Master Electrician

  • Master Electrician

There is no plot too complicated or electrical emergency too daunting for this guru of the ampere—if there’s solder and gaff tape, there’s a way to get it done. The master electrician implements the lighting design of a production and makes sure the whole rig doesn’t go up in a spectacular display of sparking shorts and electrical fires. They also spend entirely too much time and money concocting elaborate holiday home lighting displays.


Duties

The master electrician is a leader responsible for supervising the crew of electricians or lighting technicians through the installation of power distribution, cabling, data systems, and lighting instruments. In conjunction with the chief rigger, this person also oversees the build of lighting truss and the proper attachment of motors to ensure even weight distribution. Based on the plot delivered by the lighting designer, the ME is tasked with measuring the placement of each fixture in the lighting grid or on the truss, then directing technicians to make sure all instruments are properly hung with the necessary safety cables. He or she is also responsible for having all automated lights properly addressed and instruments plugged into the correct channels. Lastly, the ME confirms that all lights have the specified gobos and gel.

During rehearsal and performance, the master electrician is typically stationed at dimmer beach to monitor signal continuity, load balance of each leg of feeder, and be on hand in the event of an error or power failure. When this person is not in show, she or he is ultimately charged with maintaining and repairing all lighting and electrical equipment that is not under the purview of the audio department. In some cases, this may also involve media servers, projectors, and other video gear. This person will order parts and communicate with manufactures and rental houses when it is necessary to secure replacement gear.

Skills & Education

More than any other person on the production crew, the master electrician must have expertise in power distribution and electricity, and be proficient in the operation and repair of equipment and lighting instruments. Entertainment technicians are not required to be licensed electricians like residential and commercial contractors, though the certification is an asset. Also recommended is a college degree in theatrical design, electrical engineering, or live show production. It is imperative that this technician has specialized training, as he or she is responsible for leading a crew of junior technicians through their duties. This person must be able to balance loads, identify faulty or hazardous cable and gear, and be skilled in soldering and wiring. The International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees offers apprenticeship programs for mid-level technicians.

What to Expect

This role is a senior-level position and reports to the lighting designer (during preproduction), the stage manager, and the technical director. For master electricians working on touring productions, each venue and load-in will pose unique challenges. Not all electrical systems can support the same electrical loads, and shoddy wiring of old buildings is the No. 1 cause of blackouts and blown fuses. The ME should work to gather information on the location’s capabilities and limitations before arrival and conduct a thorough walk-through with the venue manager prior to the start of load-in. Most states require a fire marshal to perform an inspection before the first show to ensure proper electrical wiring and adherence to fire codes. To pursue this career, you should first gain experience as a stagehand, spotlight operator, and lighting technician. After several years of professional gigs to your credit, you may consider crossing over to the role of lighting console operator and advancing toward work as a lighting designer.

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