What does a Senior Technician do for a theatre?

 13 November 2017

Chris Last is the Senior Technician at Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds. He explains his creative journey, what skills are needed for this role and offers advice for this career.

The main part of my job is to work with the visiting production companies, alongside our Technical Manager and other full-time technician, leading the theatre’s technical support for all of the shows that the theatre presents.

This can be as simple as setting up some chairs for a lunchtime concert to unloading trucks full of equipment, set, props and costumes.

It can also be building a full touring production on stage, or even constructing a set, lighting programming, sound engineering and the like for our own productions.

This will often involve hard physical work at unsociable hours, but the sense of satisfaction when you see the show running and the audience enjoying themselves makes it all worthwhile.

What skills are needed for this role? 

First and foremost, a willingness to work hard and to learn is essential.

You don’t necessarily need to know the difference between a wash light and a spotlight on your first day, so long as you can learn quickly as you work.

Going hand in hand with that is knowing your limits.

Technical theatre has the potential to be dangerous and if you’re not quite sure how to do something safely, you shouldn’t just do it anyway.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – we were all beginners once! I’ve been working in this industry for 15 years and I still learn new things when I work.

As well as this, working backstage can be physically demanding so a good level of strength and fitness can be very useful.

You also work with a wide variety of different people, so good communication skills and patience are a must.

Previous work experience?

I got involved with technical theatre in school but my first job in the field was as a casual crew member at the Regent Theatre in Ipswich.

I’d originally planned for this to only to be a temporary job but the more time I spent there, the more I enjoyed the work.

In the end I stayed there for ten years, ending my time as one of two heads of the Technical Department.

Working backstage can be physically demanding so a good level of strength and fitness can be very useful

During this period I worked on a wide range of productions, from big-name acts to local amateur groups, assisting them putting their shows into the theatre and helping the performances run smoothly.

After this I had a change of direction and started working in my family’s electronics manufacturing firm.

However, I couldn’t resist the lure of the theatre and returned to the industry with a short period at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich.

After this came to an end I spent a year working as a freelance theatre technician, being engaged by a number of venues around East Anglia, one of which was the Theatre Royal.

This led me into my current position at the theatre.

What education and training have you done? (Formal and informal):

I gained GCSEs and A Levels which allowed me to study for my BSc (Hons) in Audio & Music Technology.

I also hold an Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) “Managing Safely” health & safety qualification and a Portable Appliance Testing certificate.

I've previously held a St. John’s Ambulance “First Aid at Work” certificate, as well as some more industry-specific training (such as lighting console operating courses).

However, the majority of my knowledge and experience comes from on-the-job learning, from working alongside the resident and visiting staff at the various venues that I have worked at over the years.

Tips for a creative career 

My top tip for a creative career is to get experience, experience, experience!

Qualifications are fantastic and I would never talk down the importance of a good education but whenever I have been involved in recruitment in the past, I have always found that the best candidates are those with a level of practical experience in the field.

So join an amateur group, look for work experience, internships or apprenticeships or volunteer. All these sorts of opportunities are worth a lot more than you might think!

And if you’re eyeing up a top position, don’t be afraid to start at the bottom – people are usually less grumpy about being told what to do by somebody who has done it for themselves!

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