dfp_header_hidden_string

Offstage stars: careers in theatre behind the scenes

Teresa Legaspi, Royal Shakespeare Company pastry chef. PhotoRSC/Sam Allard Teresa Legaspi, Royal Shakespeare Company pastry chef. PhotoRSC/Sam Allard
by -

Many people looking to break into the industry are not aware of the great variety of skilled roles available. John Byrne talks to a small selection of professionals working in less high-profile – but no less crucial – areas of the industry


Teresa Legaspi, pastry chef, Royal Shakespeare Company

How did you get started in theatre?

I started in the hospitality industry in 1980 when I trained as a commis pastry chef at the five-star Hotel Manila in the Philippines. But there is a Shakespeare connection to how I ended up at Royal Shakespeare Company: after working in many five-star hotels and continuing my training in Vienna and Germany, I joined the Shakespeare Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon in 2002 and joined the RSC eight years later, just before the new building was opened by the Queen.

What is your average day like?

Very busy. I lead a team of three who make all the cakes and pastries for five cafes, as well as functions, such as meetings, weddings, parties and conferences. We make approximately 1,000 cookies a month. Each day I check the orders from all over the company, then get to work baking, icing, slicing and portioning.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

My dream job is to be a head pastry chef. You have to be very dedicated, strong, confident creatively and well-equipped with the required knowledge plus the ability to meet deadlines.

What advice would you give somebody looking for a job like yours?

You must be reliable, open-minded, hardworking, motivated and creative.

What is the entry-level salary for this role?

Beginner chef roles can start from £13,000 to £15,000 but vary widely depending on experience and skills.


Tim Streader, chief electrician, Bristol Old Vic

Tim Streader. Photo: Jon Craig
Tim Streader. Photo: Jon Craig

How did you get started in theatre?

When I finished school in 1971, my mother was pushing me to get a job. Bristol Old Vic was advertising for an assistant electrician, the entry-level position in the electrics department. Jerry Godden, then the chief electrician, taught me the ropes. I also attended an electrical course run by British Telecom – it definitely wasn’t a specialist theatre course. When the Association of British Theatre Technicians formed and started a theatre electricians course, a couple of us from here took part.

What is your average day like?

Bristol Old Vic has a range of visiting and in-house productions. I could be circuiting a lighting plan, rigging, cutting colour, designing shows myself or negotiating with a visiting lighting designer. I help with the general electrical maintenance of the building and have become the official ‘minder’ of the theatre’s two huge chandeliers – currently in storage while front of house is being redeveloped.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

Training options are much more vocational now. Teams are often small, particularly in regional theatres. You gain experience very quickly and are given lots of responsibility, which looks great on a CV. Once in, you may stay in the electrics department of a theatre, gradually moving up the ranks or move to bigger theatres to become a head of lighting or be a lighting designer.

What advice would you give somebody looking for a job like yours?

Work your way up. Get as much on-the-job experience as you can. Start as a casual, contact your local theatre (amateur or professional) and let them know you’re keen. That’s the best way to meet others in the industry.

What is the entry-level salary for this role?

Assistant electrician salaries range from £18,000 to £22,000, depending on experience, size and location of the venue.


Emma Isted, registered BSL interpreter (self-employed)

Emma Isted
Emma Isted

How did you get started in theatre?

I studied at the University of Wolverhampton and then the University of Central Lancashire for my formal interpreting qualifications. My theatre performance training began with Theatresign under the mentorship of Donna Ruane in 2001.

What is your average day like?

Theatre work tends to be a few hours one evening (or afternoon for a matinee) with lots of hours of preparation beforehand. On the day of a show, I like to make sure that I listen to any music associated with the show, watch any video material and practise as much of the show as I can. For a musical, I might pick the fastest or trickiest songs to practise repeatedly, but for a play I might pick a piece of conversation with multiple characters or a particularly complex section of dialogue. The translation takes place much earlier, when the script arrives. In order to translate a piece for a show, I must consider the meaning and context of what is being said and then find a way of presenting it in BSL so it is clear and comprehensible. For a song, the ending must be considered, as a long note will need a suitable sign to be held for the same amount of time.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

Interpreters can specialise in theatre or work across a variety of other fields ranging from legal to family services.

What advice would you give somebody looking for a job like yours?

A performance interpreter needs to have a mixture of good productive British Sign Language skills, translation expertise and performance experience.

What is the entry-level salary for this role?

Interpreters often work at half-day or full-day rates, which can vary according to experience and location. [For 2018-2019, union guidelines are: trainees, £100-£120 half day, £200-£240 full day; registered signers, £100-130 half day, £210-260 full day.]

BSL interpreter Becky Barry: ‘Some say I’m Hamlet’s soul, others his ghost or shadow’


Julie Ashworth, head cutter, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Julie Ashworth

How did you get started in theatre?

I studied in theatre wardrobe at Liverpool City Art College (formerly Mabel Fletcher College). I started working at West Yorkshire Playhouse 26 years ago as a wardrobe assistant. Since then I’ve worked my way up through the department, covering such jobs as dresser, assistant, cutter and deputy supervisor. I became head cutter in 1999.

What is your average day like?

It’s always different. Most projects start by discussing the production with the designer and establishing the workload with the show supervisor. There follows a lot of measuring, consultation and fittings with actors, as well as drafting patterns. The desired costumes have to be cut out for the show, sewn up and finished after more fittings. During tech week, I divide my time between the auditorium and workroom, observing for notes and alterations and delegating across the team. I may also be involved in dyeing, distressing and breaking down costumes – and laundering them once the show is up and running.

Read about training to become a costume-maker

What are the opportunities for career progression?

I juggle full-time work at WYP with freelance costume-making, producing garments for other regional theatres, national tours and West End shows.

What advice would you give somebody looking for a job like yours?

Starting in an assistant post gives lots of opportunities to learn different skills and methods from various cutters. They’ll all have their own techniques and style of cutting and making to pass on to you. Never be afraid to ask questions.

What is the entry-level salary for this role?

£13,000 to £15,000.


Amy Spreadbury, heritage interpreter (intern), Bristol Old Vic

Amy Spreadbury. Photo: Bristol Old Vic
Amy Spreadbury. Photo: Bristol Old Vic

How did you get started in theatre?

I worked as a stage manager throughout school then studied English at the University of Exeter. I began working front of house at the SS Great Britain in Bristol. Once I graduated, they hired me as a documentation assistant. I saw the opportunity to combine my love of theatre, history and storytelling in this role and jumped at the chance.

What is your average day like?

My days involve reading lots of old documents, brainstorming ideas for exhibitions, and collaborating with some amazing people. I’m researching the history of the theatre, performances, audiences and managers over the past 250 years. This enables me to advise the artists creating our heritage outputs (including augmented reality, films, exhibitions, tours, visual timelines and more). I also write regular social media and blog content.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

Before this job, I learned about interpretation from watching my colleagues, going to exhibitions, and studying museum theory. Once we’ve installed everything, my job here will be done and I hope to take all my experience from this and continue to work in heritage.

What advice would you give somebody looking for a job like yours?

Get as much experience as you can. Volunteer, work front of house, run workshops, go to every object-handling training session you can. Every audience is different. The more you talk to them, the more likely you’ll be able to create something they’ll enjoy and understand.

What is the entry-level salary for this role (heritage interpretation and digital content development intern)?

£15,000 to £18,000. Note that not all internships in this sector are paid. If you are considering unpaid roles, you should consult the guidelines at artscouncil.org.uk


Name: Natalie McCormack, draughtsperson, National Theatre

Natalie McCormack. Photo: Tom Lee
Natalie McCormack. Photo: Tom Lee

How did you get started in theatre?

Besides visual arts, I was also interested in performing. When I was applying to drama colleges and universities applications, I was accepted on every design course I applied for, so I took that as a sign and did a BA in design for the stage at Central School of Speech and Drama.

What is your average day like?

We normally work daytime hours, but that can change depending on the production and the time left till opening night. We have regular meetings with the heads of production, construction and other departments as we translate the white cardboard model of the set into the real thing. Our days involve lots of drawing, but my favourite thing is to see a design from our screens fully realised on stage.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

The CAD (Computer Aided Design) skills essential for this role are transferable into a whole range of other jobs, whether that is working in a different kind of theatre, such as in the West End, or another technical field such as film and TV work or lighting design. The best part for me is the constant new learning.

What advice would you give somebody looking for a job like yours?

Practise thinking logistically rather than just visually. How many seats will fit into the space along with your set? Get as familiar as you can with CAD software even before you start training or working.

What is the entry-level salary for this role?

£15,000 to £18,000.

Look for career opportunities on The Stage Jobs

Look for training opportunities on The Stage website

loading...
^