by Jared Reise ~
“Um… you can’t do that.”
Diane, the Fringe Festival Theater Technician assigned to my venue, had a definitive no-nonsense demeanor; one hand on the light-board controls and one on her stopwatch. Time was of the essence, and I only had a few hours to get my show to pass her standards or the show would not go on.
“It’s not really duct tape, so it won’t tear at anything,” I explained. Diane had halted my ingenuity and dynamic vision as a theatre artist. She was about to ruin everything. But surely, my little show about three guys who wake up in a can of oatmeal could get away with a little tape on the wall.
“Doesn’t matter,” Diane replied. “No tape along the back wall.” I had to respect her responsibilities to the theater. She has to run a dozen other performance groups like mine with similar “challenges” through the gauntlet. But Diane was about to bring reality crashing down into our oatmeal madness.
At the other Minnesota Fringe Festival venues in Minneapolis, similar conversations take place every year. Each performance venue has its own theater technician laying down the law and making sure things run smoothly.
Now in its 20th year, theatre artists enter a lottery to be one of the lucky 169 off-the-wall groups and individuals to perform in the 11 day festival in early August. Integral to all of these are the technicians assigned to these performance spaces across the city. Plain and simple, theater technicians make things work.
The Minnesota Programs of Study website lists 30 Minnesota high schools with a Performing Arts pathway, 39 with Audio/Video Technology and Film, and 68 with Visual Arts. A valued theater technician is usually skilled in elements of all three of these pathways, each tying in classes, activities, and related occupations to add to their knowledge base.
One common occupation related to theater technician is set and exhibit designers. The national career information website O*NET lists several occupations related to theater work. Set designers, carpenters, painters, and electricians can all be found behind the scenes.
When not protecting a Fringe Festival venue from being trashed by itinerant actors, theater technicians can make their home as a staff member in a medium or large theater house, such as Mixed Blood Theater or The Guthrie. Otherwise, freelancing is the way to go for theater technicians, helping out at any number of stages, locally or nationally. A reliable “techie” can quickly find a home, if they play their cards right.
“What if we just use tape on the stage floor?” I offered Diane, mainly as a peace offering. I knew I was pushing my luck with the whole-tape-on-the-wall thing anyway.
“As long as it’s not on that back wall, we’re golden.”
And we were. The rest of the rehearsal went smoothly, and I proved to be low-maintenance after all. Diane made sure that my strange show went off without a hitch for the rest of the Festival.
Of course, I had to sweep up all of the oats after each show, much to Diane’s chagrin. But that’s another story …