Sound and Lighting Technicians: what should they know?
By Julius Grafton
What skills should an entry level entertainment technology worker possess once ‘trained’? Last month we had over 400 experienced crew complete a lengthy survey, and now we have a draft set of skills – one for audio; and one for lighting.
The survey revealed a lack of confidence in most formal technical training courses currently on offer – whether at a private college, a TAFE, or a University.
The reality is that the vast majority of theatre, concert and event production workers typically do not have formal qualifications specific to their work in technical production, despite a training ‘package’ existing since 1998.
Within the training package there are three levels that matter – Certificate Three, Certificate Four, and Diploma. These ‘should’ match these levels of expertise once completed:
Certificate Three: entry level, graduate trainee
Certificate Four: mid level, working technician
Diploma: Manager, and/or senior technician
The current training package, ‘CUA Live Performance and Entertainment Training Package’, is designed like every other package. It carries a lot of ‘core’ units, and goes ‘vague’ on assessment for crucial technical units.
Take the Certificate III in Live Production and Services, code CUA30413. This must be made up of fifteen ‘units’, of which the first six are mandated core units, such as ‘Follow occupational health and safety procedures’, ‘Work effectively in the creative arts industry’, and this one: ‘Work safely in the construction industry’.
Then the registered training organisation (RTO) – a college or a TAFE – chooses another nine units from a bewildering list of another 150 units, which cover all the possible components of every qualification across performing arts – including dance and makeup.
CX was unable to find a RTO that provided a lighting, or an audio specialty course. Instead, most cherry-pick the most ‘deliverable’ units. There are actually not many RTO’s offering the Certificate III in Live Production and Services.
This story is not about RTO training under the Australian Quality Training Framework (AQTF).
This is about minimum skill sets, on the job.
CLASSROOM TO BACKSTAGE
I spent the better part of last decade immersed in training for entertainment technical skills, running Julius Events College and offering Certificate through to Diploma level courses. We trained hundreds, graduated a lot less, and tracked some through workplaces to see how it all jived.
Industry acceptance of formal training is begrudging at best, and often negative. Graduates would be ‘tested’ or put on the spot, sometimes tasked beyond their ability or confidence. It is almost always a baptism of fire, to leave a college or university with a qualification, and then to apply the knowledge acquired on an actual real life show setup.
Most graduates get entry level jobs on the floor at a production supplier, rolling cables and de-rigging hire returns. After earning respect, if they do, they might graduate to preparing rigs going out, and eventually even get to work on a setup then a show.
The age old traditions of theatre and live production do not sit easily with formal learning. Most practitioners learned ‘on the job’, and the university of hard knocks is open 24/7.
I formed the view this was not open to change, and eventually ran out of enthusiasm for formal ‘AQTF’ compliant vocational training. This was assisted by a large number of high schools in NSW putting ‘entertainment’ on as a school Vocational Education Training (VET) subject for years 11 and 12.
The majority of these Certificate Three courses are barely delivered by well-intentioned high school teachers, and the avalanche of ‘Qualified’ and often over confident 18 year olds destroyed most goodwill towards the previous CUE03 Training Package. The new CUA version is just as cursed, albeit with extra units and some tidying up.
INDUSTRY SKILL SETS
At CX Roadshow 2015 my seminar on Industry Accreditation quickly devolved from the need to accredit production suppliers as fit and proper trading entities, to the issue of actual skills accreditation for workers on stage.
Plenty of discussion at the sessions, held in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, led to a survey which we ran in March 2015, to establish exactly WHAT skills an entry level graduate or training crew person, working effectively at a junior level, should possess.
We wanted to know what the industry expects. We had done this early last decade in the leadup to opening our college – which ironically was funded by selling ENTECH. Any college anticipating delivery of a course is obliged and required to consult with industry to ensure ‘outcomes’.
The question then, as it is today, is exactly which skills should be demonstrable by a new crew member?
I’ve lifted the whole survey as a breakout, so you can see for yourself. I was surprised to get 400 responses in a day – clearly this topic does resonate, as it did at Roadshow in the seminar.
Respondents were typically ‘highly experienced technician or manager, 5 years full time or more’ (56%) or ‘Intermediate, well skilled working technician or supervisor’ (21%). The survey threw out anyone who was a student, or not actually working.
55% report they hold a formal qualification ‘covering their work’, yet when broken down, the main was ‘Diploma, Live Production or equivalent’. But this wasn’t supported by the grab bag of training providers they attended – Box Hill TAFE was most mentioned (16 proponents), then NIDA (11) and SAE (11).
Asked which training institute they would ‘trust to consistently provide best possible training outcome BASED ON your direct knowledge of its training’, the answers were different, with WAAPA in Perth holding top score, and SAE rating poorly.
81% say that their current position does not require that they hold a technical qualification.
Only 7% report that qualifications meet the need of the industry, while 58% say Qualifications sometimes assist the industry’s needs. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of technical training as available in Australia.
TESTING LIGHTING AND AUDIO SKILLSETS
So what should a freshly trained tech know? On page xx we detail the proposed minimum standard for either lighting or sound technicians, freshly trained or graduated. It is a guide to what training they require.
Where they get that training is another issue, given the scarcity of courses.
The art of assessment is best learned by doing a ‘trainer’ course, the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment (TAE40110). It isn’t easy – despite being advertised cheap and offered over five days.
While no one in a workplace needs to be a formally qualified trainer and assessor, it is very useful to understand the principles of training and assessment. Simply observing someone do a task isn’t sufficient evidence of their competence at that task.
Assuming the industry accepts a set of minimum skills such as proposed on page xx, a reliable mechanism for assessing crew in workplaces needs to be agreed. This isn’t as difficult as it first appears, if you consider that each venue or workplace would probably seek to check each new prospective crew member irrespective of whether they had been checked elsewhere.
MINIMUM SKILLS: THE LIST(S)
Sound and Lighting Technicians: what should they know?
ALL CREW SKILLS
These were all voted as mandatory in our survey:
SAFETY: Orientation. Can identify upstage, downstage, prompt, O.P. Need to be able to reliably identify any area of the stage, for example if asked to identify upstage prompt, they can. This would be assessed several times.
TEST AND TAG: Should know required test and tag regime, time lines, methods. Crew should be observed to always check tags, and know the currency period for the relevant venue.
SAFETY: Can do electrical load calculation, ie: identify power requirement for specific items and combinations connected to a 10 amp 240 volt circuit.
SAFETY: Knows correct lifting positions, methods and techniques. In addition to this, many identified being able to properly load a truck and strap down cases.
SAFETY: Can identify correct work clothing issues, ie: flammability, suitability, visibility. Anyone turning up dressed inappropriately should be disqualified.
SAFETY: Knows the minimum rest break mandated under the Live Performance Award. They need to understand minimum break arrangements.
SAFETY: They can interpret a written risk assessment
GENERAL: They can identify the correct industrial award (ie: Live Performance Award)
GENERAL: They can describe various technical roles, ie: What is a Mechanist?
GENERAL: They hold a current White card or suitable proof of Industry Induction. A white card is a construction safety card, available across Australia.
GENERAL: Can calculate amperage when knowing wattage (at 240 volts). IE: at 10 amps, how many watts are available?
GENERAL: Can calculate loads at voltages other than 240 volts.
OTHER: We didn’t include this in the survey, as it was assumed. But many commented, so here it is; Must be able to correctly (over and under) roll cables.
NOT REQUIRED: The proposed that they hold a current First Aid Certificate was voted down, (Yes 39%, No 61%).
HANGING LIGHTS: Demonstrates correct techniques, including cable runs, safety wires etc
EQUIPMENT RECOGNITION: Can correctly identify from memory at least 6 most commonly used luminaires / fixtures
This was a multiple choice question: must know minimum 6 up to 10 (Yes 47%), Should know at least 20 (17%) and 6 is OK (30%). We would say the median is that a newly trained entrant should be able to identify 15 items of equipment by name and use.
COLOUR: Should know the common six Lee or Rosco gel numbers by colour. Again a multiple choice, with the largest vote ‘Not Important’ at 44%, then 6 colours: 27%, more than 6: 28%. But combining 27 and 28% you get a majority, we would suggest knowing six colours is important.
TRUSS: Should be able to match up and connect truss in correct manner, ie: maintain web orientation (apex).
FOCUS: Can proficiently and quickly focus conventional lights on command.
CONSOLE OPERATION: Should be able to operate a simple 2 preset console.
CONSOLE PROGRAMMING: Should be able to program a mid level professional console. This was a three part question, with No (13%), Able to do simple programming (52%), and straight Yes at 14%.
READ PLANS and CUE SHEETS. Can demonstrate ability.
TROUBLE SHOOT: Can find DMX faults quickly without supervision. Tightly won by the YES vote (55%) with 45% saying no.
Not required at this level.
BEAM ANGLE CALCULATIONS: Correctly calculates size of beam at given distance and beam angle? (No 60%, Yes 40%)
WEIGHTS: Should be able to calculate a truss load from a plan showing fixture types and include cable and other weights. No: 57%, Yes 43%.
In addition there were at least 80 individual text responses, most conveying parts of this theme:
“People skills, ability to manage fatigue, how to care for yourself and others in the work place both safety and emotional stability in high pressure situations. How to use maps and the Internet to indentify local resources related to lighting work. Different styles of focussing knowledge. Ability to interpret plan concepts. Understanding the importance of a tool box chat .”
VIEW THE SURVEY: https://www.surveymonkey.net/results/SM-SBK7W3F7/
EQUIPMENT RECOGNITION: Can identify at least 10 brand name pro audio products and describe basic function of each. Again this was a multi-part question. The majority response was for 10 or more (45%) and 42% voted for at least 6. So the winning answer is at least 10.
MICROPHONE CHARACTERISTS: can identify which mic type to use in which situation. ie: Cardioid (live) etc.
IMPEDANCE: Amplifier and speaker impedance, can calculate speaker load based on knowing speaker type. IE: 2 x 8 ohm speakers = ‘X’ Ohms.
SETUP: A mic, stand and cable. Can demonstrate; correctly position, cable run correctly and neatly.
PATCH: Can correctly patch stage microphones according to simple plan.
SPEAKON: Can correctly connect Speakon so that speaker actually functions.
AUXILIARY: Can identify a PRE fade auxiliary send on an analogue mixer.
AUXILIARY: Can identify a POST fade auxiliary send on an analogue mixer.
AUXILIARY: Can operate PRE fade, aux gain control and aux master to affect gain on Aux output from console.
FOLDBACK: Can identify correct auxiliary output for an onstage monitor wedge.
GAIN CHAIN: Can correctly set console output, and amplifier input, gain controls for optimal gain with least noise.
SPL: Can select appropriate dB and weighting to comply with National Standard or venue specific SPL. This was a close vote, 48% No, 52% Yes.
EQ: Can identify and demonstrate use of the ‘Q’ function within parametric equalisation. This was fairly close, 42% against, 58% in favour.
TROUBLE SHOOT: Can identify and rectify a ‘no signal’ fault from stage patch.
OTHER COMMENTS: At presstime there were 77 comments, typical of these: ‘Ability to: 1. Follow an event brief/technical brief/stage plan and ability to seek further information/clarification. 2. ‘Tune’ a small to mid-sized system 3. Able to successfully cable, connect and troubleshoot signal flow through a basic PA setup. 4. Understanding of correct lifting techniques, genral knowledge of their personal responsiblity to WHS. 5. Good attitude and willingness to learn new methodology.
These skills are above the ‘new entrant’ level.
MONITORS: Can mix multiple in-ear monitors for live band from dedicated side stage monitor console. Yes: 24%. No: 76%.
CONSOLE OPERATION: Can operate with reasonable proficiency a mid level digital mixing console. Yes: 43%, No 57%.
MIXING: Can mix an ‘average’ music concert and provide audience satisfaction. Yes 43%, No 57%. Comments on this question seemed to indicate ‘should be able to operate a console, but not yet mix music’.
TROUBLE SHOOT: Can identify out of phase loudspeaker by ear (without test equipment). Yes 42%, No 58%.
VIEW THE SURVEY: https://www.surveymonkey.net/results/SM-SBK7W3F7/