Working as a School Technician
I'm a technician, but have never worked in a school or college. How do I get started?
There are potentially lots of jobs in this area - particularly in the independent school sector, and also in some state schools which have survived budget cuts. Quite often, independent schools will have their own dedicated theatre building, with a manager and sometimes one or more technicians. State schools tend to only employ departmental technicians and don't always recognise that a Performing Arts Technician perhaps requires greater skills (and working hours) than a typical classroom technician – but there are good jobs out there!
Are there any necessary qualifications or accreditations needed before you can work in a school?
There are no formal requirements for anything in particular. Each school/college will determine its own criteria, but some level of related qualification or good experience is going to give you the best advantage. Don't be surprised if a degree/higher qualification is a prerequisite for some managerial positions – after all, it is an educational establishment – but skills, enthusiasm and commitment will usually be more important. Every school will undertake an enhanced DBS (aka CRB) check on all employees working with children, as well as providing child protection training.
How does the team in a school differ from the team I'm used to, working in a theatre?
School technicians are often lone-workers, and therefore one person can take on the roles of several people you would expect to find in a professional theatre, such as Production Manager, Designer, Carpenter, Electrician, Caretaker, etc. Alongside that, there is almost always a requirement that the technician passes on his/her knowledge and enthusiasm to the pupils at the school, either through working with pupils in the production process, after-school activity clubs, or assisting with curriculum-based teaching in the classroom. It is usual that the technician will report to the Head of Drama, who may well be a teacher with little or no technical knowledge, so it can be a very self-managing job. In larger school theatres, there will be a more recognisable structure, such as Theatre Manager and/or Technical Manager, then technicians and sometimes part-time designers and costume staff.
How do hours differ? Will I be expected to live in the school?
Theatre jobs tend to involve long and anti-social hours, and working in a school is no different. If you're a lone technician in a school theatre, this is often the case - however, sometimes compensated by long school holidays (but not always, depending on external lettings!). Very few schools offer accommodation to support staff, so you won’t be expected to live in the school – although it could be an added bonus if you’re lucky enough to work somewhere offering accommodation!
Do I need experience in education? Will I be expected to share or explain my skills?
Experience always helps, but often schools will be keen to find someone with professional experience to share. It is highly likely that part of the duties will be to share and explain skills to the pupils, who may be the only crew you have available to help build and run the shows! Some schools may offer an after-school or lunch-time activity club for pupils wanting to work backstage, or some may teach backstage skills as part of the curriculum. It is not an unreasonable expectation that a school technician will at least have some interest and empathy for working with young people!
What kind of equipment will I be expected to operate?
Everything you might find in a professional theatre environment. In many schools, you may only have a basic lighting and sound rig, whereas in larger schools you may find theatres equipped to the same or better standard than some professional theatres. Very few school theatres are solely used as drama venues, so you may also be working with projectors, laptops and music instruments on a regular basis.
What does the School Theatre Support Group (STSG) offer to technicians?
The Group was founded in 2005 as an organisation for professional theatre technicians working in school theatres. As theatre practitioners in a teaching environment, school technicians occupy a unique and isolated situation, outside of regular theatre but with the same products, rules and problems. For this reason, the founders felt that a network of school-based theatre technicians would be mutually beneficial. We have members from a wide range of independent schools, state schools and colleges around the country, allowing us to share ideas and problems specific to school theatres, as well as keeping in contact with those working in a similar situation.
What does membership of STSG entail?
Membership is only £5 per year. Since its inception, the Group has held meetings, visits, training courses, product demonstrations and a regular conference. All members are part of the network, which can be accessed on-line. The Group's primary focus has become the popular one-day conference, which features workshops, seminars and a social evening. The Group also continues to hold informal meetings at the major trade shows, as well as offering occasional training courses and visits to member schools. Members are encouraged to use the network to make contact with other nearby members for advice and informal local visits, as well as sharing any training opportunities or job vacancies. As of June 2014, we are also affiliated with the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).
You can find out more about the School Theatre Support Group (STSG) at stsg.org.uk.