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Theatre technician training and certification: Strengthening ‘the backbone of the sector’

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In the UK and most of Europe, theatre technicians have to be certified. After all, they are not only responsible for the show to go on, they are also trained to ensure the safety of actors, crew and audience members. In Malaysia, however, “the profession is not properly recognised” nor are there any official guidelines covering local theatre and performing arts venues. ARTERI speaks to Grey Yeoh about steps being taken right now to close this gap.

Why has the British Council, known primarily for English classes and cultural events, arranged for this International Theatre Technician Workshop?

The British Council may be primarily know in Malaysia for our work in English language teaching, but we definitely do a lot more than that. Some of our most important work in English, Education and Society, and Arts are largely out of the public eye. This International Theatre Technician Workshop is one that falls under our Arts work, where we work with local partners to identify skills gaps in the arts and creative industries. We’ve done such work before; in the past we’ve organised workshops on building audiences for contemporary dance and also workshops on writing theatre reviews. This technical theatre workshop is another one of our programme.

Why is this workshop necessary in Malaysia?

Together with our partner Yayasan Sime Darby, we first identified that there is a large talent void in technical theatre in Malaysia. This is evident by a simple audit of the headcount of certified technicians in Malaysia, but also through anecdotal stories about how during the busy seasons, stage managers or lighting designers will need to run between two or more show productions on the same night!

Sometimes, a production will need to hire someone completely new and train them on the spot, in order for the show to go on. When something unexpected happens, there isn’t anyone experienced enough to remedy the crisis.

Not only that, we realised too that without proper training or experience, occupational health and safety can be quite lax, which may lead to injuries or something worse. We think that in order to professionalise  the Malaysian performing arts sector, this is one of the most basic steps to take – to train the backbone of the sector.

This is not a workshop for beginners; you require applicants to send in their CV and a description of their experience in technical theatre. So who should attend this workshop?

We are looking for people who are already working in the sector, so that they can come forth, do the formal training and be certified. This is an opportunity for technicians who have learnt the ropes on the job, but never had the formal training to do so.

While this workshop’s module is quite basic, we realise that this is exactly what our technician colleagues need in order for them to do a better job, be a better technician than they already are. We aren’t calling for newbies, beginners or people who are considering a career in technical theatre because we feel that our current technicians will need this more.  

The workshop is being conducted by trainers from the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT), London.How is being a theatre technician in the UK different from being a theatre technician here?

While the context is different, the fundamental basics are the same. Though some infrastructure or technology may differ (things like electrical voltage, thrust or grids), the skills and knowledge are essentially the same.

Do both countries require technicians to be certified? Are both countries strict about this?

In the UK and most European countries, yes. Theatre technicians must be certified in order to get work in venues. However in Malaysia, the profession is not properly recognised. Our research shows us that there aren’t even a document or policy that covers theatre and performing arts venues in Malaysia, provided by the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH).

Is this a one-off or will the British Council offer similar courses to improve the standard of theatre in Malaysia in the future?

Our objective is to have this initiative and training be sustainable, in order to grow the number of technicians over time. One of the ways we are doing this is to get senior technicians to be future trainers of the same course. We want senior technicians or technicians with more experience, to take a two-day ‘Introduction to Trainer Skills’ workshop, to develop some basic training skills, for them to learn how best to cascade their experience to new and eager technicians.

About Grey Yeoh

grey yeoh

Grey is an arts and culture administrator, multimedia and visual designer. He collaborates in socially-engaged art projects both online and for live performances.

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