Network: My Technology - Call me the IT director

Hampstead Theatre's Jonathan Church tells why fixing computers is part of his job description
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The Independent Culture
People think that anyone artistic shouldn't enjoy technology, but I find it very beneficial - it makes a change from being in a room full of actors. Occasionally, computers are more predictable than actors, who have a more fluid approach. So it's nice to work with something concrete. If you tell a computer to do something, it will.

But I do find that one informs the other. A computer is also a wonderfully creative tool. It has the ability to turn a jumble of notes into a beautifully finished object. My handwriting is hopeless and my desk's chaos, yet the computer looks great.

My generation was one of those which had nothing to do with computers at school, so I was a late-developer. I was quite cynical about computers, and not too sure if what they could do was worth the effort of making them do it. About nine years ago, however, I was working with one at the Nottingham Playhouse and I became obsessed.

I bought one for my home so I could feel more free to play around. At first, I couldn't get the monitor to work, so I took it apart. I had a slight background knowledge, as a trained lighting designer, and soon realised that computer bits are very standard, that there is a logic; a series of plug-in cards for things like graphics, modem, parallel ports, disk driver, all made sense. And the components are designed so they are easily replaceable and repairable.

What interested me was how it all goes together and also setting it up so it was easy to use for someone who didn't know how to - that need has shifted now, with Windows, but we were using DOS-based machines. We had started using basic IBM PCs, with 8086 chips, then 286 machines, and then had a big upgrade five years ago and moved to 486 machines and low-end Pentium-based. We still ran DOS because everyone knew it.

I got more and more involved at the Nottingham Playhouse, and when they were spending pounds 25,000 on an upgrade I never imagined I would be acting as a consultant. I was very pleased, because it's an area I am enthusiastic about. At theatres the money is tight, so the technology tends to be a little bit behind the current, most expensive, machine. And because demands are simple - apart from the box office's computerised system.

It mystifies me how the marketing function of a theatre could have worked before; it means the ability to create a database, showing who comes to what type of show, how often they attend - vital information. Plus the ease of tracking the show financially, giving an accurate daily report, whether in attendance format or percentage numbers. The manual effort must have been terrifying.

At home I have got a computer and bits of several others. At one point I had three computers and two huge boxes of bits, lots of spare hard disks, spare memory, and mother boards. I have learnt how to put them together mostly through just doing it, and computer magazines offer a wealth of information.

I am passionate about computers and quite evangelical - if people don't have one I encourage them, even if that means going round and building one for them.

Jonathan Church directs his first production for Hampstead Theatre, `You be Ted and I'll be Sylvia' by Simon Smith, from 7 September

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