Theatre Management Technicians
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Investigating Arts Management PracticeThis report will look into technical jobs in the theatre industry. Looking at the people who work as technicians. Do they have a technical theatre degree or did they get into the job by gaining ‘hands on' experience. The report will show if there are specific requirements for technicians e.g. to have a degree to work in the west end on a ‘high profile' show or if to work in a regional theatre that has a variety of small scale shows, would ‘hands on' experience be preferred, as they would not just be working in one area on a show, they will need the knowledge to work in all areas of backstage in a theatre. Research was compiled by emailing questions to production and touring theatre companies, interviewing the technical managers of two regional theatres, and from sourcing information from job adverts in ‘The Stage', on careers advice websites and on theatre forums specifically for theatre technicians. The findings show that technicians who work in the regional theatres mainly started out as casuals who then gained experience and applied to the job full time, where as the production and touring theatre company do not necessarily look for people with degrees but if they are applying for a manager or head of department job then it would only help their application, or if they were wanting to work as a stage manager then preferably studying a specific stage management course at a drama school would also be benifical. To conclude although a degree is not needed to get into the industry if you were wanting to go into a management position then having a degree could help you application as the company would know that you would have had some level of ‘paper based' learning which would have involved for example financial studies.
IntroductionThis report is based on the question: ‘To work in the theatre industry is it necessary to gain a technical theatre degree or is experience preferred' This subject has become an increasingly talked about topic within the theatre industry. Older theatre managers nowadays never had the chance to gain a qualification, as there was no such thing, some still feel that it is a waste of time to go the academic route as the job is practical and this is the way to learn it. This topic is discussed a lot on the technical forum ‘Blue Room'. Where technicians can speak to each other asking questions about the jobs backstage, or how to get into the industry. One member of the forum answers a similar question about which university courses give the best training to get into the industry: ‘I don't believe the best way to get involved in this industry is to take an academic course - production/sound is a very practical hands on job that benefits more from experience than teaching.' ‘Gareth Young, Freelance lighting designer & sound engineer' This is the way a lot of people think in the industry but as there is now more choice of specific courses to study to get into theatre, a lot of people are taking these up. ‘The industry is changing as there are now more and more specific technical courses. I think that the non-University route is a valid one and I know many people who have been successful without going to Uni.' ‘3Pens - Blue Room' After speaking to the technical manager at the regional theatre Wycombe Swan, who did study a degree in drama said on the topic ‘It helps to get a degree if you want to go into teaching, but 10 years ago the industry laughed at people who went the university route, but people are slowly beginning to realise that it might be a good idea, not necessarily to become a technician but if they ever wanted to become a technical manager' Sebastian Petit - Technical Manager at the Wycombe Swan
Literature ReviewWhen researching this topic a lot of information was found on the technical theatre forum ‘Blue Room' (bringing backstage online). This is where people who are specifically interested in the backstage jobs of a theatre can talk to other people about any questions they have or just have a general chat. Topics include general chats about productions, non-technical chats about insurance, working overseas etc, technical forums for each technical area, stage management, lighting, props etc and another for training and qualifications, ‘A forum for the discussion of Training and Education issues'. This is where the research information was sourced. Many people have joined this forum asking question such as ‘Interested in the industry – Where to start?' These questions are usually asked by younger aged people deciding what to do after GCSE's or people who are at the age to go to university and are asking what is the best option to get into the industry, a degree or experience? In one of the forums ‘Industry Training, Interesting comment from L&S International' ‘Paulears' talks about an article that was printed in the monthly journal ‘Lighting and Sound International' added 22 April 2007. "One thing that I am very keen to do is head off as many kids as I possibly can from taking the college route. We do have quite a few people here from LIPA and Liverpool Community College, but they will all tell you, more or less, they have wasted three years of their life attaining a piece of paper that, when they walk in here or anywhere else in the industry, isn't worth anything at all. They might be able to give me a brilliant description of the polar pattern of a microphone but they can't even put up a mic stand properly or wind a cable." ‘Andy Dockerty, the Managing Director of Liverpool's Adlib-Audio' This shows that in his company experience is preferred, that although the student could explain technically they couldn't do the job practically, therefore would have to gain the experience after gaining the degree, setting them back 3 years that they could have had that experience. This topic has also been discussed in the weekly newspaper ‘The Guardian'. In the guardian education, there was an article ‘Playing in the mud' This article is discussing ‘the future of live events is threatened by a lack of technicians ... Step up the new skills academy.' They are discussing the future of the live music business: ‘No Glastonbury festival, no Radiohead tours and no Brit Awards ... that could be the future of the live music business, according to research for the National Skills Academy for the creative and cultural industries' Allan Glen – The Guardian The popular live music industry has bought major opportunities both for the education sector and the live music industry. Thus allowing a variety of courses to be set up, but there are some strong views about this within the music industry "What you don't want is someone breezing in waving a degree and telling everyone how to do their job." Geoff Ellis, director of DF Concerts, The company behind T in the Park festival and the Glasgow venue King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. This is how the technical manager at The Civic Centre Aylesbury feels, as he doesn't have a degree, he feels that people do not have the practical knowledge to do the job, even with the ‘piece of paper'. Also mentioned in the article was Chris Hill, director of Wigwam Acoustics, who launched ‘the company's Charlie Jones sponsorship programme at the School of Sound Recording in Manchester'. Talking about the company he works for, and the school he set up: "All the CVs we receive from kids on music courses go straight in the bin, our programme at least allows students to be taken seriously by prospective employers." Chris Hill The general vibe of the article is that going down the education route does not gain you any idea of what it is like to actually work in the industry, it is no good knowing that you have to do something, but not actually be able to do it. Andy Reynolds a university lecture and a tour manager explains, “The live event production industry is very sceptical of graduates, they are often not prepared for the reality of what they will be doing, which is cleaning mud off speaker boxes that have been at Glastonbury for a week." Frazer Mackenzie who also works as a lecture in music management and production feels that "If the industry feels graduates leave university without the necessary skills, it should contribute more actively to the education process," Due to this the government are speeding up the opening of the National Skills Academy (NSA) for live entertainment and the DCMS are to launch an apprentice scheme. The course will concentrate on courses in lighting, sound and backstage skills, therefore allowing students to get the ‘piece of paper' as well as learn the skills practically. The idea of bringing back apprenticeships gives everyone to do both routes, whether they are academic or not.
MethodologyTo conduct this study my idea was to look at two regional theatres and two London theatres. The two regional theatres that were researched were the Wycombe Swan and Aylesbury Civic Centre, these venues are receiving, so they have a variety of performances by different production companies. Their technicians are not hired to do a specific job, for example stage management; they need to have the knowledge to work in all areas of technical. To find out if their technicians have experience or degrees, they were interviewed, simply asking about their technicians, and how they got into theatre. To find out if technicians in the west end had degrees, e-mails were sent out with these questions:
- If people who enquire to you about work have either the qualification or experience,
- If the majority of people who work for you have a degree or have gained the experience instead?