A summary from Technical Theatre Symposium 2016

TTS16 Lunch

Macrobert Arts Centre, 11 March 2016

Summary of Discussions and Feedback

Around 54 delegates from Colleges, Higher Education Institutions, Scottish Schools and the Theatre Industry attended a day long Symposium facilitated by the Scottish Drama Training Network.

Conversations with Industry:

Abigail McMillan, SDTN’s Technical Theatre Skills Officer, facilitated a conversation with Deanne Jones, Production Stage Manager and Yvonne Carruthers, Stage Manager who graduated ten years ago from two of the Network’s institutions – Queen Margaret University and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. They were asked to speak about how their training has shaped their work, what they are currently working on and where they see themselves in 10 years’ time.

Training: Both Deanne and Yvonne agreed that the training they received gave them a vital overview of every department within technical theatre, from prop making to scenic art, carpentry to lighting, sound design and stage management. They both agreed that this gave them the grounding in all areas to be able to function in the industry as highly employable ‘all-rounder’s’ – people who can turn their hand to most areas within theatre. While they both agreed that this was invaluable to them, they both expressed a view that at times freelancers come under pressure from employers to take on jobs which in reality cover many roles. For example as Stage Managers they have been expected to carry out many other technical roles, including lighting, costume, sound as well as stage management. They identified pressure on Production budgets as the reason this happens. This also means that another skilled person, somebody whose specialism is in that area, is not being employed.

As they have become more experienced they have been able to turn down the jobs that make unrealistic demands, but expressed concern that others didn’t self-regulate.

Current Employment: both are working in Scottish theatre. Deanne is about to start a contract with a Scottish performance artist. Yvonne is working at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – she has gone full circle and is now working for a time back in the institution she trained in.

In Ten Years’ Time: Both were quite uncertain that they would be working as Stage Managers, although they enjoy the job. Deanne reported some of her peer group are disillusioned by the industry and that some are re-training in areas unrelated theatre or Creative Industries. Both are aware they have transferable skills, however the discussion raised the question of shelf life as a Stage Manager and of how people find out about other jobs they are suitable for within Creative Industries.

What advice would they give somebody starting out in the industry?

Don’t be afraid to say if you don’t know how to do something. Learn from your mistakes. Be bold.

Yvonne Carruthers and Deanne Jones - Conversations with industry

Yvonne Carruthers and Deanne Jones – Conversations with industry


Spotlight Sessions:

Julie Ellen, Artistic Director – Macrobert Art Centre. Spoke about funding cuts that mean her technical staff are faced with having to provide technical support to one person shows. Unfortunately this means the artist/performer is coming to the venue with no technical staff in their company and receiving house venue technicians can at times feel that they are being asked to full fill this role. But they don’t know the production as well as somebody who has been involved with the production from the start.

Morven Pringle, Head of Section of Performing Arts – West College Scotland. Brilliant news as the college is about to launch a HND in technical theatre this in coming academic year.

David Smout, Lecturer & Production Manager (Technical Theatre) – Dundee and Angus College. Talking about digital mapping and how he would like to see stronger links between the dance animation and technical course at the college. He is looking for people to work with him on this project of cross subject collaborations.

Emma Beatt, Training and Professional Development Manager – Federation of Scottish Theatre. Emma talked about the CPTS bursary and how it is open to companies to apply for all areas of the technical team and not just stage management and technicians. This could be a funding opportunity for an assistant to a designer. Reminder of the dates for the FST forum on 24th June and then the technical winter school starting 23rd January 2017.

Joshua Ford, YTAS Young Arts Leaders/EdTech. Joshua talked about his project ED Tech that ran in Fife last year. His project delivered as YTAS Youth Arts Leader involved local young people learning more about technical theatre with the impute from Blue Parrott for the technical equipment used for the workshops. SDTN delivered a workshop on destinations using the course directory and course finder on the SDTN web site. Joshua also spoke about where the young people have gone onto after the event. Some have gone onto continued education and are starting BA Technical and Production at the RCS this in coming academic year. In Joshua’s own words ‘young people are the future’.

Anya Glinski, Lecturer Costume Construction – Edinburgh College. Spoke about the importance of making sure her students know about their transferable skills. She hoped that a student who could make a corset could also turn their hand to upholstery. She said we need to ask ourselves, can our students bake the cake? Or just decorate it?. Her main concerns for student work placement is the woolly area of public liability insurance for students and that this needs to be clearer.

Janet Westwater, Principal Teacher of Guidance – Bearsden Academy. Janet really champions the SDTN directory of courses and she said it is vital for schools to get a copy and use it as a one stop shop for courses in Scotland. She shared her brilliant news that the school are now delivering a NPA in Technical Theatre and Acting in her school. She invited teachers present at the symposium to get in contact with her if they wanted more information on how the group of drama teachers in East Dunbartonshire link up.

Dianne Quinn, Curriculum Head Creative Industries – Ayrshire College. Brilliant news for Ayrshire college is that they are about to launch a HNC Technical Theatre and they are looking also at launching a NC in Technical Theatre. In all there will be the opportunity to study NC, HNC, HND in Technical Theatre at the college. All three courses will have a direct link with the UWS and the Gaiety Theatre.

Brian Gunnee, Senior Technician and George MacKenney, Operations Manager – ATC Aberdeen. Great partnership working happening here as the Art Centre is working to link up local amateur companies with professional projects in the city. Its great to see a mentoring process happening here.

Janet Westwater gives a Spotlight talk

Janet Westwater gives a Spotlight talk


Panel Discussion:

Panel Chair: Judith Doherty, Grid Iron Theatre Company.

Panel Members: Sarah Paulley, Queen Margaret University; Rachel Young, South Essex College; Janis Hart, Scenehouse; Christoph Wagner, RCS and Representative from the Association of Lighting Designers; Philip Pinsky, freelance Composer and Sound Designer; Simon Wilkinson, freelance Lighting Designer.

Panel Discussion questions were:

Q1.   What are the barriers design students face when trying to get a placement in Industry?

Q 2.  Is there more scope for partnership working between Education & Industry to facilitate placements for design students?

Q 3. Where do design graduates go after leaving College or University? What are the challenges facing emerging designers?

 Feedback on these questions from the panel were:

 A major barrier was finding the opportunities for placement in local area.

  • How do students find a sole designer to work with?
  • Student personal and public liability Insurance, does this mean the designer has to be building based? Most of the design process happens outside a building. As Philip Pinsky pointed out a lot of his design time is spent on a lap top while on trains!.
  • Time: do designers have time to spend on the student.
  • There was discussion on how we link up students to opportunities. Is this something Federation of Scottish Theatre, National Theatre of Scotland can help with?
  • Should SDTN have a section on the web site for placement opportunities?
  • It is a crowded market place for lighting designers and students need to be aware of this. There are approximately 10 lighting designers working in Scotland.
  • The demise of the Arches will have an impact. The venue played a big part in giving young emerging artist in lighting, set and sound design a place to shadow and learn from industry and the repercussions of its closure would not be apparent in the short term.
  • The possibility of group work placements was suggested. This could involve a group of students from the same year group who all get together for a placement in there subject area of specialism and work on a project together.
  • Is there more scope to bring the designers into the institutions?
  • There was an idea of a placement tool kit: this could have possibly a survival guide of do’s and don’ts with regards to etiquette, information and help with funding streams, clear information and guidelines for health and safety and personal and public liability insurance, guidelines for mentor and mentee while on placement, application form and interview process for a placement.
  • It was suggested that students could take out their own short term liability insurance while on placement.
  • Lastly it was suggested that some of the saving made by venues from the Theatre Tax Relief could (and should) be invested in the next generation of theatre creatives and could be used to help support student placement opportunities.

Christoph Wagner helpfully directed us to the Association of Lighting Designers’ student placements guide from their web site.


Panel Discussion

Panel Discussion


Breakout Session:

Questions for discussion were:

What makes a successful design placement?

  • For the student?
  • For the Placement provider (Industry)?
  • For the College/Institution?

Planning and scheduling of student placements – can these take place outside the academic year?

  • For example in July/August – during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe or during Panto season (December)?
  • What are the issues for lecturers / students / placement providers?

Is there scope for the model that is widely used south of the border for graduates to be taken on as an ‘Assistant to the Designer’?

  • How could this be achieved?

Feedback Session:

Feedback from the Breakout Groups on the questions asked were:

  •  There could be different models of placement: not just shadowing.
  • Students should be challenged while on placement.
  • There needs to be a mentoring system.
  • There could be a pre-qualification attached to this opportunity like the model used by the Royal Shakespeare Company where by the students would be tested and do workshops to test competency and prior subject knowledge before being taken on for placement by a company.
  • Timing again was an issue; could the student be on placement for longer periods during the college or university holiday times.
  • The placement would be designer specific and work with the designers pre planed schedule.
  • What is the placement for? There needs to be clarity on expectations of the student.
  • Is there scope for assistant to the designer role? If this is the case how is this subsidised? The designer would need to feel comfortable leaving the assistant to take their place in the event of them not being able to attend a session.
  • It was suggested that Becky Minto has a system where she has design assistants that move up the ranks. The first year the student works for her as an un-paid student placement. The second year is a paid placement and the third year is paid assistant to the designer.
  • It was reported that an Artist Studio model is used by some set designers where the designer is responsible for the overall design concept, is present at all meetings and technical and dress rehearsals as the ‘face’ of the design but the design is executed by their assistant.
  • Sometimes the host or placement provider finds the language used by the education institution hard to understand. Is there a way of simplifying this?
  • The placement provider needs to work out a system to be able to give the student good quality feedback.
  • Placements is not free labour there has to be investment in the student and for them to be seen as the next generation of creatives.
  • Students on placement need to feel part of the team.
  • It has to be meaningful for the student and for there to be quality learning while on placement.
  • A big part of the placement should be about networking.
  • The student should have a real industry experiences while on placement.
  • The placement provider should buy into the partnership with the institution and be open to dialogue.
  • Is there any scope for the industry placement provider funding of the placement?
  • Should there be guidelines for the industry designer; how do you teach set, lighting and sound design?
  • Can students be invited to key moments; model showing, design meetings? It is important for the student to experience a beginning middle and end during a placement, this could be tricky if the students only have two weeks for placement.
  • Planning and scheduling of the placement.
  • Could there be a design assistant register for Scotland? Is there anything the Envelope room can help with this?

Elizabeth Howarth: Conversations with the Industry Q&A


SDTN Action Points are:

SDTN to look at how training in the area of stage management is framed by talking to young people about the transferable skills and that there is longevity in the creative industries even if the ‘shelf life’ of a stage manager may seem short in relation to time spent studying.

  • To work with our industry partners to help highlight the problem of stage managers being seen as the all-knowing all doing employee.
  • Spotlight sessions: SDTN to put a call out to all our institutions to contact us about the launch of new courses so that we can blog about it on social media, talk to young people at careers events, and most importantly keep our Course Directory as up to date as possible.
  • David Smout, Lecturer from Dundee and Angus College. Talking about digital mapping and how he would like to see stronger links between the dance animation and technical course at the college. He is looking for people to work with him on this project of cross subject collaborations. SDTN are looking at ways that this can be highlighted and to give this area platform for our other institutions to get involved in.
  • To work with our education and industry partners to see how we can address the problem of funding cuts impacting on receiving house technical staff who are increasingly faced with having to provide technical support to one person shows. This means the artist/performer is coming to the venue with no technical staff in their company and venue staff feeling that they do not know the production as well as somebody who has been involved with the production from the start.
  • SDTN to help further highlight FST CPTS bursary. It is not widely known that the bursary is open to companies to apply for all areas of the technical team and not just stage management and technicians. This could be a funding opportunity for an assistant to a designer position.
  • It was suggested different placement models should be looked at for example; a system where design students move up the ranks from un-paid student credits to paid placements. There is also an Artist Studio model for a design assistant, SDTN to investigate this further.
  • Design assistant register for Scotland? Is there anything the Envelope room can help with this?

SDTN to investigate with the SDTN Placement Advisory Group:

  • Placement Opportunities and Placement Took Kit section on the web site.
  • Mentoring system
  • Pre-qualification and workshops to test competency and prior subject knowledge
  • A diary of when placements are available
  • Placement provider funding of the student placement

Evaluation form quotes:

  • ‘A well organised day. A diverse range of speakers from education, industry and young people.  Nice mixture of information and discussion.  Great networking opportunity’ SDTN Network Institution Member
  •  ‘Keep Pushing!’ SDTN Network Institution Member
  •  ‘More opportunity for schools and colleges to get together’ Secondary School Drama Teacher.
  • ‘Would be really interested in exploring how I could update my skills in theatre arts for delivery of higher and advanced higher courses’ Secondary School Drama Teacher.
TTS16 Backstage tour at the Macrobert

TTS16 Backstage tour at the Macrobert


Abigail McMillan

SDTN Technical Theatre Skills Officer

21st March 2016

Photos by Robin Mitchell


Sign Up for our newsletter

  • By signing up to our mailing list you are agreeing to be contacted by SDTN. You can view our Privacy Statement at https://sdtn.org/privacy/