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Get-in shape

A get-in at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

A few years ago an incident involving a wagon unloading at a regional touring house made the theatre industry finally address the issues on the outer side of the scene dock door. While professional standards and safe practices had been established onstage, the same had not been applied to the wagon. The responsibility for loading and unloading was undetermined, with some believing it to be the touring manager’s, some the resident manager’s. There was also the question of the driver’s responsibility for the load, as some drivers would supervise from the back of the truck while others would not.

As a result, and after a year of consultation, the Theatrical Management Association together with BECTU published the Code of Conduct for Get-ins, Fit-ups and Get-outs – freely available from the Association of British Theatre Technicians website.

The majority of the code simply extends good working practices – sufficient staff for the task, reasonable working hours and adequate breaks, the wearing of protective clothing, no drugs or alcohol. But it also addresses the question of ultimate responsibility for the load. This now lies with the touring management, who are obliged to provide a dedicated loading/unloading supervisor and a specific loading information pack.

The code also addresses the conduct of the theatre staff involved. However, the changes in working practices for stage crew have indirectly affected the haulage industry. Indeed, accommodating these changes in theatre working practice has become a major determinant in choice of carrier by producing managements, particularly in regard to driver involvement.

Some of the smaller haulage companies such as Fly by Nite and Southern Van Lines have always provided working drivers and have benefited from repeat business as a result. However, some of the larger companies still provide drivers who stay firmly in their cabs.

Tom McEvilly has managed tours for Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Companyfor more than a decade and most of his shows require between four and eight wagons. Each wagon has its own written packing and loading schedule that is passed on to the touring master carpenter who, together with the lead driver, monitors both the get-in and get-out.

Production manager Tom McEvilly

Getting the pack right and in the right order is not easy as shows never strip down in the best order for loading. Many items can now be packed in flight-cases, although these take up a lot of space even when empty. In some theatres there is no room to store them during the run.

McEvilly’s solution, as with many other production managers, is to keep two wagons close to site containing the ‘dead’ (empty) cases. The cost for storage on wheels is factored into the weekly transport budget from the start, but the real cost is in time as the ‘deads’ need to be unloaded at the start of the get-out before being reloaded when full.

To do this effectively requires careful planning and a methodical (and repetitive) procedure on site – hence the need for an accurate plan from the start and a nominated member of the production staff to supervise.

The success of scenery transport specialists Luckings, despite the recession, can be attributed to the company’s customer-focused service and promotion of sustainable touring. Nick Dooner, Luckings’ owner and CEO, believes his company has an ethical duty to keep its carbon footprint as low as possible. The firm has replaced all of its cabs with the latest Euro 5 compliant tractor units, which get the best mileage per gallon of diesel. The addition of extra cleanser to the fuel means the engines have the lowest possible particle emissions.

Luckings has also introduced the best modern technology – every tractor, trailer and driver is tagged and logged so that at any given point the firm knows exactly where its vehicles are located, how many hours each driver has worked and even how much fuel has been used.

The company also only provides working drivers or, in the case of multi-wagon tours, a lead driver who loads and unloads each wagon with the touring supervisor. Even with single-wagon tours, where it is not always possible to provide the same driver, packing notes and any particular loading details are always passed between drivers to make sure the same service is provided each week. The advantages to the theatre management are reliability, good service and keen pricing, while the haulier benefits from accurate budgeting and repeat business.

As with all changes in legislation or practice it has taken a couple of years for new working methods to become embedded. However, it is heartening to see from these examples that both the touring manager and the scenery carrier have successfully adapted to the changes and are benefiting as a result. It would appear that the code has improved safety and working conditions for the theatre technician without adding any significant cost to either the producer or the haulier.

Rather than adding to costs, good practice and efficient planning can often save money.

The code of conduct can be downloaded from www.abtt.org.uk

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