Spotlight on… Technical Directing

I popped down to the New Theatre in the first week of university to lend a hand. Three years later, with 10 Technical Director (TD) credits, I think I can say I was bitten by the backstage bug. In a nutshell, the role encompasses looking after all technical aspects of the show and eventually managing every performance.

The turnaround of shows at the New Theatre is insane. It’s brilliant, but it’s insane. The show from the previous week will finish at around 10pm on a Saturday night. All of the lights come down and the new lights go up that evening. I make sure this is done safely and speedily and that the cheesy tunes keep playing – a great playlist means I go home happy and the job is finished an hour earlier by a motivated crew! With a bit of luck, I’ll be home by 2 a.m.

Sunday can be a very stressful day for a tech-heavy show. The lights must be focussed (adjusted to the perfect position) and the sound and lights plotted (programmed in so they basically run like a PowerPoint presentation so you only have to press one “Go” button to run through each ‘cue’). This may not sound like much to do in a whole day, but a show can easily have 50 lights and the current cue record number this year is in the 300s. It can be a very lengthy procedure. Seeing the elements come together is fantastic but I would advise any TD to be ready with tea, biscuits and friendly creative and technical advice to keep the day moving along swiftly.

“If you see a slick, well put together show, you’ve just seen the work of a great TD”

In the evening, the designers and director decide where each cue goes in the show and I keep track and mark it in my nice, clean script which soon becomes a scribbled mess of notes and crossings out. A great TD is always armed with post-it notes and a positive attitude (when the spotlight cue is put after line 3, a debate lasts for half an hour and it goes back to the same place in the script it was in the first place, it can be a little frustrating). I must say that a great TD truly helps a designer produce their best work. I will be forever grateful to my TD, when I was designing a particular show with over 200 cues and special effects, for passing me biscuits, answering my questions, making sense of my notes and putting on Doctor Who to keep me calm when I was getting nowhere fast.

We’ve reached rehearsals. The TD ‘calls’ the show. I take a set of comms (headphones with a Madonna style microphone) and the centre seat in the tech box at the back of the auditorium and tell the techies when to change the sound or lights and tell the stage managers anything they need to know. There’s a tech run on Monday and a dress run on Tuesday. Then, suddenly, it is opening night – wait, where does cue 162 go again?

“The worst part is that the TD is only really noticed if they do something wrong”

Calling a show is trickier than it looks. Correct timing can add so much to a show – atmosphere, pace and professionalism; and getting stuff wrong can leave the show feeling clunky and slow or even leave stage managers in the middle of the stage under full lights like a rabbit in the headlights. If you see a slick, well put together show, you’ve just seen the work of a great TD.

I really do love my job. You get to see the most enjoyable part of the theatre – seeing it all come together – the set, tech and the work of the incredible casts and ridiculously talented creative teams who keep on surprising me. TDing has definitely taught me how to stay calm and the importance of group morale. The worst part is that the TD is only really noticed if they do something wrong and a grudgingly-given tech salute during the curtain call when something has gone wrong is worse than no salute at all (sorry again Freshers’ Fringe). The greatest part of TDing is of course opening night, when you’ve made some inevitable mistakes but fixed them with quick thinking so nobody noticed, had a hug from the director and producer and you head off home ready to do it all again the following evening.

Joanne Blunt

Image copyright: original image by John Robb via Flikr. (Text added by Jessica Millott)

Over the course of the week, Impact Arts will Spotlight different roles within theatre from the student perspective. To keep up to date with these, follow Impact Arts on Facebook and Twitter

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