the tools of the trade, invest and bring them on site. If they’re a lighting technician, they need a quad spanner, while a stage manager needs a toolbox. Nobody likes the technician who is constantly asking to borrow everyone else’s tools.
Students shouldn’t forget to smile! They need to turn up keen and willing to work. It sounds simple but people often lack enthusiasm. They will be booked again if they show a genuine eagerness to get the job done. Equally, if they don’t know how to do something, they shouldn’t be shy – people will appreciate their honesty.
Next steps: Where do they go from here?
University: We’re lucky in that there is a vast array of production and technical courses on offer within the country. I teach lighting on a production course at the Guildford School of Acting, and there are a great many other universities and colleges offering courses in technical theatre.
Apprentice schemes: Studying for a qualification while working on site has become increasingly popular, and the government is encouraging them. While your students may need to go out of their way to search for available schemes.
ABTT: The Association of British Theatre Technicians is a charity and company that work to train people and to develop legislation to help with the improvement of the industry. They offer great training schemes to develop technicians in bronze, silver and gold awards. They also hold an annual trade show. www.abtt.org.uk
Free training courses: Keep an eye out for industry manufacturers offering free training. Most of these companies want you to know their equipment, so will train for free. ETC are a lighting company that manufacture lighting desks; they also offer free training on all their consoles.
Warehouse work: This is a great way to learn more about the equipment students will work with. Tell them to seek out companies in their field; most of them are on a constant lookout for warehouse staff, or would be willing to have someone on work experience in the warehouse for a few days. Try Whitelight and PRG for lighting, Thames Audio or Orbital for sound, and UK productions for stage and set. www.whitelight.ltd.uk
Work experience: It’s important to get a wide variety of experience outside of college or university, so have students make themselves available to work, talk to their local theatre about work experience and consider the benefits of working on fringe shows. Edinburgh Fringe has hundreds of shows that need people to work on them. Lots of opportunities turn up on Stage Jobs Pro; they require a subscription but you can find opportunities both paid and unpaid to participate in. www.stagejobspro.com
Plasa trade show: This largescale lighting and sound trade show happens annually, with the next one falling on 18–20 September. All the key companies attend so it’s a great chance to network.
I have spent many happy years working as a lighting technician, and they have given me some of the hardest and most rewarding working days of my life. I have had the great pleasure of working on a wide variety of productions – from rock ‘n’ roll, theatre, festivals and even the Olympic opening ceremony. I have met and made friends with lots of other fabulous technicians, and together we all work to produce great productions.
With hard work, self-investment, an awareness of the constant influx of knowledge and time spent doing some self analysis, students will be sure to thrive. How they work is the product they are selling to people, so they need to be sure it’s a product they are happy with and one that will keep those employers coming back for more. Their lives as technicians will carve their careers, producing talented designers, gifted managers, brilliant teachers – and even outstanding, sought-after theatrical
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This article originally appeared in the 2016 Autumn 1 issue of Teaching Drama. To access older issues of Drama & Theatre (previously known as Teaching Drama) subscribe to the digital version of the magazine: http://bit.ly/2MWf9SK