Three of DST’s fantastic techies enthuse about the world of opportunity, friendship and learning that tech offers – and why you should get involved too.
Tech can seem intimidating to students who have never done it before, conjuring images of cables, lights, and sound desks that you wouldn’t know how to approach without fear of breaking something expensive! This is at least how I felt as an English student approaching tech, having mainly done costume work for past shows. However, some of the best techies I met had started with no experience at all and didn’t study a degree that fed into tech, giving me the courage to pursue something about which I am now fiercely passionate.
Within DST, I have primarily been involved as a stage manager and deputy stage manager. While the former involves managing the set and props that go on stage ensuring the actors are ready and have the correct mics, a deputy stage manager calls the lighting and sound cues for the whole production, an intense yet critical role. When better to experience this latter role for the first time than for the iconic performance of ‘Chicago’ by Collingwood Woodplayers? Calling the quick lighting cues for Cell Block Tango just before each beat hit was an incredibly nerve-wracking moment, knowing it would be painfully obvious if the wrong lights were on. However, the experienced techies were so keen and helpful in ensuring I felt comfortable and capable of doing this new role, and my confidence has since grown hugely.
Equally, working as a Follow spot (spotlight) for DULOG’s Gala production of ‘Oklahoma!’ was another highlight of my DST experience that has led to more work within sound and light operation. I applied for the role a week before the production having never used a spotlight before, but after a quick tutorial, I had no problem operating one! I have learnt a lot through trial and error; tech is something you know through practise, and you come to realise even the most experienced techies make frequent mistakes. It is all about enjoying trying something new that you can build on, being part of a fantastic team, and feeling proud of what you helped accomplish at the end.
Ultimately being a techie has been such a fun, addictive experience in Durham. If you get involved, before you know it, you’ll have a collection of every tape under the sun, be fangirling over Mark Hillery Arts Centre’s expensive kit, and asking for steel-toed boots this Christmas.
Anna Bodrenkova, DST Tech Manager
I’ve heard many people say that tech seems daunting to get into, in the sense that it seems to be filled with some secret arcane knowledge – it really isn’t! That said, there is a lot to learn if you have the inclination to. One can commit to as much or as little as you like, whether you want to swoop in on show night and press some buttons or have an elaborate vision that you’d like to contribute to a show as technical director.
One of my favourite things about the DST community is its DIY spirit. Workshops and such are important of course, but most’ tech training’ happens on the job between people working in the same tech team – whether passing knowledge between each other or figuring out how to troubleshoot problems together. You do occasionally come across, like a rare unicorn, a tech person who boggles your mind with how much they know. Luckily, they are all (yes, all) very kind and usually willing to share what they know. And if they aren’t – also a rare unicorn – they are probably just shy, and if you ask nicely they’ll teach you some extraordinarily cool things!
Another thing I’d like to say is that I don’t think that tech is forbidding at all. If you’re new to tech, no-one expects you to know everything (or, really, anything). Everyone in tech has different strengths and weaknesses – someone with good organisational skills and who feels comfortable talking to different people can be as useful as someone who has a lot of specialised knowledge.
As for specific tips, if you’d like to give tech a go without committing too much, I’d recommend applying for a light op or sound op position. These are operators who are mainly needed on show nights, and the job tends to be quite simple. If you’d like to be a bit more involved, applying for assistant tech director is probably a good idea – you’ll get to take part in all the aspects of tech in a show while learning from a more experienced tech director. And if you haven’t already, sign up for the tech mailing list – it gives you a list of all the tech opportunities happening each week!
Why should you get into tech? Cause it’s awesome?!?! That’s why!
But jokes aside, tech, in my opinion, offers the highest degree of variety in a play’s production. You might end up having to help with set managing, backdrops, shadow screens and the next moment you are up in the tech booth with the lighting desk, then taking seats apart to be able to reach the patch bay under the seats. Tech people usually try and have a crack at most of the jobs around the theatre, and we have a great community of incredible people that will always give you advice.
As an example, I took on my first TD (Tech Director) position for ‘Agency’, a brilliant play by Tom Murray. I had not done much, if any serious tech beforehand, but with the help of all the tech training, workshops and all the fantastic techies that I met along the way at these events, I felt prepared to tackle such a job.
It did mean a fair amount of long days, with late or early hours of sitting in the theatre and practising lighting and sound cues, but I felt as if I was a part of the live play itself. I was the environment, the set, the sounds, the light, the world itself within which the two astonishing actors were performing.
I encourage everyone with a passing interest in anything tech-related, lights, sound, even stage design and management to get into DST Tech for that chance to become “The World”. You can be the vessel of the play, and create everything around the actors. You get to see the whole process, perform on show night and taste the success at the end like everyone else. Tech in theatre is the perfect mix of science and art.
To find out more about DST tech, follow the Durham Student Theatre Technical page on Facebook, keep an eye out for tech training opportunities and contact [email protected] with any queries.