By Hamish Ellis
What do you think of when I say technician? A tall guy, dressed in black, not talking to anyone, sat at the back of rehearsals with a watch and a big book, telling off late comers and paying a bit too much attention to the dance numbers? Thought so.
Love them or loath them, technicians are essential to the entertainment industry. They are everywhere – whether you’re a poet reading at a small open mic night, a dancer moving across the shiny floor or a West End star belting out your big, heartfelt number you’ll be relying on a team of these people who are happy to take no credit for your standing ovation (but would you mind getting off the stage, there is a get out to do).
There is no such thing as a standard techie – they come in all flavours, shapes, sizes and skills, but on the whole they all wear black and carry a multi-tool as a matter of course. Some technicians work with light, the lampies – spot them by the spanner hanging from their belts and referring to colours as numbers. Others are noise boys, they do sound – often earphones out the top of a (black) t-shirt are the giveaway here, but sometimes you just don’t know till they start talking to you – no one understands them. (disclaimer – noise boys can also be girls, but noise girls isn’t even a half rhyme) The biggest, scariest looking ones are normally stage people. They lay the dance floor you prance about on, built the set from which you give your intense monologue and are some of the best people on the crew, despite appearances.
Just don’t try to keep up with them at the bar. Don’t even think about it. Just because many venues are a dry house backstage nowadays doesn’t mean that when they clock off they don’t know how to drink anymore.
Which brings us to another point about techies. They drink and smoke, not all of them, but it tends to be a common facet. So what? So do most of the company (singers included) and isn’t that worse than the guy who says nothing and is never seen having a cheeky fag? And let’s be honest, who doesn’t have a drink after the show? The technicians just make up for all the ones they missed during the run due to doing the pre-set for the following night and for the last-night-first-round where they were doing the get out.
I should probably explain a few things here as so far I am just perpetuating the myth that technicians speak another language. A ‘get in’ or ‘get out’ is what it says, often refered to as simply the IN or the OUT, the crew get everything into or out of the theatre. This involves a small army of people to rig, colour, focus, plot (plan) the lights, check all the sound to make it sound natural and get all of the set into the venue, onto the stage or onto to the fly bars above your head. The out is just the reverse. The pre-set is what the opening of the show is referred to in terms of all of the things being in the right place, set and props wise; the set up pre the show. Other terms may crop up but we wouldn’t want to give away all our secrets would we?
The technicians you probably don’t like the most however will be the people who have an acronym as their title – SM, DSM, ASD, PM, APM. These are the people who run the show, stage managers and production managers and it’s these people who get the blame if something goes wrong, it’s them who has to get the show from someone’s mind, through rehearsals and onto the stage. Yes, they get stressed, but you have had a few months to rehearse your bit, they only have production week to do theirs. They hate shouting as much as you do, but can you blame them really? Can you? The show has to work, otherwise what you do just won’t happen.
Believe it or not there is probably one person who knows the whole show better than anyone in the cast or on the creative team, and this person is the DSM – the deputy stage manager. Their job is to call the show, to tell all of the operators when to do all of the things with the lights, with the sound, the scene changes and any such other things the design team has decided to throw in. This person takes us back to the guy I spoke about at the beginning, That is your DSM. That big book is the bible and it holds all of the script, the score and all of your movements are written in along with any cues and any changes that happen.
They have to know the show backwards, sideways and any other way that it may be performed if lines are improvised, said in the wrong order or just plain forgotten. Why the watch? Well you have to know how long your show is, front of house need that information and it also gets expensive if your show runs late, so producers need to be appeased. The last thing that’s wrong with this vision is that you see a guy, most stage managers and production managers are woman. True, more general crew are men, but for positions of power, there are statistically more woman in backstage theatre than you might think. Why? Who knows, maybe they are just better.
Finally, a note on anger. You possibly don’t like technicians because one shouted at you once, but chances are they had been up for hours, things had gone wrong and the director was being an ass, you stepping out your light or not running from a line straight away in the cue to cue was the last straw. They didn’t mean it, and what actor/director/writer/producer/dancer/singer can honestly say they love their job 100% of the time.
So please, take note the technician. They just want a thank you.
Hamish Ellis is a 2nd year engineering student at University of Sheffield and a technician who works backstage on lights, stage and production management. A scientist in a theatre.
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