Why I'm a MEAA member: Shona Treadgold
Shona Treadgold is a technical manager at Crown Perth Theatre she gives MEAA an insight into how the theatre runs from where she sits, some of her most treasured working moments and tips on how to make an impression at work.
What does a technical manager do?
A technical manager oversees the technical aspects of the theatre. In my role at Crown Perth Theatre this means facilitating the technical elements of an incoming production. I liaise with external and internal clients, suppliers, production companies and/or touring production managers and their teams.
I am responsible for project managing major infrastructure and equipment upgrades, leading recruitment drives, identifying training needs within the technical team and coordinating that training. I am expected to be across current OHS legislation and company policy, managing designated budget lines and rostering and scheduling for the venue. Communication is key and I rely upon it heavily through consultation with the head technical operators and advising the venue management team about technical matters.
It’s a role that demands a great deal of flexibility and adaptability. Getting hung up on a problem just leaves you two-steps behind for the next one. A lot of my time is spent on preparation and contingency planning, for every project and event, but it’s the immediate heat-of-the-moment problem solving ability that technical managers really rely on.
Take us through a full day for you at the Crown Theatre.
Each day can be a surprise with forecast budgeting, issues from show reports, dealing with incident reports, recruitment and training, so depending on what’s happening in the calendar is really what dictates a full day for me. Our most demanding days are our bump ins and out of an event. If the crew are here at 8am I’m here at 6:30am/7am. I mentally prepare myself for the day. I grab my clipboard and notes - reread the checklist for that incoming production. Then I grab a coffee. I start doing a walk around of all the key areas to check everything is where it should be, i.e. check that the dock is clear for the container drop, check the stage lift is powered up, check the gas on the forklift, check that the working at heights permit is in date, make sure the induction paperwork is ready, etc. During this time I’m usually receiving updates from staff or subcontractors that are either running late/checking their start time/ or calling in sick, then I deal with any of these thing immediately so not to cause an issue to the client when they walk in at 7:45am.
I’ll then meet all the touring technical staff and introduce them to their local departments while leading a venue induction. As any production manager will tell you it’s important to take charge of the first few moments of a bump-in as it tends to set the tone of the production up until opening night. It’s also a means of ensuring an effective communication system between departments and management, which is essential to mitigating potential problems. Throughout the day I’m liaising with all the crew and the company about their progress, identifying issues and making sure everything is going to plan and schedule. People will find me and tell me about an issue that has arisen, at which point I’ll become involved at determining a solution. Sometimes I’ll identify problems before other’s notice; an advantage of being able to step back and look at the complete picture. Sometimes this isn’t the case at all and it’s one of those heat-of-the-moment problem solving times.
As a venue technical manager I find that significant conflicts can arise when productions are being very internally focused – whatever might work for them may not work for the show two years down the road. Touring technical crew are under a lot of pressure to get their show up, so finding the balance between their needs and the venue’s capabilities is generally what takes up the rest of the day. The day call will go to 10pm, at which point I’ll handover to an overnight crew member - if there is one. If the day crew are coming back at 8am, I’ll be back at 7:30, grabbing another coffee and then rinse and repeat.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I was brought up in a family that loved the arts. I began stage managing friends budget shows when I was in my first year of university studying film. Once I graduated from film, I jumped industries into theatre. Then I kind of just threw my hand up for a lot of the less appealing jobs and started getting more calls.
What are some of your career highlights?
I have loads of treasured memories of working with some fantastic production managers, technicians, artists and administrators. Some of the harder projects that really challenged me and/or the venue I was in at the time come to mind as career highlights. I guess in my top 10 is Perth International Arts Festival street performance of Giants in 2015, which really pushed me to my limits both mentally and physically. AKA’s The Graduate in 2010 where I had the opportunity to also do the show call which means it holds a special place with me, WA Ballet’s Pinocchio in 2012 which was a world premiere and an exciting fusion of dance, opera and puppetry. GFO’s Driving Miss Daisy in 2013 where the calibre of technical experience and gravitas held by the performers was astounding. STC Secret River in 2013, which was and still is probably one of the best pieces of theatrical works I have ever seen. WA Opera’s Elektra 2012 another world premiere which was conceptually stunning and I learnt a lot from the production team. And most recently Disney’s The Lion King which was a world class experience for me and the venue.
There seems to be a lack of women in senior positions in the sector, what would be your advice for people particularly women, wanting to get into the industry?
Some of the greatest women I know work in the arts; It feels like there has been a shift in recent times with more women excelling in the technical area of the arts. There is an increased cultural awareness of inequality and inappropriate behaviour, which all organisations won’t stand for, there are still circumstances that occur that surprise me – in those moments I will call the people out on it.
I would recommend that women simply apply themselves and keep pushing until they break though whatever glass ceiling they feel is being a roadblock. For either women or men I would suggest if you feel like you aren't progressing ask for feedback from your supervisor, be prepared for constructive criticism and take it on board. Also, be motivated! Take an interest in your craft. As an employer I meet a lot of new potential technicians who show little initiative or are so busy telling you how good they are, the work doesn’t get done. Your work will speak for yourself, if you rock up 10 minutes early to your first shift with a can-do attitude and a willingness to apply yourself you’ll get called for the next gig. It’s that simple.
Why is being a MEAA member important to you?
Over the years I have been involved in several renegotiations of collective agreements, awards and EBA’s. Being a MEAA member means that you can call upon the union’s resources and support for any questions you have about your rights, be it as an employee a freelance technician or an employer. It’s nice to have that support.