Waiting in the wings: How to get a job as a technician

Click to follow
The Independent Online

While it is the people on stage and in the spotlight who get most of the applause, those who work backstage in the live entertainment industry perform some of the most interesting and exciting roles. Any event that is staged in front of a live audience - whether it be theatre, pop music, opera or ballet - requires teams of highly trained backstage workers.

Technicians trained and working in the United Kingdom are regarded as the best in the world; when world-class events are staged it's technicians from the UK who are called in to rig, build, focus, amplify, costume, manage and get the show on.

There are many disciplines that go together to produce a live performance. These include being responsible for making and maintaining the costumes, building or painting the scenery, coordinating all the technical aspects of the performance or designing the lighting and visual effects that can wow an audience.

The skills for all of these jobs are taught at drama schools and colleges throughout the country. Suddenly what started of as a hobby can become an academic qualification and lead directly into a career in an exciting and fast developing industry.

A career backstage does not depend on taking part in a course - people enter the industry without formal training - but it is getting increasingly difficult to take this route. The industry is demanding much more knowledge and experience from its new recruits and increasingly looks towards the training establishments to provide the new workforce.

At drama school, students not only learn the specific subjects they have signed up for - whether that be stage management, lighting design, theatre design or prop making - but they also pick up a great range of transferable skills. These include communication skills and learning how to work with performers and other members of a creative team.

The main difference between drama school training and that of other academic courses is the guarantee of vocational training. This means that the courses offered are geared towards making sure students get jobs within the entertainment industry. Generally, all of the training starts with some basic theory of the technical and backstage areas, but very quickly students get involved in the process of creating a production.

In preparation for applying for a backstage course you should compile a CV. Initially, it is worth listing any theatrical experience you've had. Jobs that you have done in an amateur or voluntary capacity may seem irrelevant to you but will inform those assessing your application. All experience is relevant - painting the scenery for the school play, finding props for the local operatic company's production, or mixing sound at the school's concert for example - so do as much as you can, as often as you can.

Drama schools have various entry requirements - some academic and others not - while some require students to produce a piece of work to a brief and all have a process of formal interview. The interviews aren't as scary as they may seem, they are an opportunity for you to share your experiences with the panel and for them to get to know a bit about you. The most important thing for any potential drama school student is to show enthusiasm and passion for the industry and to have had some experience.

The training from all of the vocational courses is demanding, often involving long hours, which is par for the course once working in the field. It is a tough job, but exciting, interesting and rewarding - after all there is as much adrenaline in the areas of a theatre that the audience never see as there is emanating from the actors on stage.

So will you find work afterwards? The answer for those of you who go through some formal training is "Yes, absolutely", providing that you worked at it. Creative & Cultural Skills, the sector skills council for the creative industries, has predicted that over the next 10 years an extra 10,000 backstage staff will be needed to cope with the growth in the entertainment industry. That figure is added to the 20,000 required to take over from those who will drop out from the industry over the next 10 years, so the demand is clear.

Above all, a desire to work within the industry, some previous experience on any scale, some basic knowledge and a clear passion and drive are what counts. Oh, and did I mention what great fun it is?

Rob Young is course director of stage management and technical theatre at the London Academy of Music And Dramatic Art (LAMDA). He is also director of the Conference of Drama Schools (CDS), which provides information on courses and application processes at Britain's 22 leading drama schools. To find out more visit www.drama.ac.uk

Comments