Theatre sound technician
Construction, Mechanical & Electrical Trades
Theatre sound technicians set up, position and operate sound equipment for theatrical productions. Operating sound systems usually takes place from behind a console.
In live theatre shows, sound equipment is used to amplify and balance the voices of the actors and singers and any musical instruments. It is also used to provide sound effects and background music.
Theatre sound technicians set up and operate this equipment. This could involve:
- choosing the most appropriate equipment and the best positions
- rigging microphones and loudspeakers in appropriate places
- connecting cables to the sound console or mixing desk.
When they are working on a production, sound technicians find, or record and edit, suitable sound effects and background music. They can then prepare a sound plot with cues for when each is to be played during the show. They balance the sound and adjust the equipment, as necessary, during a technical rehearsal.
For some shows, the performers need to have individual radio microphones. Sound technicians fit the microphones before each performance and tell the performers how to use them.
During performances, sound technicians operate the sound console to switch between microphones or adjust levels between them to achieve the right effect.
Sound technicians are also responsible for cleaning, maintaining and repairing equipment.
If there is no sound designer on a production, the technician may design the sound, taking part in discussions with the producer and director.
In touring productions, sound technicians set up the equipment and test it. The equipment will usually need to be taken down after a short period, sometimes after only one night. In such cases, the sound technician is likely to be involved in loading and unloading the equipment.
While on tour, technicians stay in temporary accommodation and can spend weeks away from home.
In some - especially smaller - theatres, technicians are responsible for both sound and lighting.
Personal Qualities and Skills
- Good, balanced hearing.
- A technical knowledge of electricity and electronics.
- Knowledge of the capabilities of different types of sound equipment.
- To pay attention to detail and understand health and safety requirements.
- Good communication and interpersonal skills.
- To work well in a team and on your own.
- To be well organised and good under pressure.
- The ability to react quickly and creatively to any problems that arise.
- To be able to work unsocial hours.
- Patience, concentration and focus.
- A 'good ear' for music.
Pay And Opportunities
Employers are theatre companies: in touring theatre, provincial theatre and London's West End. Other employers include event and exhibition promoters (both indoor and outdoor).
Opportunities occur for theatre sound technicians to work abroad in touring productions.
Entry routes and training
New entrants come into this career from different backgrounds, increasingly with a relevant qualification.
A limited number of HNCs/HNDs, foundation degrees and degrees are available in technical theatre. There are also a number of lower level qualifications in technical theatre.
Courses in sound design are also available.
Some highly motivated people, who have an aptitude for this sort of work, can be successful without following a recognised training course.
With or without a technical theatre qualification, you will benefit from gaining experience in amateur theatre.
The traditional entry to technician work with pop/rock groups is to start as a 'roadie', moving the equipment from vans into the venue and loading up again after the show. This experience may lead to acting as assistant to the technical roadie and gaining enough experience to move on.
Specialist companies who hire sound equipment and staff occasionally have runner or general assistant vacancies or recruit electronics/maintenance technicians.