Timothy Bird, 9 January 2016

A great session attended by a handful of lighting designers, video designers, technical

managers and artistic directors and producers. Also notes via Phelim from Colin

Grenfell (not present).

The issue?

Desks are typically set out in the auditorium for shows during technical rehearsals.

These are arrayed with plans, technical equipment (lighting desks, sound desks,

computers etc), notes etc which allow the technical and creative team to do their work

to make the show. The desks and seating vary wildly from venue to venue.

In some places everything is great. Desks are set at a good height with separate

chairs, enabling everyone to work in a manner consistent with H&S recommendations

for ergonomic working conditions. In other places, wonky plywood teeters on the back

of victorian seating at a curious height, and the team sit scrunched into the seats

behind at a strange angle with no leg room.

Those of us experiencing the later (or variations thereon) stagger out half broken and

in need of expensive osteopathy and the like.

There is also an aspect (especially suffered by Directors and Choreographers, who

typically need to move about during tech, and to be able to access the stage easily

and quickly), that the disconnect of the darkened theatre after the friendly rehearsal

room is further widened as the Director falls over objects in seating rows and aisles

and swears about radged shins etc. A wounded Director can be interpreted as being

cross with her cast when in fact the offence is a lose cable or stray flight case.

So, what can we do to make the wonky more like the great solutions which do


Firstly, we recorded some additional barriers to making things right. For example:

a) Equity and the Musicians Union are great at protecting performers from dangerous

raked stages and inappropriate shoes, cramped pit conditions etc. In contrast the

technical unions (eg. Bectu or ABTT) and HSE have been much less vocal about the

‘low impact’ but ‘repeat injury’ area of bad seating than they have about technical

condidtions such as working at height.

b) There is often a culture that the tech team just gets on with it and doesn't winge

about this kind of thing

c) There can also be a culture in certain theatres or spaces that ‘it’s worked fine for 50

years, get on with it' (alas the West End is reported as top of the list of offenders here).

d) In rural touring venues and venues with listed building status it can be difficult or

impossible to remove seats or alter auditoria so that better desk provision might be


e) Shamefully, there are even reports of recent ‘new build’ theatres totally omitting

space for tech desks and even control positions for show operation! “Bring me the

sorry architect!!”

f) Some Production Managers are open to investigating solutions, others are so

consumed with the difficulty of making the show happen on stage that decent crew

and tech team conditions drop off the agenda.


Secondly we recorded some potential solutions:

1) Ideally all theatres would have removeable seating and consquent flat areas to put

out proper tables and ergonomic seating

2) The is of course existing work place legislation which might be brought to bear on

this if approached in the right way

3) Worth bringing up with Production / Tour / Venue managers at start of process,

rather than fearing becoming a tech bod whingeing in the dark!!

4) However, this not always possible with riders or discussion if the culture is hostile to

the issue.

5) Encouraging Companies and Venues to adopt a culture where awareness / ethics /

values can applied equally to the technical team as well as the cast is certainly

worthwhile. What organisations might be made aware of this as an issue?:

- UK Theatre


- Prod Managers' Association

6) Could organisations such as ALD / ASD / Equity etc be more vocal in supporting

action to improve this area.

7) Could funding be accessed in venues where listed status or low income might

otherwise prevent real solutions being sought?

8) Companies can help get some of these issues recognised and dealt with if space if

made for concerns to be voiced and dealt with. eg. Often there ends up being a ‘them

and us’ scenario between cast needs and crew/tech team needs. Meetings are often

separate - often for good reasons - but this can mean that important conversations get

tucked away because back stage folks especially don't like to make fuss or be seen to

make a fuss. A successful way to alleviate this has been reported as having (during

tech) a daily short catchup where thoughts can be raised or not according to need. If

this is encouraged to be a daily ‘real’ conversation rather than one of those sessions

where everyone just feels they have to say ‘everything’s fine' then it rapidly becomes a

good moment to identify and deal with issues.

9) Technology can help - it's already possible to do a certain amount not at, say, a

lighting desk but via and ipad away from a cramped work zone.

10) There is an opportunity for someone to invent theatre seat adaptors (something

like child car seats) which create better back support and adjustable and therefore

good working heights for seating. A project worth funding perhaps?!

What is the point of doing anything?

If folk have a good working environment, rather than being crippled by the seating,

they'll make much better theatre and being much less grumpy about it all!!!

Any other thoughts?

If nothing happens I will be launching a UK Tour of a piece of protest theatre called

‘Whingeing in the Dark - Lament for my knees’

Tim Bird