Being on the lighting and the programming and the writing sides of things – a terrible combination of lit stages, dark auditoriums and screens full of tiny writing – I’d always assumed it would be my eyes that went first. Or perhaps, from day after day of using cans of varying quality, my ears. Or possibly, hunched over yet another awkward production desk, my back.
It’s been somewhat surprising, therefore, to discover that it has, in fact, been my knees. Two techs in a row now, the ‘leaning forward over desk, legs tucked back under chair’ posture has meant that at the end of a session, simply straightening my legs just to stand up has taken a little more time and effort than it has before.
Of course to some extent that’s probably self-inflicted. We all know the advice about creating a good working environment, about standing up and moving around regularly.
But, you know, the show must go on and we just make do with a sheet of wood as a desk, if you’re lucky, balanced across the armrests of a seat. As an aside, do the people who build theatre seats know they actually get abused like this?
And there are just a few brief hours of tech to get through all those cues: you could stand and stretch, but won’t everyone else wonder why you’re the one holding things up?
None of this is new to my life or to my knees. The aches are, though, and I will freely concede that age may be involved: the days when I was the ‘boy’ in the touring company are a distant memory. Perhaps this is just the next phase of life.
Except that it hasn’t happened in every tech recently. There are two common factors when it has: sitting in the real seat, feet on the floor, rather than perched on the armrest, legs floating. And more particularly, on theatre seats where the backrest of the seat in front comes all the way down to ground level of the row behind.
This design means there is nowhere to put your feet and no chance to stretch your legs forward. Getting repeatedly kneecapped on the way to my seat by the solid-wood armrests in one of the theatres doesn’t help either.
Surely such a seat design can’t just be a problem for programmers like me in tech? It must also be a problem for those who pay good money to sit through the show we have just made. A painful exit from the theatre is unlikely to leave good memories of the show, and while it may be the fault of the venue rather than the show, I suspect the average theatregoer doesn’t separate the two.
So while I’d love a better production desk, a better seat, and for everyone collectively to take proper breaks – and we should all work towards that – please can we just start by installing theatre seats that are designed to maximise the comfort of the person sitting behind them as well as the person sitting in them?
Rob Halliday is a lighting designer and programmer. Read more of his columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/Rob-Halliday