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A view from the dark side: theatre tech at HKA


An article based on conversations with the members of the team who provided technical support for Arabian Nights.

When asked, the HKA Student Events Team chose to describe themselves as an eclectic bunch of like-minded but possibly slightly anti-social beings. In reality these are the people with the vision, determination and talent to bring to reality a Coffee-House concert on the 3rd floor Verandah, a night-club in the studio theatre for the senior formal or, in this case, the technical presentation of the recent production of Arabian Nights.

The world of technical theatre (or ‘Backstage’ as the common parlance would have it) is not one you can afford to enter with too many pre-conceptions. Once you accept that your current knowledge of leſt and right has to change, you will come to the realisation that fairly little Backstage life actually happens backstage. Work on Set and Props for Arabian Nights started in early October, with subsequent weekend and aſter school sessions filling the corridors around the theatre with the sounds and smells of construction. Students progressed from wondering which end of a screwdriver was most useful to the heady world of power tools with rapidly increasing skills and a reassuringly steady finger-count.

Rehearsals hotted-up, and as some remained in the wings to handle set changes, props and actors who vanish shortly before their appointed entrances, others headed for the control rooms to provide sound, lighting and a video record of the show. At HKA, gone are the days of analogue systems where you simply slide a slider or twiddle a knob to produce the desired effect. Now it is all virtual patch-boards, screens and computer-controlled desks that like to be programmed in a very particular way. “Why did it just do that?” was a well-rehearsed phrase as performance day approached.

By the time we had our first public outing there were well over 200 sound and light cues ready to be played with scripts written and edited ... and of course changed at the last minute. Performances are just as tense (and occasionally emotional) as they are for those on stage. The concentration and skill required to manage the equipment, the stress and the occasional vagaries of the performers and equipment are not to be underestimated.

The satisfaction of a job well done (which it was ... very!) should be reward enough for being part of such a production, but there is also that sense of ownership (“That was my cue!”) and of course the free pizza. The crew also have a chance to work in parts of the theatre most people don’t even know exist and to play with a lot of (rather expensive) equipment. Being admitted to the clandestine world of the communication system is another highlight, but as a secret it shall remain for the uninitiated reader.

Technical theatre may not be for everyone, but for those who like to give up their Saturdays to sit in a corridor wiring plugs or screwing large pieces of wood together, the question is ‘why would somebody not want to be there?’ You also have the chance to help performers make the most of their talents, while they in turn will probably try to make your life as difficult as possible. Some will hide in the dark far away from your carefully positioned spotlight, while others when handed a fully working microphone will ensure they turn it off before trying to use it. Then there are the script re-writers, the microphone shouters (and hitters), the curtain-peekers and many more. In the end we know we can only control things that don’t have a pulse, but keep coming back as backstage really is the best place to be.


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