The theatre shutdown may not seem a good time to hunt for a job as a technician, but it’s always worth planning for your future career. Industry experts tell Susan Elkin what skills they’ll be looking for when venues reopen
The answer to the headline question, at present, is probably patience – because there won’t be many jobs for the next few months while theatres and other venues are closed. But the time will come for this summer’s technical theatre graduates. When it does, these are the qualities experts say they will need.
“A new graduate is probably better trained in some areas – IT and IP, for example – than established members of the industry,” says Bryan Raven, managing director of lighting supplier White Light. “And they obviously need these skills to be employable.”
On the other hand, it’s best not to specialise too much. “I think it’s crucial that students get a broad understanding of all the roles and departments and how they collaborate on the end product,” says Chichester Festival Theatre technical director Sam Garner-Gibbons. “For me, training – cementing core skills in a supportive environment – is a great bedrock from which to start the journey.”
Marlowe Theatre technical director and Punchdrunk founder member Euan Maybank agrees. “Work across a range of skills within your post and you’ll soon find out where you excel.”
“What you have learned in college, school or university is a tiny bit of what you will need in the real world of theatre,” says Maybank. “You can only fit so much into a few years of organised learning. Technical theatre graduates must be willing to learn.”
Garner-Gibbons agrees: “Graduates do not come out ‘fully cooked’. Willingness and positivity around growth and learning is probably the most important attribute a graduate can bring to his or her first job.”
“It’s really important for new graduates to make sure they spend proper time on their CVs and job applications,” says Maybank. “Initially, these are the only documents we have to judge a candidate on and I’m certain I’ve passed up on some who have great skills because they didn’t evidence that well enough in their application. You really need to sell yourself – it’s not enough to quote your past experience and training without explaining why that makes you the best candidate.”
‘A good positive attitude is everything. It will get you much further than skills alone’ – Euan Maybank, Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
“A willingness to undertake tasks they might consider beneath them counts for a lot,” says Garner-Gibbons. “There are always menial tasks to be done and no one should be too proud to do them. You will build more cohesive bonds with your workmates if you are willing to roll your sleeves up. The route to promotion or the next job often comes from who you are talking to while you are sweeping the stage!”
Raven adds that it’s important not to believe you know everything and advises: “Be prepared to admit when you don’t know it all.”
Garner-Gibbons agrees: “I’ve encountered graduates who behave like they know everything after their training or that they have done the hard graft already and are not interested in other ways of working: ‘Well, that’s what I was taught so that’s what I do.’
“The truth, of course, is that projects vary, with venues, creative team members and crews all having different ways of working, characters and behaviour.”
If you’re new to the job, make every possible effort to fit in and be reliable. “Don’t be late,” says Maybank. “If your call is shortened for any reason, ask if there is anything you can do to help. If it’s your first position, the employer has taken a risk in hiring you and you need to prove that the risk was justified.”
“The best graduates we have employed have been those who have been willing to turn their hand to anything and have embraced every opportunity,” says Garner-Gibbons. “Theatre is a collaborative art.”
“It’s probably the most important attribute. An employer can impart technical skills but work ethic and willingness are hard to teach,” says Raven.
Maybank adds: “A good positive attitude is everything. It will get you much further than skills alone.”
No matter how eager you are to begin working in the industry, Raven advises against hurrying. “Think of your career as it develops as a lattice rather than a ladder,” he says.
If you’re appointed to a staff post, Maybank suggests that you don’t move on too soon, either. He says: “Stay in your first post for at least a year. After that, increase the number of years you put into each permanent position as your seniority grows. So at least two years in the next job and so on. If you don’t put in enough time with an organisation, your CV will develop gaps that you will need to explain at interview – or it will make you look unreliable.”
He also recommends that you work with small companies as well as bigger theatres because, although the latter pay well, you also need the problem-solving experience that a small company will give you.
Garner-Gibbons agrees: “Smaller teams can give you the opportunity to collaborate with industry leaders. Don’t discount them just because they don’t carry West End or commercial weighting in the wage. Here at Chichester I love to employ positive, engaged graduates ready to start their professional careers. Applications are welcome.”
For theatre careers advice, click here for Get Into Theatre’s website