There are more technical careers out there than you think

 28 September 2014

The technical theatre and live events industry is thriving and hungry for skills. So why aren't we adequately informed about the range of technical careers available? Emily Malcolm believes the time has come for the curtains to open up on the industry.

The live performance industry is good at hiding its behind-the-scenes activity so that the audience only sees a finished product.
The live performance industry is good at hiding its behind-the-scenes activity so that the audience only sees a finished product.

In my job as Education Manager at The Backstage Centre I get to meet all sorts of students, studying on a whole range of courses.

I always ask them what jobs they think they might want to go into once they have finished with education, and I'm surprised at how few are mentioned.

The usual answers are: performing, lighting or sound. Yet the technical industry that supports music, theatre and live events has a huge variety of jobs, from crew to design and from rigging to AV.

These jobs involve a lot of different and diverse skills, including creativity, computer programming, animation and engineering to name a few.

The problem with technical careers advice

There are still people advising that the industry is not a secure one to work in.

So why don't people know about these careers? For me the problem starts with careers advice. Young people rely on advice from teachers and careers advisors in order to choose what to study so they can work towards a career.

There are so few careers advisors who have an understanding of the technical industry. There are still people advising that the industry is not a secure one to work in, yet I meet industry professionals all the time who say they work on projects where they just can’t get enough skilled staff.

Making technical work experience count

Another factor is that young people need to be able to take on more meaningful work experience. It doesn’t have to be a school-organised activity, and it doesn’t have to only last two weeks.

Good work experience can mean a young person is paid to do a casual job, which helps open their eyes to the possibilities out there.

I feel the industry needs to open its doors more, to let young people in and inspire them to want to look into to a job further.

The live performance industry is good at hiding its behind-the-scenes activity so that the audience only sees a finished product, whether that’s a piece of theatre or a concert.

I meet professionals all the time that just can’t get enough skilled staff.

This is great for its audience but means that most people don’t have a realistic idea of how many people have been involved.

We need to find ways of creating opportunities that demonstrate the different stages of how you put a performance together. That way young people interested in the industry can see the jobs out there and start considering the training they need to achieve them.

My experience of technical theatre

I have worked in live theatre myself and, as part of an education team, I've had the chance to work with everyone in the venues including:

  • marketing and office staff
  • technical
  • front of house
  • box office
  • visiting actors
  • creative teams.

The industry needs to let young people in and inspire them to want to look into jobs further.

Working in the industry gives you such an insight into the many people involved in putting a show on. When I worked in a theatre I used to arrive some days at 8am and I would see the cleaners, office staff and box office set up for the day.

There would be staff in the building that finished their jobs before the public even arrived. I would watch shows turn up and be amazed at how many technicians were needed – 40 on average – when only a few of them would actually be on stage for a performance.

Opening up technical opportunities

At The Backstage Centre we have developed a range of masterclasses to give students an opportunity to broaden their knowledge.

One way that we are doing this is through a scheme called ‘Insights’, which will see us interviewing people from the industry about their careers in front of an audience. Each month it will be a different person with a different job.

We are asking our partners in the industry to give up to half an hour of their time to give an insight into their job, tell us how they got there and what a typical day is like. Students will have the opportunity to tweet in their own questions and watch the interviews live.

By profiling different careers, we hope to give young people an understanding of the fact that the industry they want to enter is big, and the range of jobs is wider than they previously thought. 

Insight events are held on a monthly basis at The Backstage Centre in Thurrock.