An Ode to Techies
by Ryan Lester
I stumbled into tech work by accident. I graduated from the Contemporary Theatre course at East 15 Acting School, which was unbelievable at teaching how to get the work done yourself with very little money. My classmates and I ended the year with a whole bunch of new and exciting work that we couldn’t wait to produce wherever people would let us perform. All of us were on shoe-string budgets, just trying to get our work, our names, and our faces out into this industry that couldn’t give a shit. We were just more small fries adding to the already saturated fringe scenes of London and Edinburgh. One of the starkest realisations I had was how truly unprepared to produce shows most small, actor-based companies can be, particularly fresh out of the highly acclaimed schools we paid out the arse for.
So this was the gap I jumped in to after graduation, working run-of-the-mill bar jobs and constantly craving a project to keep me motivated or remind me why we do this. I had always loved technical theatre, be it helping out in my upper school’s drama department or listening in on all the techs I participated in. So I started out with East 15 companies, fumbling my way through the first few months and learning lessons along the way. These lessons built up to the point that, two years on, I can call myself a competent technician, but only from learning from these unbelievable workers behind the scenes. These SM’s and techies are so open and giving to people who show a genuine interest and admiration for their work. At the same time, they see a shining lack of know-how from the performers, even getting to the point of insult by virtue for actors’ superiority complexes.
I do understand the argument that it is not what they trained for, that acting and technical theatre are two different vocations that require separate focus while training. But most technicians or stage managers have an intricate knowledge of the rehearsal process: the nuances of the story and the importance of balancing everything (lights/sound/performance etc.) for a truly remarkable show. However, this is something you rarely see in the performers. Their method requires them to be in their world all the time, and the rest of the illusion is immaterial. No offense meant because a lot of these actors are phenomenal, but is that the cost of being a brilliant actor? Narrowing your focus to your lines and your ensemble, and avoiding the ins and outs of what makes theatre tick?
This is why I love the true grunts of the theatre industry. The techies, stagehands, SM’s, and designers who work their asses off to execute someone else’s vision to the best of their ability, while at the same time trying to channel their own artistic spirit into the work. This is something a lot of actors need to realise: that neither their work or the technical work is the most important. Only when everyone works, trusts, and believes in the true talents of their cast and crew can you really make something beautiful.