Frequenty Asked Questions (FAQ)
The information here is principally designed for drama teachers and schools (perhaps those without a dedicated support technician), and has been compiled from questions regularly asked to us. The answers are not intended to be definitive - they are based on comments and personal opinions from our members. This page is not regularly updated. For technical FAQ, try the Blue Room Wiki.
What does a School Technician do?
We are regularly asked for a sample job description, so we have attempted to compile one from several of our members. A draft version is available here, but is still a work in progress. If you're thinking of employing a new technician or theatre manager, please feel free to use this as a starter example. It is deliberately quite detailed and will need editing to suit your circumstances.
In brief, school technicians usually manage, provide and supervise all aspects of theatre productions - lighting, sound, video, props, scenery, costumes, design, rigging, stage management, etcetera - as well as supervising and training students who are interested in backstage work, supporting drama lessons and practical exams, and managing the theatre and drama facilities. Often, school theatres also host visiting professional shows, or are let out during school holidays.
As well as managing the school's theatre space(s) and running the extra-curricular school productions, school technicians often support the drama department with workshops, resources and guiding students through the technical options of GCSE and A-level, plus technical support for examined performance work. There is regular maintenance and testing to be done in the theatre, as well as the plethora of other school events which often take place in the theatre such as exams, discos, concerts, assemblies, parents' receptions, exhibitions and external lettings.
Quite often, the technician also has other responsibilities around the school as well, such as IT or AV support. A typical day can be filled with department meetings, setting up a portable PA and projector for a small lecture, helping with a drama lesson, fixing a broken toilet door, rigging lights for a forthcoming show, taking ticket bookings, organising the student 'backstage club', setting up front-of-house, and then running the evening performance!
I'd like to work in a school theatre - what qualifications do I need and where do I look for jobs?
There are potentially lots of jobs in this area - particularly in the independent school sector, and - at least until recently - also in state schools which have specialist performing arts status. In general, you will find better paid and more senior jobs in the independent sector - quite often, schools will have their own dedicated theatre with a manager and sometimes one or more techicians in the largest of cases. Unfortunately, state schools tend to only employ departmental technicians and don't always recognise that a Performing Arts Technician perhaps requires greater skills (and working hours) than a typical classroom technician.
In terms of qualifications, there is no formal requirement for anything in particular. Each school/college will determine it's own criteria, but some level of related qualification or good experience is going to give you the best advantage. Don't be surprised if a degree is a prerequisite for some positions (and most likely essential for management jobs), but skills, enthusiasm and commitment will usually be more important. Take a look at our sample job description, above, as it lists some suggested entry criteria.
Working in a school theatre is a very rewarding job, but hours and expectations can be demanding - if you're lucky, this is offset by school holidays or a higher salary, but not always.
School jobs are often advertised in The Stage or in local newspapers. We also occasionally feature adverts here.
A few schools also employ casual or freelance technicians. Adverts for these can be found in local newspapers or perhaps by contacting your nearest school.
I'd like to employ a technician for our school theatre - where should I advertise and what should I ask for?
Most theatre vacancies are advertised with The Stage newspaper and online, for a fee. By setting-up a free account, you can also advertise online with Stage Jobs Pro or the Blue Room Technical Forums. Schools are also welcome to advertise to STSG members by contacting us.
It is difficult to define standard criteria for what you should be looking for, as every school is different and has different facilities and aspirations. In general, a higher-level theatre related qualification is desirable, but experience, skills, enthusiasm and commitment are often far more important. It also depends on the hours/duties required and the salary/benefits that you're offering. Our sample job description can be found in the first article at the top of this page.
I'm planning a new school theatre - what should I include?
This is a massive subject!
It is important for you - whether you are Head of Drama, Facilities Manager or Theatre Technician - to get involved with the planning as early as possible. The worst examples of school theatres are often the result of a lack of consultation with the end users! Once submitted, the initial brief is often set in stone, so it's vital that all your requirements are clearly defined and listed in detail. Visit plenty of other schools, taking your architect and project manager with you! Appoint a specialist Theatre Consultant from as early as possible in the project - ideally alongside the architect appointment. A list of recognised consultants can be found here.
The auditorium and stage spaces are the most difficult to define, as it will set the style and mood of the whole building and the theatrical experience. School theatres tend to need to cater to several different performance styles, including plays, musicals, orchestra concerts, fashion shows, rock concerts, etc. - all of which have differing requirements. It's very easy to get 'stuck' in the way you currently stage shows, whether that be an 'end-on' school hall, or traditional proscenium-arch setting. Think beyond your current requirements and ensure flexibility - but this can be expensive, so often the final layout is a compromise. It is essential to take specialist advice about seating arrangements, acoustics and safety requirements - otherwise you can easily finish with a bad compromise!
The layout of the whole building also needs careful consideration. Doorways and lifts will need to be larger than usual for scenery and staging to be moved around. The stage floor will need to be stronger to cope with access equipment. Hanging points need to be provided over the stage and the auditorium. You must consider how different users will need to access the building. For example, can an external hirer access the auditorium, stage, dressing rooms and foyer without affecting drama lessons or evening rehearsals elsewhere? Will noise from a dance studio affect quiet lessons somewhere nearby? Exams will need very bright lighting, whereas a theatre auditorium needs to be much more subtle. An orchestra needs space to tune up and store their instrument cases. Scenery needs to be constructed and easily moved to the stage. Also think about how future users may want things in 10, 20 or even 50 years time - the building is not just for you!
Remembering that it is a school theatre is important - to ensure that students can participate as fully as possible with all aspects of running the theatre, particularly backstage - such as having a safe means for them to work at height (e.g. tension wire grid or walkways, rather than ladders or towers), or having motorised flying bars which the students can operate, rather than heavy lifting. The control room is also likely to need to be larger in order to accomodate groups of students around the lighting console, for example. Dressing rooms can perhaps be doubled with classrooms, as lessons usually finish before the evening performance - but the costumes need to be stored securely nearby and the classroom left tidy for the next day. Sometimes, simple sports-style changing rooms will suffice, with a single dedicated room for make-up and hair-styling (easier to supervise).
Technical infrastructure is important - stage lights and 'toys' can be hired and/or bought at a later date, whereas you can't easily replace an inadequate power supply or add extra hanging positions. Specialist advice is essential! You should install plenty of circuits for lighting, sound, video and data, and leave cable routes accessible and only half full to allow for future expansion. Other things to consider include suitable foyer space and facilities for audiences (and how will this space be used during the day - perhaps an extra rehearsal space, or a coffee shop for the sixth-form?), plus plenty of backstage space for large casts to wait off-stage. Don't forget to include plenty of storage space - for scenery, rostra, stage lights, pianos, costumes, props, etc, etc, etc...!
Most theatrical suppliers will also happily offer you advice and visit you, on the basis that they can quote for the installation. Quite a few STSG members have recently had (or are about to have) new buildings or refurbishments, so there are those here who can offer further advice as well.
ABTT 'Theatre Buildings - A Design Guide' - highly recommended.
I'm a caretaker/new technician and would like to do some training - what do you suggest?
There is no formal overall Health and Safety qualification available, but many schools now require all staff to be suitably 'trained' in areas such as working-at-height, manual handling/lifting, electrical testing (PAT), and other general practices which come into everyday theatre work. Usually this is principally about obtaining a piece of paper saying you're "qualified", although it is definitely worthwhile covering the basics at least - e.g. a scaffolding tower/ladder course (whatever is appropriate for your means of access), an electrical safety & PAT course, and perhaps a fire safety/Fire Marshal course.
We occasionally offer specialist training days - such as pyrotechnics safety awareness - feel free to contact us if you have a specific need. However, for a good introduction and to cover the safety basics, we suggest joining the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT). They run regular training days around the country, covering various aspects of technical theatre, plus week-long 'schools' where technicians can progress towards various awards. For example, the 'bronze' summer school, usually held near Coventry, covers electrical basics, working at height, ropes and knots for rigging, flying, and manual handling.
Companies such as Stage Electrics also offer regular training courses, covering topics such as electricity at work, working at height regulations, use of ladders, etc. There are also many generic Health and Safety consultants out there (such as Instant Training) who can provide training for things like working at height, fire safety, etc, although these will not be specifically tailored to theatre work. For scaffolding/ladder courses, look out for courses validated by PASMA or the Ladder Association.
Finally, the STSG network can always help with support and advice if needed.
What sort of jobs might I expect to be doing beyond my job title?
This really depends on you/your attitude, your contract, and the expectations/working environment of the job. Most school technicians have to be multi-skilled and multi-tasking, meaning that one minute you could be building a set, the next you could be teaching lighting to students, and the next you could be sorting out a problem front-of-house. Clearing up, moving stuff, building maintenance and general care-taking duties are also quite common.
What are acceptable working hours?
As with any job, the Working Time Directive states the maximum hours you are allowed to work over a given period, unless you formally opt-out. Theatre jobs tend to involve long and anti-social hours, and if you're a lone technician in a school theatre, this is often the case - however, usually compensated by long school holidays or higher pay. If you have any doubts, it is best to discuss it with your Personnel Manager. You could also consider joining a union - Unison is popular in schools - seek advice from the other non-teaching staff.
Can students work at height?
In short, there is no fixed answer. Different schools operate different policies. One school may ban all students from leaving the floor, whereas another may allow students to run the theatre more-or-less unsupervised! There are two primary things to check/do. Firstly, insurance - does your school's insurance cover students being up ladders? Two, do a risk assessment. Personally-speaking, there are some students I trust to climb a ladder, and there are those that I don't (not necessarily based on age), but think about what would happen if a student did fall - have you done everything to prevent/minimise the risk? If a student became 'stuck' up a ladder, do you have the rescue skills to get them down safely?
If you're building or refurbishing a theatre, then the best thing to do is remove the risk as much as possible - by installing a Tension Wire Grid or lighting gantries, for example, and/or can the lighting bars be installed on motorised winches to lower to the floor? Obviously if you have a venue where this isn't possible then you're stuck with ladders or a scaffold tower - but can you still remove the risk? Can students be taught rigging and focusing at ground level with some lanterns on a stand perhaps? Should you limit working at height to older pupils only? Can you instigate a training session where you can teach and assess the pupils to safely work at height?