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How to… choose a technical theatre course

generic Stage management technical backstage c antb shutterstock_126433934 Photo: antb/Shutterstock
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1. Do you want to specialise?

Technical theatre is a very broad term, and when it comes to higher education it can mean anything from stage management, lighting and sound design, and ‘crafts’ such as scenic art. In reality these roles are totally separate – a deputy stage manager would never be expected to have scenic art skills, for example. If you know what are you are looking to specialise in, make sure you choose a course that offers you plenty of scope to learn that role. If you don’t know yet what area is right for you, a more general course that offers more specialist strands as you develop might be better.

2. Do you want to specialise?

If you’re learning scenic art, you’d want to be somewhere with a paint frame. It makes little sense to learn lighting design in a place without access to the kind of lanterns and boards you’d come across professionally. While the facilities of a school aren’t the be all and end all, they are important, so check what is available.

3. Does your course collaborate with other courses?

Many technical theatre courses in drama schools work alongside the acting courses – allowing, for example, the stage management students to deputy stage manage, or assistant stage manage on public productions. It’s a vital part of your learning and worth checking if a course offers these opportunities.

4. Links with the industry

If your course offers a placement within decent theatres and production companies, that can be a huge asset to future employment – allowing you to make contacts, and also see how the ‘real world’ operates.

5. Who runs your course?

Degree courses in technical disciplines are relatively new. Previously, they used to be vocational diplomas. It is arguable that craft-based vocational skills don’t easily fit an academic model of study. While on 99% of courses, this change to a degree structure has only altered course content and staffing marginally, every so often you come across a course run by academics. Avoid these courses like the plague. You need to be taught by people who know how the jobs work in the real world

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