Becoming a technical manager

 1 July 2016

Rob Lloyd's journey into technical management started with him doing "bottom of the pile" work in theatre, but evolved into roles with much greater responsibility as he rapidly gained new skills. He eventually sidestepped into the music industry. Read more about his career.

"Be prepared to learn about lots of different aspects of the business and not pigeon-hole yourself."

First steps into theatre

"Following school and sixth form in Barrow-in-Furness, I studied for an HND in Musical Theatre in Newcastle.

"I then did what every other aspiring actor does and moved to London. Albeit with no job, no money and nowhere really to live. I had a friend who worked for a London West End theatre (Apollo Victoria – Starlight Express) who gave me a contact for the front of house manager, and I applied for work as a theatre usher."

From actor to theatre usher

"Being a theatre usher was only part-time, up to eight shifts a week, and I sold programmes and ice creams, worked the bar, did the cloakroom and supervised front of house. It was flexible enough if you needed time off for auditions. I supplemented my income by signing up to a temping agency working 9-5 in the City of London and then heading straight to the theatre in the evenings (swapping my straight tie for a dicky-bow).

When an event has gone well and you’ve picked up the last dirty roadie towel, it can be a rewarding feeling.

"After a couple of years, I stopped temping in the day and volunteered for more shifts helping out at the theatre. Without the funding for an accredited drama school, with there being just so much competition in London for actors, dancers and singers, and despite doing a couple of small acting jobs for different agencies I had signed up with, I lost a bit of confidence in the constant auditioning. I started looking for a more secure career path.

"I still wanted to be involved in a theatre environment, however. When a position for a general technician (general skivvy, bottom of the pile, glorified tea-boy, call it what you like but you've got to start somewhere!) became available at the Apollo Victoria, I applied straight away and was lucky enough to get the job. I joined the in-house technical team."

First roles in technical theatre

"My first role as a ‘techie’ mostly involved doing general maintenance work, painting and decorating and such. But I learned so many new skills from some fabulous people. I loved it.

"Through my employer, and to further my skills, I went back to college one day a week for two years (Westminster College) and completed a City & Guilds 2360 in Electrical Installation, which meant I could apply my new electrical skills and knowledge at my place of work.

"My company were great in that they assisted with the funding and I was able to apply and move up to the deputy chief electrician position at the theatre. This also enabled me to cover other roles, such as standing in for the venue stage manager on various shows. I got to work in some of the other company-owned famous London theatres when required, such as the Dominion and Lyceum."

Moving from theatre to music

"In 2005 I spotted a job advertised for a maintenance electrician at the London Astoria, which covered several other popular smaller music venues too. It really appealed, and having played in various bands all of my life and being super keen for a new challenge, I applied and started almost straight away.

Show a keenness to learn and talk to people and respect experience.

"It was a bit of a sideways step into a different industry and a completely different environment. Gone were the theatres' plush long piled carpets and chandeliers. It was ‘hello’ to the sticky carpets and the smell of stale beer first thing in the morning! Rock and roll.

"I learned so much in this role and it was extremely challenging. After a couple of years I applied for my current position and was successful, which meant a long-awaited return to the North."

A typical route into technical management

"I think within this industry my journey in was fairly representative. I have always tried to be positive when faced with new pathways and opportunities, and I think it is a combination of this outlook and circumstances that has essentially created my career path for me.

"It is not exactly the career route I had planned out from the start, or was even conscious of taking at the time. I know you are supposed to have clear goals in life to aim for, but I still now wonder about what I want to be when I grow up!"

A normal day as a technical manager

"My job involves a bit of everything. The work I do now is so varied. As we are an empty touring house, leading up to an event will involve dealing with visiting promoters and advancing the show's technical elements to ensure the production will work in our space. On an event day, after opening up the building, I am essentially a combination of:

Things I don’t enjoy so much include the long, unsociable hours, dealing with difficult personalities and scraping cheap gaffa tape off the stage at 2am.

  • venue representative
  • electrician
  • stage manager
  • ground rigger
  • event manager
  • house light operator
  • clean towel-issuer and dirty towel-picker-upper!"

"I am also responsible for ensuring all aspects of venue health and safety are adhered to in line with venue policy, which also can be a big part of an event.

"When we are dark, my role involves maintaining the building's fixtures and fittings, placing orders, dealing with contractors and various building projects. So I'm kept busy and there is always something to do or fix."

Highs and lows of the job

"I enjoy getting to meet a lot of different people and no day or event is ever the same.

"When an event has gone well and you’ve picked up the last dirty roadie towel, it can (believe it or not) be a nice rewarding feeling.

"Things I don’t enjoy so much include the long, unsociable hours, dealing with difficult personalities and scraping cheap gaffa tape off the stage at 2am with another 8am load in morning."

How you can become a tech manager too

  1. Show a keenness to learn and talk to people and respect experience.
  2. Be prepared to learn about lots of different aspects of the business and not pigeon-hole yourself.
  3. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and get home after everybody else does.
  4. Always remain positive. If you have to say "no" to something, do it as nicely as possible. 

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