For this week’s Backstage blog post, we invited one of our full-time production staff members to write about a topic that is passionate to them.
I have always been attracted to the unique aspect of working in the world of live performance. People outside of the theater don’t often know the day-to-day or in-between of what it takes to get a show onto the stage; and some of those experiences can be the most rewarding. The beauty of live performance is that it requires teamwork and collaboration. Currently, a lot of us are missing that community and camaraderie that we are all so use to having.
An organization like ours has many friendly faces that interact with our audience on a daily basis, greeting them as they enter our lobby, welcoming them back to the comfort of the Virginia G. Piper Theater. Some faces which are rarely seen are often hidden in the shadows, behind curtains, or literally beneath the stage. I’m not joking, our tech staff offices are beneath the stage.
I am lucky to call Scottsdale Arts my home, I have a desk, a radio, a mug with my name on it, and even a secret stash of fruit snacks for those rare incredibly long days of production. However, there is another layer of essential staff to create a production that deserves recognition and that is our community of freelance technicians. This community of skilled laborers comes to us from various backgrounds and levels of experience. Our monitor engineer for a performance might be “on break” from touring with Daughtry, our stage manager could have just finished three months with Cirque Du Soleil, and the lighting board operator might be going into their second year at Arizona State University. These teammates may not have the desk, the radio, or the mug but we do try to ensure that this place feels like home to them too.
Every full-time staff member on the tech team at the Center has been a freelance technician at some point in their career. It is because of this that we know that the life of a freelance technician is not the easiest career path and thus want to provide our freelance technicians a place to feel like they belong. We invest a lot into the growth of any technician who comes through our theater and it is our belief that education never ends. We encourage and enact mentorship capabilities; sometimes our rookie technicians will be paired with veterans for a few months while they gain experience. With the breadth of productions that the Center brings through, we can identify opportune times that our younger technicians can attempt to fill larger roles. In addition to “in the moment” education we offer training sessions over the course of the year, where our employees can come in and spend a full work day learning and training in different areas of production. Finally, the chance to work on dozens of diverse shows together creates many opportunities for unexpected challenges which in turn creates memories, stories, and bonds between humans. This is not our job, it is our craft and thus we feel passionate about teaching it to others.
When DIAVOLO came to the Center in 2019 the day was one of the busiest and most exhausting days I have ever worked. However, it was also possibly the single most rewarding. DIAVOLO is known for their giant set pieces and we spent the first half of the day unloading elements of these giant pieces that would be to be built on our stage. The crew members of DIAVOLO would search for moments to pause the hustle and bustle, bring everyone into the theater, and show us how it all worked. We were brought into their community of travelling dancers and technicians. We were shown the how and the why of not only their set pieces but their company as a whole—we all grew from each other during this time. They exemplified what our industry is all about and through working with them, everyone on that crew became inspired and stronger together.
Even now, we continue to care for one another and share with each other. I find it very telling to the human condition that during this time of isolation we are reaching out perhaps more than ever. We see our co-workers as our community and we always strive to strengthen that community. It is important to remember the heart of what performance is about; bringing people together to share an experience. The time we are spending apart from each other may very well bring us all closer in the end.
Written by JJ Hansen, full-time theater tech
Hansen fills an important role on the technical team by being multi-disciplinary. With his background being in lighting design and directing he is able to connect with both artists and technicians seamlessly. His passion for telling important stories is what motivates him in his work.