Q&A: Tom Callaghan Theatre Technician
Q: How did you get into theatre?
A: I got into theatre via my secondary school which ran an “action day” where we were encouraged to raise money for charity by doing anything from music recitals to comedy scenes. It was a great chance for me and my friends to re-enact our favourite Blackadder scenes, my drama teacher then asked me to be in the school plays and pushed me to join youth theatre group, The Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford. I was there for 6 years and once I was 17 I started helping with the younger groups which involved basic Deputy Stage Management, prop and costume sourcing, and operating the yearly show. I was always an average performer but found just as much enjoyment from backstage work and was better at it!
Q: What training was involved?
A: I studied Theatre Production (Arts and Stage Management) at the University of Winchester. The course is designed to give a good overall coverage of everything you need to put on a show except acting and directing, so all the business side, the front of house elements, and the backstage work of stage management and technical work. I fell in love with lighting and ended up specialising in that, including presenting assignments where I stripped down a lantern and talked through all the individual parts before rebuilding it. Whilst at uni I started working as a casual technician at Theatre Royal Winchester and Mayflower Theatre to gain practical experience and put the skills I had learned into use.
Q: What does your typical working day involve?
A: Part of the joy of the job is that there is no typical day, every day is different with as many as 5 individual productions in a week at times. However, a typical one nighter show would begin with getting the truck in; depending on the show this can be anything from a transit van to a 45ft lorry, so sometimes we have to stop traffic on Jewry street to get it in! We begin by rigging the lanterns, this is sometimes done before the company arrives if it’s a big show or a busy rig. When all the lights are up we unload the truck and build the set. Once the set is up we get our tallescope (a manually operated work platform) out and climb 5 metres up to focus the lights, normally a job for 4 people, one up the tallescope, 2 on the floor to move them around and the company technician to say where each light will be focused. After that we plot. This involves patching our lights to the company’s show file on our lighting desk, and then running through all the cues checking the consistency, sometimes tweaking little things due to variations between venues and lights. The company will then usually take over the stage for warm ups or rehearsals which affords us a break. Once the show is ready to start we are the go-between for the company and front of house teams. We can let the audience in and then we’ll operate the lighting cues from the technical box. After the show we do everything in reverse, taking down their set, packing it back in the truck, cleaning and sweeping the stage ready for the next day and the next show!
Q: What is it like working for Live Theatre Winchester?
A: Working for Live Theatre Winchester is lovely, having started as a green casual technician I have learnt so much, enough to now be employed full time. I have created a great bond with my fellow technicians; Spatz Crawford and Stuart Newton, and thoroughly enjoy working and learning from them both. I have come a long way since starting university four years ago and have both of them, and my predecessor Beki Gregory, to thank for that.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: The most rewarding part of the job are the children’s shows that we do. There’s always such a good feeling when you have 400 or so families in the building, enjoying the show and having a good time at the theatre. Other than that there is always satisfaction when putting a show on and knowing that you were part of making this happen and bringing an interesting and varied programme of theatre to audiences.