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Careers Clinic: How do I recruit technicians?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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Having done reasonably well as an actor over several years (and combining it with writing and directing in my last few shows), I’ve now been approached by a backer who wants to help me make the biggest leap of all – becoming ‘Ms Producer’ for a small tour later this year.

It’s a really exciting opportunity and ties in with my goal to explore every aspect of theatremaking.

However, even with my directing job, the onstage aspect of the work has always been my comfort zone.

To get this new project off the ground, I’ll not only need to work a lot more closely with technical crew, but it will also be my job to hire them in the first place.

As a low-budget show, and having been pulled together fairly late in the season, a lot of the technician recommendations I was given by more experienced friends are already committed to other projects, so I’ll very much be interviewing people ‘cold’.

My experience is much more in the auditioning rather than interviewing field, so what are the right questions to ask, and, more to the point, how do I know if I am being given the right answers?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE In my experience, choosing the right person at an audition can sometimes be just as tricky as via interview. “But they were so good in the read-through,’’ is a not uncommon producer and director’s lament I have heard.

That said, there is something of a ‘try before you buy’ opportunity inherent in the acting audition process, which is less of a factor when crewing up on the technical side.

It is probably true that one of the reasons you feel more confident making decisions about potential actors is simply that, having done the job yourself, you know what you are looking for (and, just as importantly, what you are definitely not looking for).

Now that you have stepped into the production role, it is also very important for you to have at least a working familiarity with what the various tech roles on a show actually entail.

Firstly, hiring crew without knowing what you actually need them to do for you is a bit like driving your car into a garage and giving them carte blanche to bill you for anything they like.

Even more importantly, if you do hire a decent crew, knowing what is and isn’t reasonable to expect from them will give you the best chance that they will want to work for you again – a very desirable outcome, since a regular group of technicians you can rely on is just as much an asset to a producer as a trusted troupe of actors. This is all the more true when the production is going on tour.

While you’d certainly be wise to look on CVs for proper training related to each individual’s area of expertise, there are other qualities you are likely to need that are less easy to capture on paper. Flexibility and adaptability are key among these – not only is each venue on a tour likely to throw up its own technical quirks and challenges, but the personal quirks and challenges of each member of the company  increasingly tend to manifest themselves the longer a tour goes on for.

I’ve never been one to subscribe to the stereotype that “actors gush, whereas crews grunt”, but do try to avoid asking questions such as “Are you flexible?” unless you really do want a short “yes” or “of course” type answer, which won’t actually tell you anything. “Can you tell me about a time when you had to be flexible?” is likely to get you a much more detailed answer, and one that can be checked out with referees if necessary.

Good luck with your first tour, and here’s hoping it goes so well people are chasing you for work on your next one.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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