Theatre technicians, not theatre rejects

It’s time to realize that productions would be nowhere without theatre technicians behind them

The tech team preparing for Macbeth, year’s School of Drama and Music Winter Major, at the Isabel Bader Centre.
The tech team preparing for Macbeth, year’s School of Drama and Music Winter Major, at the Isabel Bader Centre.

Technicians are all failed actors — or at least that’s what I keep hearing. 

There’s an idea that acting is the be-all and end-all of the film and theatre industry. But while acting can lead to a fulfilling career, I don’t want to be one.

Technicians and designers are just as important as the actors, but it can feel like the world is saying otherwise. I understand why audiences might think that — after all, they only see the actors, not the people backstage — but the stereotype that technicians are technicians only because they couldn’t be actors is a harmful one. 

The idea that technicians are failed actors is also, quite frankly, offensive. There are many people backstage who are extremely talented. 

Technicians work incredibly hard because they want to be there, not because they couldn’t get anything better. 

That said, I only discovered I didn’t want to be an actor after I went to a couple of auditions, got rejected and moved on. 

I thought acting was the easiest way to get involved in the theatre world, and when an injury took me out of the dance world, I was determined to keep performing one way or another. I thought acting was a good fit. 

I quickly learned that while I was a good dancer, I definitely wasn’t a good actor. I just didn’t enjoy it. 

It wasn’t the same as dance, and I needed the creative learning opportunities that came with being a technician. 

Now, I’ve dabbled in all sort of jobs backstage. I’ve stage-managed and choreographed. I’ve worked with lights and written plays, and even tried my hand at being a production manager. 

I proudly call myself a theatre technician, even if I’m an inexperienced one. I’ve never been on stage as an actor, because it’s just not for me. I’m a technician because I want to be. 

That being said, technicians can balance their love of the technical stuff with their love of performing if they so choose. 

The Drama Department is filled with technicians who are actors and actors who are technicians. For example, take Kiersten Forkes, ConEd ’16. 

She worked her way up from being a lighting operator to a lighting designer with seven shows under her belt, including Macbeth, this year’s School of Drama and Music Winter Major. 

No one can deny that she’s a talented and experienced lighting designer. But Forkes is also an actress. Her talents aren’t singular, so she doesn’t see the need for actors and technicians to be two mutually exclusive groups. 

“I don’t think it’s necessary to label your loves as one thing,” she said. “Lots of great actresses and actors can do tech, and vice versa.” 

She’s not wrong — some of the people I admire most in the Drama Department have long lists of shows they’ve acted in and equally long lists of shows they’ve worked backstage. 

They take pride in their roles as an actor and as a technician; for them, the opportunity to work backstage is as fulfilling as acting on stage. 

If theatre is anything, it’s collaborative. Actors play a small part in a big machine — they act out lines written by a playwright and act on stages built by carpenters. Audiences see and hear them because lighting and sound technicians make sure they can. 

But audiences don’t go to see a show because there’s a cool lighting display — they go because they want to see actors make a story come to life. 

Technical work is often “invisible”, so people think that it’s not as necessary, and because it’s not as necessary, no one wants to do it. This is false. 

There’s nothing wrong with being an actor and there’s nothing wrong with being a technician. 

Either way, you’re contributing to a project that’s bigger than your individual role. So let’s stop pretending that theatre technicians are only there because it was their best option.

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