2012 LAMDA graduate James Lye reveals what life is like the other side of backstage training, now working as a freelance Stage Manager and Lighting Technician
What interested you in working backstage in the first place?
I actually started out acting in youth theatre in Enfield, North London, where I grew up. It was through my involvement with amdram groups that I started getting experience of working backstage and I realised this is what I wanted to do.
It was about five years before I would have gone on to university that I spotted the course at LAMDA. I went to the open day and I felt better about the course than any of the other places I’d looked at, it had such a friendly feel to it and I knew it was where I wanted to be.
What did you enjoy the most about training at LAMDA?
You’re doing exactly what you want to do with other likeminded people. My time at LAMDA flew by and it was so jam-packed, but it was the best two years of my life so far.
LAMDA gave me the skills to get me where I am now. Despite having an interest in stage management and lighting, I did go in with an open mind, aware that I would get to try all the different aspects of stage management and technical theatre. The course is also so practical, which is what this industry is all about.
Was there anything you thought you wouldn’t enjoy but actually did?
I didn’t think I’d like construction! Although I wouldn’t choose to do it, I was surprised to find I did actually enjoy it. It was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Having the chance to do things on a rotation during the course was really interesting and opened my mind up a bit more.
Talk me through what else you’ve done since leaving LAMDA
Straight after I graduated in July, I went to work at Edinburgh festival. After that I did a small-scale tour, I was the only one on the stage management team. The play was Other Hands, one of Laura Wade’s earlier plays on its first professional revival. We toured for four weeks around Newbury, Exeter, Bath, Bridport, Brighton, Lyme Regis and then finished with a week at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith. I had to do all sorts of things ranging from propping for rehearsals to doing the lighting for the tour.
Between April and May I worked at The Arcola Theatre in Dalston with InSite performance on Larisa and the Merchants. Most recently I’ve worked on the NI Opera’s Macbeth in Belfast, where I was part of a much larger stage management team.
Do you prefer to work in a big or a small team?
I like working in a smaller team and a lot of the things I’ve done have been with quite a small company. But then I went from that to working on the NI production of The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Gerald Barry. It was crazy – it was contemporary opera so the music wasn’t what you’d expect when people mention opera, featuring a lot of sung dialogue and loads of food that got chucked about during the show! I had to do about an hour of food prep for each show – which involved a lot of cucumber sandwiches…
So what would you say are the best things about being a stage manager?
As a freelancer you get to see a lot of places and get to know so many people. I enjoy going to different places and seeing how different people work. Having the opportunity to go to places you never thought would put on a show allows you to use your initiative and think “how am I going to make this show work in this space?”
Over Christmas I worked on a play called Beyond Beauty, which took place in a converted warehouse in Peckham. The space got transformed into an ancient castle. The show was interesting to do – the warehouse had no heating, it wasn’t particularly user-friendly. That was a big learning curve but one that I enjoyed.
The cons of the job are that you don’t know where your next job is coming from, but I have been fortunate enough to have been working consistently since graduating from LAMDA. I’ve been able to do so many different things – plays, comedies, pantomimes and operas. I’d love to work on a proper musical at some point.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in stage management and technical theatre?
Get involved with whatever you can – it may not be paid, but everything really helps. I strongly believe that. Get to know people – it’s about what you know and who you know: networking is a big aspect of the career. I got a job through someone I know and that resulted in another job which kept me busy throughout the summer last year. It’s good to keep those connections.
Obviously I would recommend training if you can. The great thing about the course at LAMDA is you get to do a bit of everything. So if you wanted to be a lighting technician, I don’t think it’s the best idea to just do lighting. It’s good to have the all-round ability – a stage manager’s not going to be able to operate a show if they don’t know the sound or lighting basics. You leave LAMDA with rounded knowledge and experience – that’s one of the best things about the course.
Interested in a career backstage? Visit www.lamda.org.uk for more information about its Foundation Degree in Stage Management & Technical Theatre. The application deadline is 1 April to join LAMDA in autumn 2014.