Behind the Lights: A Tale From Backstage at the Fringe

My friends know that recently my love of theatre has turned into a slight obsession with how the technical side of things work. So, when my Cecilian Society tech director mentioned that applications were open for the role of Production Assistant at 21 Productions, I, admittedly with very little thought, applied.  And That is how I ended up spending the entirety of the Fringe semi-exhausted and listening to the hits of the 20th century every night.


21 Theatre ran three tribute shows every night; ‘The Rat Pack -Live’, a tribute to Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra, ‘The Other Guys’ a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which for multiple reasons became my favourite of the three, and ‘The Blues Brothers’, a shortened version of the film.

My job description was rather broad in the sense that I was essentially there to help out with whatever the Company Manager needed. This included occasionally flyering, picking up laundry, helping out with a couple of promos, ironing, sorting out wiring for the star cloth and ‘Blues Brothers’ sign, looking after the social media accounts, bringing the cast up to the stage from the dressing room and being a lighting operator during the actual performances. It could be incredibly stressful since things at times seemed to become sentient and decide not to work, for example the lighting rig… It was a daily battle to get the star cloth to work and I was pretty sure that it was somewhat of  a masochist to some extent, since I had to hit the box a couple of times before it decided to work. Stories like these are the ones that made the frustrations almost seem funny and helps you to remember why you put up with the vast amounts of stress and exhaustion that you put your body through.

21 Theatre didn’t have a tech team like the ones I have been part of at University over the past year. My position was strange in that I was almost in my own little bubble and was semi-isolated from the cast. While I did end up making friends with a few of them, it was a lot harder because I didn’t rehearse or live with them, meaning the time I spent with them was mostly during the time we were getting ready for the shows and so were busy, balls of stress. Saying that, I did end up getting close to some of them; one of the actors started to cue me without realising he was doing it, I bonded with the actors playing the Blues Brothers over our mutual hatred of putting up the sign, and I collaborated with one of the Other Guys on social media. Of course, there were moments where I felt like they were being unreasonable and difficult – situations where they didn’t tidy the props that they needed to or threw their costume on the ground. Whilst it was only a couple of times, it just meant that myself and the company manager (mostly the company manager) had to spend time picking up after them and looking to make sure we had everything before we could move on. All in all, I got along quite well with the Company Manager since we spent a lot of time together, between sorting the costumes out and ironing. It took us until nearly the end of the run to figure out that we actually did have time to get food just before the show but mostly it was an opportunity for caffeine, cake and to catch a breath before the “get ins”.


If I am being completely honest, there were times when I really hated my job, but that was because sometimes I felt that a lot of unnecessary pressure was being put on me, especially since I consider theatre more of a hobby than something I perhaps want to go into. This was unfair of me since the people around me do this as their jobs, and they seemed to be dealing with things perhaps a little bit better than I was. In my defence, I was asked to do and find things last minute and after three twelve-hour days in tech with almost no or very short breaks, it was tiring.

This job was almost pitched to me as a learning experience to see how a theatre company was run. While there was no direct teaching as such, you can see that there is a lot of mundanity involved in the day to day running of a company. Theatre isn’t glamorous. It’s an unbearably hot lecture hall converted into a theatre that no number of fans can cool down, a tiny dressing room that constantly smells of sweat and boy, and a pile of shirts that need to be ironed that never seems to get smaller. But that’s also why it’s so great. Because everyone goes through that and not to sound cheesy, but the people involved were actually the best part because in the end you’re all tired, hungry and smell, but you’ve had a great show and had a lot of fun while putting it on, which does make it worth it.

-Katerina Partolina Schwartz 

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