Jump to content

Mapping Technical Theatre Arts Training

Recommended Posts

Those with their fingers in the UK technical theatre arts training pie may well be aware of this recently published short report by Dr Anna Farthing. As this subject comes up quite a bit on the BR (and in industry) and so that non-HE forum members can have a nosey, here is the link to the report page on the HEA website:


http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/disciplines/dance-drama-music/Farthing_2012My link


Respond/discuss if you care to. It's not my work I just thought it might be of interest and provide additional food for thought for all stakeholders here. :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There's some quite interesting material in there - especially the background for the successful applicants for the Bristol jobs. I'd not actually thought about the words "technical Theatre" but it does seem to be a pharse we use all the time without any real reference to the 'real' meaning.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks, Rob, interesting work.

The first thing that came to mind is the apparent acceptance by HE participants that CC Skills has been right for some years while HE has been a little in denial over the skills versus qualifications discussion. Loads of highly qualified graduates lacking in the required skills.


The next was that there is no mention of how the cost of HE education can be justified by wage levels. The BOV £15K a year salaries suggest it but the topic was not addressed in any depth. How can one justify what has been claimed to be a possible £100,000 outlay by the student who then begins on £15K at even a major theatre?


The filling of posts at BOV and the career paths of many tutors indicate that HE is neither the most common or most successful in providing expert practitioners or even tutor/lecturers. Something for HE to consider. Why is HE unable to provide even their own leading practitioners?


What really jumped off the page was the suggestion that graduates have ideas above their station with regard to where in the career ladder they are entitled to begin after graduation. Something I was surprised to see in an academic paper.


Personally I found the FAETC course I did really helpful in gaining the confidence and perhaps that sort of "trade education training" might be something to think about in future. If this is the beginning of a more thoughtful, outcome-based approach to HE in TTA then it is a great start, thanks.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Not another learned paper on pointing out what "we" all know?


It's almost trying to justify having a degree in theatre land or ents' industry. All this blather about other "skills"...leading to the lofty heights of the theatre management. Why is it these folk seem to believe that all theatre techs want to be managers?


Presumably this woman is building her ramp for some top cabinet post/Arts Council, etc, etc? How cynical is that?


The answer is "simple"...if the industry needs to have followers then they have to be trained...not just "educated"...and that means in a theatre, on the job, working as an apprentice doing the gofer jobs and getting the theatre" under their skin. "Formal training", if you will, by attending manufacturer's courses on or off site, ie straight from the horse's mouth.


If the money can be found...why not simply pay theatres to train aspirant folk on the job. Strikes me as an excellent way of weeding out those with "stars-in-their eyes" when they learn first hand on the hours involved when you are expected to maintain the levels on concentration and skills all day, every day...then help with the get out perhaps?


I suppose if this happened then the theatres themselves could decide for themselves who really wants to be there "backstage" and who has the ability. Might also be a way of keeping out the five star ambition/one star ability brigade on the other side of the Stage Door?


We've commented on this micro topic before and to my mind IF "you" were really interestd then "you" would have joined an amdram company as soon as you were out of nappies/weaned/cleaned your own teeth. In other words "you" used your initiative and sorted the training for yourself.


How many times have we read from those nippers who state, "I'm thinking of a career in the industry but don't know whether to do sound or lighting. What do you BRs think?" All this might be on the back of a few school productions...which really meant you bunked off lessons to "help" with the school play.


All right if you belong to the BoM&D who are willing to stump up for their issue in the theatre...but that might just lead to some second raters working at the "expense" of perhaps the truly gifted who just don't have the financial resources to support themselves. None of this working for free nonsense, on unpaid internships.


That said it might be a fanciful wheeze to offer degree courses to those in the industry, who did aspire to be in "management", on business practices especially in the financial aspects (sorting out grant applications???) and man management. Wouldn't need to be too deep in tech because when in management you won't be doing a lot of technician stuff anyway...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The filling of posts at BOV and the career paths of many tutors indicate that HE is neither the most common or most successful in providing expert practitioners or even tutor/lecturers. Something for HE to consider. Why is HE unable to provide even their own leading practitioners?


Not too sure where you gathered the detail on tutors (all ex-industry) lack of an HE path as all of those listed in the report either studied a related subject at HE level or gone down the other common route at the time and followed their interest while studying for a different degree. While I actually agree that there are a thousand questions to be considered by all in both industry and education, I'm not sure the fact that their were few BAs in TTA 20 - 30 years ago is reason to point at the lack of these things at the high end of the industry right now.


Everyone of a vintage to be at the top followed the path into the industry that there was at the time and others followed. Many of the subsequent generation of "top bods" also come sporting a Higher Education and are increasingly subject specific, though not all. By way of example, Tim Routledge may well have still have gone on to become the go-to programmer in the UK for large events from just sweeping the floor at Stage Electrics but as I recall is a graduate of RWCMD along with plenty of his peers that also occupy high end jobs in the industry.


I think that Ramdram missed the point slightly in that HE institutions (of whatever flavour) don't expect every theatre tech to become a manager. They expect graduates of Level 6 programmes to have the cognitive skills and ambition to progress past the simple "doing". Otherwise, their education was a waste of everyone's time and money if all that happened was that they learned how to hang a Fresnel. Of course you don't need a degree to sweep a stage, no one said you did and frankly if you are planning on spending your life as a theatre tech, I really wouldn't waste your money spending 3 years in HE.


What I don't quite get is why those in our business that scoff at the idea that TTA is a great subject for a Higher Education in ways that Medieval History isn't. If we value what we do so much, why do we keep putting it down and suggesting that HE is Middle Eastern Politics, Latin or bust? Institutions have a remit to provide a higher education and present it in a subject that people want to study. Graduate employability is important to the graduates but this isn't the same as HE training theatre techs to work on low wages as industry would like us to. Personally, I'm proud to see what graduates go on to particularly if it isn't working long hours for a pittance in theatreland for the rest of their lives.


CCSkills talks of skills shortages. The shortage of skills is just the rash that the problem has come out in, the disease being an industry that can't/won't pay enough or a offer decent lifestyle to make learning those skills attractive. What is attractive to prospective students at the moment are HE opportunities that offer both creative, practical and usable skills alongside the traditional transformational HE education. This is where TTA excels as an HE subject.


To add some perspective against the headlines of doom and gloom in the applications following the funding changes, our TP programme applications were up by over 100% last year (the first year of the new fees) and at this point in the cycle nearly 20% up this year. This bucks the national and institutional trends quite significantly. Successful candidates for the last intake each fought off 8 people to gain a place. Is this because they have "stars in their eyes"? Nope, no one is under any illusion that the entertainment industry is a gold mine and that because they have a BA(Hons) they will be welcomed with open arms the minute the step off campus. However, we do get to watch graduates walk into a variety of theatre or related jobs, shoot off around the world to a new life or take their education to an unrelated industry. For better money and a better lifestyle.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maybe what is actually happening is that we got rid of exactly the places we now need - we scrapped polytechnics and technical colleges, and now the requirements of a degree in terms of content across the board don't quite fit what the industry wants?


The fact that people are learning on the job and this is a preferred feature on a job application does suggest that maybe people need to consider if people are doing degrees to get a degree or training? Some, I'm sure are getting the course purposes confused.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

40 odd years ago the BBC were loath to take on graduates in "on station engineering" because they came with "ideas" of how they possessed a degree and somehow meant they were better that the tech managers. Sometimes this was undoubtably true in the actual theoretical stuff but obviously nowhwere near in terms of BBC practices.


The then view was that trainees were better selcted from those with "A" levels who would be trained on the A, B (before that known as the TA) and C courses. Thereafter engineers would attend Wood Norton for various modules as required, such as advances in technology and new kit of course. Some of these modules were at Wood Norton and some were at base (especially if you were in "Transmitters" for obvious reasons).


You will see that the training was germane to the job you did and you were kept constantly up to date. The BBC was very fond of handouts and some of us collected a veritable forest's worth of paper. The BBC used to fill its stations with BBC designed kit in the program chain (not test gear of course) but around the time I started the studios/centers began to use commercial kit such as Neve sound desks.


After twenty odd years stations such as mine brought in commercial satellite kit from folk such as Scientific Atlanta and Nec or Gillam. Prior to that we used for example Revox tape machines as opposed to the BBC designed kit found in places, such as in Bush House say, which were virtually bullet (not to mention T.O. (tech ops)) proof.


Those who did aspire to management were not constrained by a lack of degree and on my station several of the staff went on to become senior managers...much to the annoyance of some of the bods with degrees. These unhappy souls had no idea that a degree was not a guarantee of promotion whereas coming up through the ranks and thereby learning something about BBC policy/way of life...in other words unless you were something of the politician you had no busines being anywhere near a management post.


I cannot see why this form of apprenticeship is not re-introduced in "theatreland". Naturally, from my experiences and background, it is my personal opinion that training on the job is better suited to the hands on technical "trades". The training was directly related to your station/facility and always up to date.


That said the BBC did have places such as "Designs Dept" and "Research Dept" where having a techical degree certainly was useful...after all somebody had to understand Thevenin's Theory and the rest of it...


So, if you want to work hands on in theatreland in sound or lighting then no I don't believe a degree is that useful...but if you want to design theatrical stuff such as hydraulic stages or sort out the accoustics in a theatre, say, then perhaps having the relevant degree might indeed be useful.


(As for those in "management" having degrees then, in our station's, naturally biased, view it was amazing how we kept the place running despite their meddling.)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... and of course every hospitality head now has an MBA in business - which MUST be the most useless, but common qualification going, in that everybody who has one tends to be using it to extend their name on their business cards. If I was to be honest, my only worry is that some of my own old students have a degree, and I KNOW that they really shouldn't have one, based on what their ability level is. People I would never ever employ, yet they got a degree - and I honestly think that this is what devalues the good ones.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am fully aware that this could descend into the usual arguments but I respect Rob and admire the introduction of industry experience into academia (here comes the but) but academia needs to decide what it is selling. And selling it definitely is since HE is a commercial, competitive service industry which might explain the dichotomies.


The overview of what is a very good generalist course (Rob's), of which I heartily approve, uses the words "training, industry, career and work" repetitively which gives the impression to young people that it is in fact an "introduction to work in the industry". It does not claim intellectual rigour or theoretical excellence or claim to provide "analytical skills" as does the medieval history course at the same establishment. This leads to the question of what precisely is the role and ethos of Theatre Technical Arts courses, broad and generalist education with a TT bias or a job entry scheme? Academia itself seems unsure.


The research strikes me as starting from the wrong datum and a far more radical approach to TTA in HE might be of benefit. Questions such as why do it this way at all, what is the cost effectiveness, what are the objectives, how can HE justify a £30K investment for less than a binman's wage, need posing. The disease, which Rob rightly identifies, of low wages is never going to be cured in an optional cultural field, lowest possible pay and use of glitter and romance to keep it so is a fact of life.


There are only X number of jobs yet academia trains/educates 20X students and sells them on "work, career, industry" etc. Wages are inimicable to normal life and more people leave the industry than any other after 35 simply to afford a binman lifestyle of home, family, relative security. Half the participants are "self-employed" which raises further questions such as how many are making a good living from the industry, nobody really knows.


During my lifetime I have seen the rock "industry" grow from creation to global phenomenon. The one thing that seems to have changed in principle is that most of us oldies were semi-professional for decades and only went full-time professional after learning by doing. Because the industry is unbelievably bigger than in those days we cannot allow or afford the tens of thousands now involved to learn that way. The problem is, which way is effective and which way will cram decades of experience into the short time we have before us oldsters snuff it.


My own case might be of use in that after decades of semi-pro involvement I was head-hunted, not because of my events skills, because of the skills learned in outside industry through in-house training which I then applied to events. What qualifications I have were trade based not academic and were ancillary to, not a precondition of, employment.

The current equivalent seems to exist only in the local crew accumulation of skillscards (IPAF, MEWP, Forklift etc) while actually doing the job.

I don't know what the solution is but research like this is a good thing and discussion on the topic is crucial, as long as we all appreciate both sides of the arguments. There is certainly a place for HE in TTA but what that is seems to be something that academia has to decide, it cannot be all things to all men, that is God's job.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This leads to the question of what precisely is the role and ethos of Theatre Technical Arts courses, broad and generalist education with a TT bias or a job entry scheme? Academia itself seems unsure.




There is certainly a place for HE in TTA but what that is seems to be something that academia has to decide, it cannot be all things to all men, that is God's job.


I think that is certainly true and sometimes it seems that the most unsure exist in the ex-drama school / conservatoire end of things where they previously happily existed in the vocational training space, teaching people to enter the industry as an ASM, Asst. LX or Asst. Carp and the like, in a theatre business that had looked remarkably similar for decades. Even if there was an actual qualification, it was a Level 5 HND or equivalent and there was no question that the courses were a job entry scheme.


Then funding policy and student demand turned their courses into 3 year BA (Hons) which caused some consternation among those designing and running them. The hyrbid psuedo-university ethos grew in some places, whereas others pretty much ran the same course with a few bells and whistles, extended placements and the validation that tried to satisfy FHEQ Level 6.


As Paul mentioned, policy then led to the ditching of Polys and tech colleges that it turns out we could actually do with. And it also turns out that the notion of everyone in the UK having a university degree is and always was a silly idea. The post-1992s were still doing the things that they had always done, often to Level 5 as a Foundation (FdA) and some still offer a Level 6 BA (Hons) top up afterwards. Such was the fashion at the time and let's be clear, everything is a fashion and this fashion is driven by the market and by policy.


Now fashion policy and student demand has pushed out the FdA to be replaced with a straight three year BA, an entity found everywhere from Rose Bruford and RADA to Swansea and Central. And institutions are currently trying to be all things as Kerry suggests because everyone is competing in a market. The drama schools are pushing the academic lest they be seen to be blue collar, the universities promote the employability and industry lest they appear to be teaching the pointless. This is before we even get into the generalist vs. specialist or theatre vs performance course debates which is a whole pallet stacked high with cans of worms from an institutional, commercial and curriculum design point of view.


All the above is simply down to the commerce of HE, consumer demand, policy and funding and everything else that makes up the market, the actual show industry only have a relatively small influence on this market at the moment. Perhaps Paul wouldn't want me to mention Porter's 5 Forces as he doesn't seem keen on the MBA ;)


I guess the question comes back to the age old whether industry demand should drive what is or isn't available in HE, which is a wider question than just within TTA. And that's our question (mine being in HE, at the moment). The industry's question is completely different and relates to what they want and how they want it created.


(PS. My own personal question relates to both the above, of course. I have industry skills and knowledge and HE skills and knowledge. If the current confusion straightens out and decides the answer to both questions, which way will I go?)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks for the link Rob, looks interesting, especially as Paul mentions the Bristol case study.


Plan to have a more thorough read later, when not between panto scene changes. However my very first thought was that the image on P41 showing a claw hammer being used to strike a chisel, perhaps highlights the need for SOME formal training at any level, whether that be on the job (toolbox talk approach), apprenticeship or even academic course...


Food for thought for many of us in there though.



Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.