My first theatre job was as assistant stage manager on Peter Pan, at Bromley’s Churchill Theatre, in 2007. As the winter holidays approached during my first year at ALRA, I wrote to my local theatres looking for work experience on their pantomimes. The production manager responsible for Bromley arranged for me to shadow the stage management department towards the end of their rehearsal period and into their technical rehearsals. I made props, put together lots of song-sheet goody bags and tried to make myself as useful as possible.
During tech, it became apparent that, at points, their assistant stage manager needed to be in two places at once and the crew needed a bit of extra help to make scene changes swifter. I was lucky to have made a good enough impression to be asked if I was available to join them for the run of shows. I gladly accepted. It was definitely a case of being in the right place at the right time.
It was quite daunting at first, but everyone I was working with was friendly, took me under their wing and made me part of the team. I loved how the scene changes went from being slightly frantic to becoming a well-oiled machine. It was a great environment to start my career in, even if I did end up specialising in lighting later on in my course.
From that job, I learned that it’s important to have a good understanding of what other departments do and how they work, so you are able to support them, even if only to sympathise when they’re having a rubbish day.
If I could offer any advice, it would be to seek out as much work experience across as many different disciplines as you can. It’s a good way to make yourself known to potential employers. I have certainly found that experience invaluable and it has led to temporary and even permanent employment.
Training: Stage management and technical theatre at ALRA
Current role: Production electrician at Leeds Playhouse
Work includes: Deputy chief electrician, Annie and Barnum UK tours; tech swing, Happy Days UK tour; LX no 3, Hairspray and Sister Act UK tours; stage electrician and followspot operator, Lion King (West End); followspot operator, Legally Blonde (West End)
Chloe Anne James was talking to John Byrne