I started in theatre tech thanks to my drama teacher at school who was really into this area of the business.
From there, I got involved in everything from amdram to my local youth theatre, taking every opportunity I could to help with lights, sound, set design and anything else I was allowed to turn my hand to. I learned a lot doing those small jobs, but knew I needed to train properly to have a career.
Two years later, here I am: qualified and ready to work professionally. My teacher (now retired) tipped me off that there was a tech job going at our local theatre. I applied and now have an interview.
I’ve heard on the grapevine that there are three candidates in total, but that the other two are more experienced than me.
If we all have similar qualifications but my years on the job are far fewer, are there any tips you can give me to even the balance a bit and make sure I’m still in with a chance of getting the gig?
As a theatre technician, even on small shows, I am sure you will have experienced situations where no matter how much preparation you do in advance of a production, challenges arise in the course of performances that are completely unforeseen and require creative solutions on the spot. This doesn’t mean all that prep work has been wasted. It is often doing the prep which, by enabling everything else to run smoothly, frees you up to focus on dealing with unexpected curveballs.
That’s also a good philosophy for approaching your interview: prep what you can prep, and trust your instincts for the rest. Start with the job description and note down any particular skills and attitudes they have made a point of asking for. The fact that you have been offered the interview in the first place suggests they already believe you have enough skills to justify the meeting, but try to have specific examples of how you have used each of those skills in a real situation ready to illustrate your abilities when you talk about them at interview.
Do a little reading (and asking around, if you have contacts) on the specific approach and philosophy of the theatre you are interviewing for. Just as no two shows are the same, no two venues are either. The people in charge of individual theatres often have personal passion as well as professional regard for their domains, and if you can demonstrate an empathy for that, it may just give you the edge.
You haven’t said whether there is a practical test element to this interview. If there is, refresh your memory on any tech tasks you have not been called on to do in a workplace situation in a while. As any of us who have had our card eaten because we suddenly forgot the PIN we have used hundreds of times before, or accidentally triggered our car alarm because we changed our morning routine slightly, will confirm, memory and motor skills can play strange tricks under time pressure and in an unfamiliar setting.
As for the gap between your experience and that of the other candidates, there is not a lot of point in dwelling on it. You don’t have a time machine, so you can’t go back and catch up on them in this regard. What you can do is consider your soft skills, such as problem-solving, communication and organisation, which are also important elements of effective technical work. Make sure you have concrete examples of how you have used them in the past, and even if you are not directly asked about them, try to work them into your answers. They might just be the extras that tip the balance in your favour.
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne