Stratford East is pleased to be running a Young Technicians Course with Backstage Niche. The programme is a brand new, FREE, introductory training course on Technical Theatre and backstage roles. The sessions will offer local 16–21 year olds the opportunity to work with industry professionals.
The programme is designed for local young people from underrepresented backgrounds, with little to no experience of Technical Theatre. The course includes hands-on workshops in lighting, sound, set design and stage management.
Backstage Niche is a community of freelancers from diverse cultural backgrounds who work in technical and backstage theatre. Their aim is to encourage the involvement of young people into these production art roles as well as supporting professionals currently working in the industry who are from the Global majority. This includes mentorships, panel talks, workshops and a database where companies and theatre establishments can build their creative teams that reflect the society we live in.
In our first week of Young Technicians, course leader Constance Oak and the group were joined by Stage Manager Daniel Roach-Williams, who introduced the group to the principles of stage management. Daniel led discussions on the roles and responsibilities of a stage manager, and painted a picture of the other technical roles that stage managers come into contact with on theatre productions.
The introductory session also encouraged the young technicians to get to know each other through practical ball games and a group task that asked the group to debate and identify stage directions.
In week 2 of Young Technicians, we were joined by Lighting Designer Jessica Hung Han Yun, who introduced the group to the principles of lighting and lighting design. Jessica shared her own journey into the industry, offering an insight into the different pathways available.
The young technicians learnt the basics of rigging, using gels and manipulating light to convey meaning and enhance storytelling. Technician Ross was on hand to demonstrate and give the young technicians a chance to rig some lights onto a boom.
This week, the group used the knowledge they gained in previous weeks on the basics of both stage management and lighting practically – the young technicians were split into two.
One group worked with Stage Manager Daniel and Technician Ross to programme and rig lights to backlight an actor. Another group worked with course leader Constance – they looked through a stage management book (the bible) and saw a floor plan for the upcoming show After the End – they measured up the floor plan and marked it up on the stage in two groups of two.
In our fourth week, guest artist and sound designer Tingying Dong presented the group with an enthralling crash course on sound. Ting led discussions on what the sound team in a theatre production do, who it consists of and what each person in the team does. From the sound designer to the sound assistant to the engineer.
The group was very engaged with one particular exercise where they were given a script, a time period and a location or theme or genre and had to think of appropriate sounds to match this imagined production. Their responses were overwhelmingly creative! One member of the group during the session said, “I’m really into this!”.
This week, a small group of the Young Technicians got to see our in-house production of RED RIDING HOOD. It was a great opportunity for the group to get a live taste of technical theatre at our own venue. They were able to see some of the same lights they had used in sessions with Daniel Roach-Williams and Jessica Hung Han Yun being used on-stage. Before heading into the show, the group took some lovely photos outside the theatre.
The interval gave us a chance to discuss elements of the show, including Jean Chan’s innovative costume and set designs and some of stage management’s more complicated scene changes. In the second half, the Young Technicians even received a shout-out during the show!
Overall, it was a great way to round off 2021 and to inspire the Young Technicians for the rest of the programme in 2022.
The first session of 2022 was kicked off by Costume Designer Natalie Pryce and our Artistic Director Nadia Fall.
The session began with an introduction from Nadia on her work at Stratford East and the route her career has taken. The Young Technicians asked questions, which helped demystify the role of Artistic Director for the whole group.
Costume Designer Natalie provided an engaging insight into her background as a dresser and costume designer, and made it clear to the participants that there is not strictly one pathway into technical theatre. The group took to her task even more so - where the participants were invited to design a costume for a character of their choice. The drawings were brilliant, filled with detail and meaning, relating to each characters background and storyline. 2022 started with a bang!
In week 7, the Young Techs were joined by Lighting Designer Simeon Miller who ran a rip-roaring session to further build the group's understanding of Lighting Design or as Simeon calls it "photoshop for theatre".
The participants got stuck in straight away using a programme called Capture Visualisation, something that is used by professional lighting designers across the world. The participants were split into two groups – both groups built on the costumes and characters they made in Natalie’s session (week 6) by thinking about and expanding the world their characters would live in and then they represented that through their lighting designs using Capture.
Throughout the session, the Young Technicians were engaged and were making references to theatre they had seen. For example, one member of the group had remembered some clever use of lighting from our panto trip that they used it as inspiration for their own lighting design!
In our eighth week, designer Debbie Duru joined the Young Technicians with an enticing introduction to design in theatre.
Debbie showcased the productions she worked on and introduced herself to the group. The Technicians looked at various stimuli which consisted of: a cave, an attic, a nest and a parking lot. Using these stimuli, they created mood boards, incorporating sound, lighting, textures, colour and anything else they could think of to inspire their set design.
The group was split into several pairs and they used an assortment of magazine cut-outs, fabrics, drawings and the whole gamut of colours which made the resulting mood boards and flow charts completely vivid and detailed, so much so that you could easily imagine their designs coming to life!
"Sound is a rebellion"
After a lovely check-in and a few games, week 9 was kicked off by Composer and Sound Designer Xana throwing the group straight away into the deep world of sound. Xana led an Ableton crash course. The Young Technicians were amazed at how quickly Xana was able to make a beat from scratch.
The group had to create their own beat. The catch however was that they were split into pairs and the ones making the beat were not able to listen to their creations until the end. The other person in the group was wearing headphones and the beat maker would go off of their reactions and adjust accordingly. The resulting tracks were fantastic!
Xana then gave the task of creating transition music that displayed a change in tone. The group went off to make their tracks and then there was a grand sharing of each piece of music. Each transition song was different, powerful and showcased the desired tonal shift Xana wanted.
The final session of Young Technicians has come and gone. Weeks of work, learning and dedication has culminated in a spectacular final session with Lead Practitioner Constance and Production and Events Technician Ross.
The group were briefed a few days prior to our final session on Saturday that they would be doing a dry tech run from an extract of Dennis Kelly’s After The End. Within this session, they were given the script, split into two groups, and given the task of deciding which discipline each team member would work on, whether that be running the lighting or sound, or having a go at stage management. They then analysed the script’s ‘hard facts’ so they could see exactly what they had creative control over.
Between the prep session and the final session – the groups touched base via video calls to plan their runs. Judging from what they shared, the extra work they put in completely showed on stage.
Onto the final session – the two groups immediately got stuck in. Our Young Technicians were creating their own sounds on Ableton – using their voices and the environment to create intricate soundscapes for their runs, as Sound Designer and Composer Xana had taught them some weeks earlier. Music plays a huge part in theatre and so naturally the two groups utilised songs such as Mr. Blue Sky by ELO to convey an unhinged and eerie setting.
Each team had a lighting designer at the ready who had complete control over their lighting states – from the specific lights chosen to the gels within, to controlling the lighting desk during the dry run. The stage managers were quick and efficient – making sure that the actors received the correct cues at the right time so they could make it onto the stage promptly. They were also in control of the props table and generally keeping everything and everyone organised.
Before the groups shared what they have been working on to each other – a pizza party was in order! The Young Technicians dined and wined (on water, juice and Pepsi) which was a well-deserved break and treat after all their hard work.
Both groups showcased their dry technical runs to each other. Each one being significantly different despite working from the same script. From the small things like the placement of the props on the stage to the larger, more sensory differences like the music and sounds and lighting made each run feel distinct and professional!
With a final emotional check-out with the group as a whole – it was clear that Young Technicians was more than just the name of this programme, it became an actual title that each individual strived towards and earned without a shadow of a doubt. And while this may be the end of this course for this cohort… it is only the beginning of a brand-new relationship.
From here, Stratford East’s Young Technicians will be signing up for further training opportunities and work experience placements in the summer term.