Go behind the scenes with the theatre technicians

By Janis la Couvee

They’re the people behind the people on-stage; tasked with turning the designers’ visions into reality—building sets, hanging lights, pulling ropes, running the lighting and sound boards and more. Technicians are a class unto themselves; nothing would happen without them.

This month I spoke with Blake Handley who currently instructs in Camosun College’s Live Event Audio Visual Technician program which started this fall; Jason King who works with Ballet Victoria, many local theatres, and—surprisingly to me—the Harbour Cats and the Victoria Royals; Karen Stack, an IATSE union member whose recent gigs include the Butchart Gardens, Pacific Opera, festivals and, upcoming, Red Death for Launch Pad Theatre at Craigdarroch Castle; and Carolyn Moon, a UVic Phoenix Theatre alumna who is a technician as well as stage manager and lighting and sound designer with a long list of credits including the Victoria Fringe Festival, William Head on Stage, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, Vino Buono, the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival and Theatre SKAM.

They have all been involved in theatre since their teens and early twenties quickly realizing that the world backstage suited them with its emphasis on building a repertoire of skills—“the more skills and interests you have, the more you can do”, says King. Stack keeps a log and strives to master a new aspect of production every year—currently she’s learning digital sound.

At Camosun, Handley is teaching the first cohort of 16 students the basics of stage directions, building sets, and running smaller (lighting and sound) boards. Andy Bryce, who helped develop the program says “we see the students from this program working in a wide variety of positions in theatre – everything from moving equipment around to setting up lights to doing live sound. In a market of this size, everybody needs to be able to do a little bit of everything, and so we are giving them a broad education in needed skills.”

Local theatres also provide an opportunity for informal learning—King enjoys teaching volunteers at Langham Court Theatre where a system of guilds brings people with similar interests together to share their knowledge and learn in a fun environment. Stack mentions how volunteering at the Victoria Fringe Festival got her started down the path to becoming a full-time technician—a complete career switch from her previous profession.

Both Stack and Moon are quick to point out the support of mentors in the local technician community who have helped and, sometimes, pushed them. Victoria has a growing contingent of female techs—“There are often more female techs doing the Victoria Fringe Festival now than men” says Stack.

Moon enjoys “really connecting with an artist, and getting to understand their work”. She also “loves to problem solve, which is a huge part of the job.” King wishes audiences could attend a tech weekend to see how everything comes together on a show. Handley is “thrilled to be teaching the next generation; a full program like this has never been developed before”.

Stack quotes her mentor, Graham Croft—“he has a saying ‘I pull rope and make art’. We’ve been referred to as mercenaries and stage ninjas.”

The next time you’re at a live performance, take a moment to appreciate the hard work of the crew, a talented group of skilled individuals with a passion for making it possible for others to take the stage.

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