Juggling balls: the life of a technical manager on tour

Posted by S Jack 27th April 2016

The technical manager is a vital cog in a play’s tour machinery, but what exactly do they do? Usually unseen and unheard by the audience, they are nevertheless crucial to the smooth running of every performance.

As handy with a screwdriver as she is with the script, Shellie Barrowcliffe is fulfilling the role for us and in this blog, she gives an insight into just what it takes to get Girls with Balls on the road and on tour.

“My role begins many hours before the actors arrive on set. I contact the venues before we arrive to make sure they can meet our technical requirements, if not then I adapt our technical information the best  I can so we can give the best performance possible. I remember some advice I was given when I first started touring: not only be organised but, more importantly, be adaptable, and this has been so true because at every venue so far something has had to change.

“It is my role to drive the van around the country to the theatres, and let’s just say my sense of direction isn’t very good, so it’s likely Gary (my co-driver as well as Artistic Director) or I will take a wrong turning thanks to my navigation skills. Once at the venue it’s time for a quick introduction, a little look at the space and then unload the set, props and any other equipment. I make sure that everything gets done, not necessarily quickly, but safely and effectively. And watch out – anyone sitting around when there are jobs to be done will be put to good use.

“Once the set has been built, the lights have been rigged and the stage set it is then time to start focusing the lights. Although this is the same principle for every venue, they all differ in the way that the lights are rigged and it is up to me to make the lighting work for each performance to create the right atmosphere to go along with each scene.

 

“By the time the actors have arrived I’ll be ready: costumes laid out, props roughly set and we are nearly ready to go. I’ll show the actors around the space, tell them of any changes, such as wing space or the distance between the set and the back wall (which has changed greatly for every performance so far), and also any concerns I have such as certain props being out of reach for certain scenes (not to give too much away).

Curtain up

“When the house is ready to open, I do one last final check and put on the house music. I operate the show, both lighting and sound, and make sure it runs smoothly from scene to scene. I also write down any changes or things that have been done different from previous shows.

“Hooray! The show’s over and it went from beginning to end with no major issues.  But, once the audience has left it’s back to work again managing the ‘get out’ from the venue. The actors concentrate on their own costumes before leaving whilst I manage deconstructing the set and packing away my things from the tech box.  I load the van, ready to do it all again the next day.
“This is my first time doing a national tour, I have travelled to various venues previously but nothing on this scale. It has been really good fun so far and yes, there have been issues but I couldn’t let these effect the work that I need to do. The whole idea of turning up to a venue that I don’t know is exciting to me, in that I know each venue will provide unique challenges. It keeps me thinking and doesn’t allow me to get stuck in the same routine. I plan ahead and think about what would be best for the performance at that particular time, such as giving up technical time or starting earlier so that the cast could have longer in the space to make for a better performance.

“It is the confidence that the show will be great and that it will all go alright that I show to the cast, even if I am feeling poorly or tired.  I have found that I still try to keep spirits high, even if this is just a little smile at somebody, sometimes that’s all it needs.

“The tour itself has taken me to the beautiful Theatre by The Lake in Keswick, and we were lucky to be there for three days.  I had time to not only appreciate the theatre but also its surroundings.

“Girls with Balls is an interesting show to work on. It is simple in terms of the technical aspects and the set up, but not so simple in the themes it presents to the audience. It takes them on the journey of three characters who just seem like normal people until they put themselves in an abnormal situation. I enjoy teching Girls with Balls because I love the way the audience reacts. It is great to see the characters continually developing and for the actors to be able to keep up the level of energy and bring the same quality of performance night after night.”

Image by Shellie Barrowcliffe, taken at Theatre by the Lake, Keswick


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