Stage Automation Technician
Traditionally, scenery was flown in from above the stage or pushed on from the wings, but now, on automated shows, one individual behind a console can accomplish the work previously done by several fly men and stagehands. This has also been a field dominated by men, but more and more women are expanding into the areas of automation and rigging.
The stage automation technician is responsible for the safe and consistent operation of all mechanized set movements during a theatrical production or other live performance. This is typically accomplished using an automation console running a software program specifically designed to meet the show’s needs. Rather than pulling a winch or pushing a set, the technician simply triggers a movement with the press of a button at the stage manager’s cue. Of course, if it were that simple, anyone could do it. In addition to pushing buttons, the stage automation technician is also responsible for the maintenance and repair of all mechanical and electrical equipment associated with the automation system. Continuous safety inspections must be performed to ensure the proper operation of those components, including monitoring wear of gears, cables, and any points of friction or tension. Load-bearing apparatuses, like cranes or steel structural beams, are carefully inspected to detect possible early signs of damage or loss of integrity. This person may also be tasked with operating and maintaining rigging motors in support of the lighting and audio departments.
Skills & Education
A college degree is preferred for those pursuing a career as a stage automation technician. Applicable majors include mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, theatrical design, and show production. A formal education should also include courses in physics, trigonometry, advanced algebra, geometry, computer drafting, computer science, and carpentry. Specific training in rigging, climbing high steel, rappelling, and welding is also necessary. This technician should be as crafty with a drill press as he or she is at tying a bowline knot or debugging the automation software. Safety courses or certification through the employer or local union may also be required.
What to Expect
A set change that goes off without a hitch is the goal, but safety is the first priority of the stage automation technician. Under his or her control may literally be tons of scenery and rigging equipment on the deck and in the air. A brief lapse in focus or neglected safety check can cause severe injury—or worse. A great deal of trust is placed in the individual or crew responsible for stage automation. You should hold yourself to a higher standard of professionalism; an automation tech who frequently drops tools from the grid or jokes about sending a flat crashing to the deck will not instill confidence in the cast or fellow crew. Indeed, people in this line of work are usually the serious type. And it’s certainly not the gig for anyone accident-prone.
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