It’s finally Christmas, and after four shows in two days I am about to experience a first – Christmas Eve off! This also means it’s time for a bit of reminiscing… are you sitting comfortably?
I’ve been working in the West End for four years now, which is actually my entire working history as I didn’t start professional work until I was 18yrs old (worked in Blockbusters for about four months before moving to London) as I wanted to concentrate on getting the experience I needed to get into theatre and because my college workload was murdering me.
My first theatre job came three months after I started at ALRA (the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts); one of my flat mates was known in the West End and dep’ed on a show called ‘Blood Brothers’. We got on pretty well and one day she got a ‘phone call asking her to dep but couldn’t do it so she put me on to chat to the chief electrician – I didn’t go dep but I did get a call later offering me a job, which I took knowing full well that it might mean I would have to drop out.
I started as a followspot operator on December 19th 2004, which was great because it meant I got to be part of Christmas meaning a bonus, a present and a lot more hours so that meant more money (a big thing since the take-home there was £198pw making it the lowest paid theatre job in the West End at the time). In the eighteen months or so I worked there I did not have a great time, someone was making my life miserable (and had done to many, many previous workers) and the show is very, very basic (seriously, the DSM calls the followspots!). I was always looking for work and every couple of months the entire West End would get plastered with copies of my CV (carefully avoiding the shows where I knew you were treated terribly).
Eventually close to August 2006, I got offered work on a new show called ‘Dirty Dancing’ again as a followspot operator (slight step-down as I’d been made the board operator on ‘Blood Brothers’ which is technically a position above a f/s but I’ve never seen it like that as a f/s operator is a very skilled person and not everyone is able to do it). I intended to work through August and move shows, but something happened at work and I quit – giving them two weeks notice (more than the required amount) but they said they would understand if I didn’t work my notice period (I did as I needed the cash). I had about a month to relax and get ready for my first professional technical.
The technical was looooong hours that involved a lot of sitting around, sleeping and waiting to do some work. I played lots of games of solitaire, chess and one day took my laptop in and played ‘The Movies’ with my co-worker for a few hours. In fact, there was one day I was called for 8am and stuck around until the end of the call at 6pm without doing a thing! Getting through a technical is mostly about being able to sleep in uncomfortable positions and read in low lighting (I developed a bit of a moth complex during this time).
A little under two years into the show, I got prompted to the number 5 position giving me more hours, more money and more responsibility. I now operate the lighting desk for practically every show, occasionally cover stage lxs and I’m supposed to keep an eye on the followspots but they’ve been doing it long enough and are brilliant enough to keep an eye on each other. I’ve had a bit more responsibility the last two weeks as on Thursday I was left in charge as the in-house guys went off for their Christmas dinner, and I got sent round on the lamp round twice… on Monday 29th I’m having a second interview with the theatre manager as I applied for the chargehand/swing position – I don’t think I’ll get the job but I’m glad to get the chance to at least plead my case.
This year has been difficult for me with various things happening but at the end of the day I’m glad I made it through it all. I think I’d like to change shows next year but it’d have to be for an in-house position as I don’t want to go back to the bottom of the ladder after making it to the second rung, thankfully I think this year with being made the #5 I can go into a chargehand interview with confidence.