Sound and video technician

 3 February 2011

Borneo Brown is Sound Operations Manager for the National Theatre. He spoke to Creative Choices about a creative career that requires both theoretical education and practical experience.

"My main role is to look after the sound and video departments. There are three main theatres which have a team assigned to them. There's a manager in each theatre that looks after the scheduling. I look after them, and I also look after all the other things that go on around the National Theatre.

"Sound has become more important. It's not the sort of thing that gets left behind. It's now a key part of most productions."

"There's a great deal that happens away from the auditoriums: corporate events, press and marketing. We facilitate things with the access department, looking after captioning and audio description, that kind of thing. So it's quite a varied job, and there's a lot going on from dawn til dusk."

The job of a sound operations in theatre

"At the National Theatre, you start working on a production quite early on. As soon as you hear about it, you'll want to know who the sound designer is and what their requirements are likely to be.

"The work starts quite early, and once the show gets into rehearsals, there's a certain element of support we'll provide. That might mean being an operator in rehearsals and have somebody looking after it the whole time. Or it could just be providing a few sound effects now and then. There is quite a lot of variety.

"Work will continue up until the press night, at which point we need to pack it up and plot it and make sure we can recreate it. Because at the National Theatre, things are done in rep, you need to be able to take the show away, put another one in, and put it back again. So everything has to be logged and plotted very carefully."

The importance of sound for theatre

"If you wanted to get into it, you need enthusiasm, motivation and a real desire."

"Since I've been working in sound, what has changed has been the importance of it for productions. It's not the sort of thing that gets left behind or you do a bit of at the end, it's a key part of most productions now.

"Technology has changed, in that digital consoles are common, they're very flexible, very versatile. There are tradeoffs for that: there are certainly purists who would not want to use a digital console over an analogue console.

Getting into sound

"It is more common for people to have done some kind of course before going into sound. One of the advantages is that it lets people work out if that is what they want to do. It's not a substitute for experience, by any means, but it's worth doing if you can. There are lots of courses out there.

"You can learn a lot of what you need to know on the job, the experience is really important. However, there are also things you need to know: how sound works, how the ear works, you need to know a little bit about psychoacoustics and how people perceive sound.

"Those things you can be taught, and it's worth doing that. You can learn from experience about what works, but it's good to know why it works before you start.

"Getting into sound is quite competitive, but it's also very varied. A lot of people do just corporate work, some people do just theatre, some people do just rock n' roll and there's all the studio end of it. So it's quite hard to do everything, you'll tend to specialise, but people manage it.

"I think if you wanted to get into it, the main things you need are enthusiasm, motivation and a real desire to do it."

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