The latest in our new regular series of interviews with women who love their jobs.
Who are you and what do you do?
Hi! My name is Emily Holmden. I’ve a BA (hons) in Drama (theatre + media) (I know – who has brackets in their degree?!). I’m 27 years old and I work as a Theatre Technician. No, not in a hospital, in a Theatre! The Queens Theatre in Hornchurch to be precise. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to get to design the lighting for one of the Company shows.
How did you get your current job?
I’d been working as a technician at a rival theatre (the Mercury in Colchester) since graduating in 2008 and I moved to the Queens for a change of work (the Mercury’s company of actors are ‘straight’ style whereas the Queens are Actor-Musician). Other factors were a decent pay increase and more opportunities to Lighting Design full scale productions rather than just the Studio size stuff I’d been getting in Colchester.
What does an average day look like?
Currently we’re in panto season (oh no you aren’t!) YES WE ARE!* This year it’s Jack and the Beanstalk, which is one of the most set-heavy of panto cannon. So this is my schedule for a standard Saturday:
Arrive at work at midday to perform my pre-show checks (I should mention my role is as Sound no. 2). I power up the radio racks and the keyboards in the pit, checking the monitors that allow the band to see the stage are on the right channel. I then change the batteries in the radio mics and sound check them with the sound operator, listening for any muffled sound and checking for any wear and tear. My role on the show also involves scene changes and any on stage electrical tricks like pyrotechnics, smoke machines and practical lights like two freestanding candelabras in the giant’s counting house. So, once I’ve checked the mics I make sure these are all ready to go, load the pyro whilst keeping possession of the key which enables its controller to fire it! Finally I help stage management set the stage up for act 1 and have a cup of tea before the show starts at 2pm.
Now, I do A LOT during the show a full breakdown of which can be found here. But basically I run around at high speed performing scene changes and sorting out and sound problems that might arise during the course of the performance.
Once the show is ‘down’ and the auditorium clear of punters we reset back for the beginning of the next show and I turn off the radio mics to save their batteries. This would usually be done by about 5pm and then it’s dinner time! Most crew and actors head to the green room which has many microwaves and a tv as well as comfy sofas.
At the ‘half’ (35 minutes before the show), I trundle around the dressing rooms switching the mics back on ready for the start of show number two at 7pm. Then we do it all again! Once show number two is done (usually about 9:30pm) we clear the stage and I power down all of the sound kit, putting various stuff on to charge.
Then I go home and get to sleep! Or drink wine.
This is not all I do, as a technician I regularly deal with touring shows, operating their lighting/sound. I also work on the Company productions installing lighting and sound kit, programming the lighting/sound desks and flying cloths and scenery when required! My average hours can be anywhere between 35 and 56 a week spread over the full seven days, a 13 hour day is not unusual but neither is a 4 hour one!
What’s the best thing about your job?
The people. Everyone in theatre is mad as a hatter and they all have such amazing life stories that you learn something new every day. You spend so much time with the in house crew that they become a family to you, it’s where I met my man and some very good friends who’ve helped me through some tough times and situations!
Are there any downsides?
It can severely limit your social life outside of the theatre community. It’s incredibly hard for people that don’t work in theatre to understand your commitment to it, invitations dry up and you start having to ask if you can attend events that you’d have had an automatic invite to in past years. It’s hard but I just put extra effort into getting to anything I can – I drove to Uttoxeter from Hornchurch in August solo for a friend’s sons’ christening – it’s doesn’t matter how tired I am after a long week, if I can get there I’ll do everything I can to make it.
What did you want to be as a child?
Errrrm that’s a hard one! Always something in the arts – I wanted to be Pearl in Starlight Express! I never really had the urge to be a doctor or lawyer, creativity is for me!
If you could do any other job, what would you choose?
I’d be a Lighting Designer, which is what I’m working towards. I became a technician so that I can work my way up to that level, I believe in getting a good grounding so that if someone says “it can’t be done” I can say “it can because I’ve done it”.