Martin Smith, Studio Technical Manager
Northern Ballet’s Studio Technical Manager Martin Smith tells us more about his job.
Can you describe your day-to-day job?
I’m the Technical Studio Manager at Northern Ballet’s Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre and I’m also the Technical Manager for the children’s ballets which we tour up and down the country. I’m responsible for the lighting, sound, video, scenery and health and safety.
It’s a varied job; I can go from rehearsing a show, to building something new, to doing a conference or a pop-up show in a shopping centre. While it is a practical job, there is some admin where I’m sitting at my desk doing emails and preparing for upcoming projects.
What is the best part of your job?
For me, the best thing about my job is the traveling. I enjoy traveling in my spare time but this job gives me the opportunity to travel and get paid for it! On the children’s ballet tour we go to a different city every day for 8 weeks. I also get to do some international touring; I’ve been lucky enough to go to Asia, the Middle East and countries in Europe.
What did you study at school?
At school I did A Levels in Physics, Maths, Drama, English Literature, Media and General Studies. In Drama I did the technical modules, which covers a lot of what is in my job, but my other subjects were also really helpful. In Physics and Maths I learnt about how light moves, colour and sound waves, which helps when designing and setting up lights and speakers. We also fly scenery so knowing about forces and counterbalancing is important.
I also use the skills I learnt in Music lessons; I have to be able to read a musical score because all of our lighting cues relate to a point in the music, which is written down for me on a copy of the score. I also use what I learnt in Design & Technology as I’m often working with wood, metal, plastic and electronics.
What did you do next?
After A Levels, I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I had great Drama teachers who suggested I did something I enjoyed. I wasn’t sure about university so I took a year out and did some work experience. I was an Assistant Teacher, got a part time job and I did an AVCE in Media, which is a bit like a GNVQ. After a year, I was interested in moving away from home and university was a great opportunity to do that.
What did you study at university?
I did a degree in Performance Design & Production, so all the design and technical side of theatre, live events and performance. While I was doing my degree I got some work experience at the Sheffield Crucible theatre. There I worked on plays, musicals and live music. I also worked on the snooker which is shown on TV, so I got a good balance of what I thought I might like to do.
Once you finished university, what did you do?
I stuck at my work experience at the Crucible and when I graduated I got a full time job there. I stayed for two years, in which time I worked on both lighting and sound. That gave me a really useful grounding in the job. After that, I joined Northern Ballet and started touring. I started as a Lighting Assistant and after a few years I moved up to be Deputy Head of Lighting before my current role.
What skills are required to do a job like yours?
Day-to-day I work closely with other technicians in potentially hazardous activities, so we need to be able to rely on and trust each other with great teamwork. We also need to communicate well, even in stressful situations. There’s a lot of creative thinking in theatre as we often adapt ideas and technologies from other industries to create something new.
What is the best part of your job?
For me, I’m really lucky that my job is also my hobby and it’s what I enjoy to do with my time. I find the more I put in, the more I get out.