Introducing Michael Ackland-Lang, Technician here at Theatre Royal.
How long have you worked in the theatre industry?
I’ve been in the theatre industry on and off for 15 years. During that time, I spent a year working for a retail window display company called Elemental Design, in London, and another year working for Disney Cruise Line in the Caribbean.
I was a Freelance Set Builder and Freelance Theatre Technician from 2005 – 2019, working mainly in London but also all over the UK.
At Elemental, our main clients were the shops along Oxford Street and Regent Street in London and companies around the world like Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren and Viktor & Rolf.
At Disney, I was the Props and Puppets Master on the cruise ships. I worked on the “Disney Dream” and the “Disney Fantasy”, sailing around the Caribbean.
How long have you worked at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds?
I started working at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds in 2020.
What is your role in the theatre?
I am one of the 4 Technicians.
What are your main responsibilities?
A little bit of everything really.
Before a show; We’re rigging Lighting and Sound equipment for each show, repairing and modifying props and scenic elements when needed. Doing maintenance on the theatre itself when needed. Setting up any pyrotechnics if required.
Just before letting in the audience, aka “opening the house”, we’re making sure everything is ready, working and looks good before we let the audience in.
During the show depends on if we’re actively involved in the show or not. 1 of us will always be Duty Tech, and it’s their job to be available if something goes wrong or if the fire alarm goes off.
If we are working the show then it can range from operating lighting or sound, doing scene changes onstage, special effects or magical illusions, etc.
How did you get into this role?
At school I was doing A-Level Drama, as a performer, and A-Level Design & Technology (DT). During one of the projects my drama teachers told me that I was going to fail a-level drama at the rate I was going. Now I wasn’t a bad student or anything, and I thought I was an OK performer, but with my dyslexia my course work wasn’t great.
My teachers gave me the choice of either dropping the course or doing something else, specifically either doing lighting and sound for our next show or designing and building a set for it. As I enjoyed carpentry as a hobby, I decided to design and build the set.
This, along with a presentation I had to do to explain my process and why I designed the set the way I had, gave me my highest grade in my A-Level.
And with that I found that I really enjoyed technical theatre, and started to become THE backstage tech for all the school’s shows, as well as building all the sets for them.
After that I working with the Youth Theatre at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, London. Worked shifts at the Quay Theatre as an in-house technician and then got my BA Degree in Scenic Construction at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.
And the rest is history.
Do you remember what applying for your job felt like?
A little stressful. I was working for Disney at the time and had decided to leave the company when I applied to the Theatre Royal. Knowing that my interview was a couple of days after I’d come back to the UK meant I had little time to recover from living on a ship before the interview.
What’s your favourite part about your job?
The people I work with and the fact that nearly everyday is something different. We have many 1-night shows come through that all need similar yet different set-ups for their shows.
Being in an environment where you can feel confident in knowing the systems and where everything is, and yet also having to think and plan every time for what the visiting companies will need for their shows if great. You feel confident in your knowledge and abilities whilst also never becoming bored or complacent with the shows.
How many people are in your team?
4 of us in the in-house team, but we have a number of casual technicians we call in when needed.
What is your top tip/s for someone looking to get into your role?
Be passionate, and really want it. This isn’t an easy job, the hours we work mean you won’t have much of a social life, and the hours are not regular. It truly is a labour of love, but if you really want to do this, it’ll be the most fulfilling job in the world.
The more you get involved, the better your experience will be. I never thought I’d work for a company like Disney, let alone live on a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean! But I did, and it gave me a load of fun memories to add to the countless memories I have gained throughout the 15 years I’ve worked in this wonderful industry, with its highs and its lows.
Do you need any qualifications to get into this role? If so, what would you suggest?
You don’t need specific qualifications for this role, but having a qualification or training in technical theatre does help.
If you want to have a more specific role in technical theatre then it can help to take a qualification in that area.
What has been your favourite production at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds?
Every pantomime and Around the World in Eighty Days.
Panto is always a magical and fun time, though it’s also filled with VERY long days and demands A LOT from us both physically and mentally. A great company that bonds well will always make the long days a lot better.
Around the World in Eighty Days was just a beautiful piece and was, personally, the kickstart back from the Covid-19 pandemic. It was the show that made me feel like we were back to making amazing shows and the fact it was filmed also was a big highlight, especially as I will always be a part of the show as I was onstage as ‘a member of the ship crew’ during the dismantling of the ship to get the ship across the sea.
What is your favourite theatre phrase/word? E.g. proscenium, upstage, rig…
“Pub o’clock!”, but in all seriousness “Ringing Out” would be my favourite phrase.
It’s not a theatre only phrase, “Ringing Out” is a specific term used with microphones. “Ringing Out” is where you stand on stage with the microphones in complete silence and then, one by one, turn up the gain for each microphone to find which the frequencies that naturally get picked up by the microphones and start feeding back. This causes a ringing sound, hence the term “ringing out”.
We then turn those specific frequencies down so when we have a performer using the microphone, we can turn up the volume on them without worrying about the mic feeding back and causing a horrible ringing sound.
AND FINALLY, WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THEATRE ROYAL PHOTO?