Oliver Quinn, arts technician

 18 January 2015

Oliver is an electrician by training, but his love of theatre led him to a career at The Crescent Arts Centre. Oliver takes care of sound, lighting and sets for a broad range of the centre’s clients.

"I’ll advise them on their lighting and sound needs, design their set, install it and operate it."

What job do you do?

As the arts technician at The Crescent it is my job to facilitate the technical requirements of our clients. Anything to do with sound, lighting, set or anything else.

We host all sorts of events and productions for different groups and companies, from dance and music to the visual arts and spoken word. The Crescent offers classes and workshops for all ages and cultures. We’re involved in festivals from The Belfast Book Festival to Citydance.

I’ve met with political parties who want to use the facilities for a launch, and with community groups who want to hire a room for an event.

How did you get started as an arts technician?

I come from a farming background. When I was considering my career my aunt and uncle advised me to look outside of farming, as things were tough back then. I was interested in how things worked so I became an apprentice electrician.

When I started out I worked three days a week for my employer and spent two days at college. I had an interest in theatre from an early age and through one of my lecturers I got a voluntary position at the Bardic Theatre in Donaghmore, Dungannon, where I looked after their lighting.

I’m a spark by heart and will always have that to fall back on, but I love working in the arts.

The hours were very long, often not getting home until 2am. Then I’d be back to my job the next morning. It’s what you have to do to get your foot in the door. I toured with the theatre group and did many shows, building up contacts and experience. I had a lot of luck.

After a while I moved on to work on gigs. I worked on Tenants Vital, among others. Other opportunities came my way at the Odyssey and at the Opera House.

I went back to college, this time taking a HND in Performance Art at Belfast Met where I concentrated on the technical side of the subject.

It was while I was on that course that I was introduced to the Crescent Arts Centre. It was going through a major refurbishment at the time and they were looking for technical staff. I’ve been there for four years now. It’s my home from home.

What qualification do you have?

I’m a qualified electrician and I have a HND in Performance Art from Belfast Met.

What do you do at work?

Lots of things! I meet with the Crescent’s clients to discuss their technical requirements. 

I get a real buzz out of my job. It’s like being on stage without being on stage.

That might be a group of students with an idea for a performance – maybe someone breaking into the arts. It could be a theatre or community group.

I’ll advise them on their lighting and sound needs, design their set, install it and operate it.

I’m a spark (an electrician) by heart and will always have that to fall back on but I love working in the arts.

What’s the best thing about your job?

I get a real buzz out of my job. It’s like being on stage without being on stage. Standing in the wings at the end of a performance, even though it’s the artist that’s getting the applause, you know you’ve been an important part of the performance.

Live shows are technically much more complex now, but technology has made the various disciplines more accessible. The technician can play a bigger role in designing, building and then operating the lighting and set design.

What’s the worst thing about your job?

Being away from home and the unsociable, irregular hours. You can really miss home comforts sometimes, not to mention your loved ones. Also, it can be very frustrating when simple things aren’t working.

How can I become an arts technician?

My tips are:

1. Research all aspects of what you want to do. Yes, talk to a careers advisor, but also speak to people in the same line of work or in related fields. Make contacts, ask questions and be bold! It won’t come to you.

2. Find a way to experience what you want to do. Volunteer if necessary or approach it from a different, related angle.

3. Enjoy it and be nice. Be respectful, friendly and enthusiastic.

4. Don’t be intimidated by the people you’re working for but, at the same time, don’t be precious about your own ideas. Find a good balance.

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