Ode To The Stage Technician

There is a saying among those who work in the technical side of live theatre and events that if someone notices what is going on, you are doing your job wrong.  The idea is that for the most part, the technical elements of an experience should enhance and complement rather than call attention to themselves.

But that is a double-edged sword because if people aren’t aware of all the pieces that have to come together, they think their goals are easy to accomplish.

No matter where I have worked, often one of the most frustrating parts of working with an inexperienced renter is having a conversation about their needs. Their perception is that a task can be accomplished by 1-2 people when it is closer to 6-8 due to all the locations and tasks to which stagehands need to attend at the same time. (Though truth be told, there are some experienced, returning renters with whom you might revisit the same conversation on an annual basis.)

Likewise, people don’t often think through their entire process. If something is dropped, flung, placed, etc., during a performance that wasn’t used during rehearsal, it is staying there unless someone is assigned in advance to pick it up.

What brought all this to mind is seeing a story about a week ago billing the performance by Mike Mills of the band R.E.M. at a university graduation as a surprise. While term was meant to the convey that it was a surprise to the audience, it could also be read as being a spur of the moment decision.

But the fact that there was a cable for him to plug in his guitar and another cable available to amplify the violin of the guy accompanying him wasn’t something that just happened to be there by chance. In all likelihood, he probably didn’t make the decision to perform that morning and asked that cables be run when he arrived. A number of people probably knew this was happening at least a week or so in advance.

One of the characteristics that makes for an excellent stage/movie/television technician is the ability to foresee the implications of a decision when it is discussed in advance of an event or pantomimed during a rehearsal. They are able to take action or make recommendations to solve the problems they anticipate.  But they can’t anticipate what isn’t communicated.

A lot of times they work miracles just in time anyway.

So just a little ode of appreciation today to all those technicians that make it all look so easy. Because they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.


About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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