Welcome to the exciting world of technical theatre. Studying this topic can lead to many different careers in several different sectors of the economy. The general skills needed for any of the careers or sectors have many things in common. Workers need to be dead-line oriented, as most productions have firm timelines that cannot be altered. Critical thinking and analysis are much needed skills. Almost every project in the field is unique and technicians and designers alike must discover the best way of reaching a project’s goal. Creative problem solving is trait successful practitioners have in common. With every project being unique, there are no guaranteed solutions to the problems that are presented. Technicians draw on their vast experience of what worked in the past that can be adapted to be a solution to the current problems. Clear communication and collaboration round out the necessary skills. No technical theatre project is ever handled by one person on their own. Collaboration with many people is the norm, and successful collaboration requires clear written and verbal communication skills.
Most people immediately associate Technical Theatre with theatre, but the training is used in other sectors as well. Opera, and Ballet companies run in much the same way (at least behind the scenes) as traditional theatre companies and hire similarly skilled personnel. Film and Television production companies also use people with the same skills. In fact, most collegiate film and television programs do not teach anything about the construction of scenery, props and costumes, instead leaving that education to their respective theatre departments. Themed entertainment, including theme parks and themed experiences, typically hire technicians from the world of technical theatre. Some of these skills also directly translate to hotel and convention centers and other special event companies. Lastly, many of the people who provide services for technical theatre, such as companies that develop, manufacture, repair, and sell technology for these industries hire employees with training in technical theatre.
There are many jobs and job titles that fall under the category of technical theatre. Here are a list of some of them and what they do.
- Designer: Designs various elements for a production, such as Scenery, Costumes, Lighting, Sound, and Projections. They analyze a script, collaborate with a director and find the best way to express the elements of the production. Most have at least a Bachelor’s degree, and many have a Master’s degree.
- Assistant Designers: Assistant designers may be a general assistant to a designer finalizing designs or keeping them up-to-date as production needs change. They may also have specialized skills that the designer does not have. Assistant designers may be attached to a specific designer, or to a specific venue. Some people see an assistant position as a training ground to becoming a designer, while others make a career out of being an assistant.
- Property Master: In charge of building and buying all the props needed for a show (See Chapter 6). Property masters oversee the props crew who maintain the props during a production and make sure all the items are placed properly before a show and put away properly at the end of the night. Many props people have an extensive knowledge of periods and styles of furniture and decoration
- Technical Director: Technical Directors oversee all of the technical elements on a show. They often specialize in scenic construction and rigging. Depending on the production, they may also oversee the master calendar, coordinating when technical items will be moved from the shops where they are constructed into the theatre, and the overall budget for the technical elements of the show. They are concerned with the safety of all the performers and technicians working on a show. Many Technical Directors have a Bachelor’s Degree or Master’s Degree
- Assistant Technical Director: There are many different sets of responsibilities that can fall under this job title. Often Assistant Technical director’s focus on one or more specific aspects of the many duties that a Technical Director Preforms.
- Production Manager: Oversees the budget and the scheduling of the technical elements of a show. Especially if a show tours, or needs to move technical elements long distances, the production manager will manage the logistics of this work. They often coordinate the work of those on the production with outside entities that are collaborating on the production.
- Programmer: Most shows today have one or more systems run by computers. Lighting, sound, projection, and show control often have make extensive use of specialized computer hardware and software to execute the design. Programmers are experts in particular hardware and software and help execute the designer’s vision within the software and hardware specified by the production.
- Master Carpenter: The title can refer to two different positions. In a scene shop, the master carpenter will work with the technical director to determine the best way to build the scenery, and then oversee the carpenters’ construction process. They may also be responsible for ordering building materials. Backstage on a show, the head crew person may also be referred to as a master carpenter. In this case, they oversee the stage crew with the execution of moving scenery as needed for a production.
- Shop Carpenters build scenery under the master carpenters direction
- Stage Carpenters move scenery under the direction of the master carpenter.
- Master Electrician: A Master Electrician will coordinate with the lighting designer to develop the purchase and rental orders for a production, prepare all the gear for installation, and oversee the installation.
- Electricians: Under the direction of the Master Electrician, the electricians will install, focus, and maintain all of the lighting (including projections) and water effects on the show. In some theatres they will also install the sound.
- Follow Spot Operators: Spot Ops. are specialized electricians who constantly move a follow spot so that it maintains its focus on a specific performer.
- Stage Manager: The stage manager is the key conduit for information for a show during the rehearsal process. They are in rehearsals with the actors and the director. They create a report that passes on key information between the rehearsal room, the designers and various construction teams. Once the show moves into performance, they will “call” all the cues, and maintain the director’s and designers’ vision throughout the run.
- Assistant Stage Managers: On larger shows, the Stage Manager will often have a team of assistants who will specialize in parts of the show (specific technical areas, Stage Left, Stage Right, etc. as needed by the stage manager).
- First Hand/Cutter/Draper/Stitcher: Crew members with these titles work in the costume shop executing the costume designs.
- Costume Crafts: A costume crafts specialist creates the costume props for a show, such as hats, canes, purses etc.
- Wardrobe: Oversees the costumes on a production, making sure that they are kept in good repair and cleaned on the correct schedule
- Dresser: Under the supervision of the Head of Wardrobe, assists specific actors with dressing, especially in quick changes (See Chapter 8)
There are many other jobs that can be found on various productions. As every technical theatre event is unique the size and makeup of the staff will also be unique.
As intelligent readers can see from the above short list, there are many jobs in the field. Most educational programs at the Associate’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree level offer a general introduction to the work. Some may allow a certain degree of specialization: Design, Electrics & Sound, Costumes, Carpentry/Technical Direction, and Stage Management. Most programs will require students to take a broad range of classes. Students in these areas will hone their skills in specific areas by focusing on them on school productions, and internships or work experiences. Many technicians have a surprising educational and career path that led them to their current work. If the opportunity presents itself, students should talk to working professionals and ask them how they got to where they are in the industry. Students will also need to seek out opportunities to learn “on the job,” by working on as many shows and projects as they can. It is especially helpful to find ways to work with local industry leaders in the areas in which a student wishes to specialize.
In almost all sectors of the industry, there are highly successful people with very little in the way of formal education. In general, these people took a long path by working their way up from the bottom going through every job possible on their way to their current position. Students will also find many people with Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. Often the Master’s Degree is required to work in educational environments. The additional education that comes with Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees often represents an in-depth study of the theory behind the practical skills that can be learned on the job. The additional degree also helps people move more quickly toward their desired position in the world of technical theatre.