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Learn what people really do at work

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Freelance Theatre Technician and Designer

I’m a freelance theatre technician and designer so my day is different almost every week. I mostly work as an electrician, which is in the theatre means hanging, cabling and focusing lights.


For every show there is a lighting designer (which I also do but it doesn’t pay much at my level) who, working with the director and the other designers and based on the script, decides how the show should look and thus where the lights should be placed to achieve their goals. This is communicated by a light plot which is a drawing with the lights laid out on the theatres hanging positions.


My job as an electrician is to interpret the drawing and physically placing the lights where they need to be. This mostly involves climbing ladders carrying 20 lb lighting fixtures to clamp on to pipes that are permanently hung in the theater. After that all the lights need to be cabled back to the dimmer, which will power them. This can be easy in new spaces with permanent circuits or hard in older spaces with 100’+ runs of cable back to a closet somewhere backstage. Then comes the troubleshooting, finding blown lamps, broken cables, broken dimmers, ect. and fixing them. All of this means climbing ladders or laying on catwalks in awkward positions.


Once everything is working the designer will come in to focus the lights. Basically the designer will stand on stage where he wants the light pointed and I will point it at him. We will then do this for each of the between 20 and 250 lights hung for the show. After that Tech rehearsals start which is when all of the elements of the show, the set, lights, costumes, sound, and actors figure out how they all fit together. For the bigger theatres I work at this means I sit and program the light board. The designer will call out a light and a level and I will set that in the light board for each cue, or look, in the show. The last show I designed had about 40 cues, the last show I programmed had about 450. Techs are usually 10 of 12’s which is 10 out of 12 hours a day.


I also sometimes do stage crew for shows, which can mean doing any number of things during the show backstage. I worked as the pyro tech on a recent performance. My day consisted of coming to the space two and a half hours before the show and turning on the lighting system and fixing any blown lamps or other problems that have happened. I then sat in the greenroom until near the end of the show when I put a blank shotgun shell in a firing tube and, when given my cue by the stage manger, I hit it with a hammer. Once the show was over I cleaned up the firing tube and after the audience left I shut down the lighting system. This was by far one of the better gigs I’ve had in my life. I’ve also dropped huge bags of shoes from 30’ in the air onto a stage and made sure people falling off of a ladder landed properly and safely.


Most of my days I also spend on the internet looking for my next gig as they tend to be short lived. I also tend to do most of the housework as my wife has a day job.

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