What does the Association of British Theatre Technicians and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama have in common with the United States Institute of Theater Technology?
Brian Warrens, Director of the Backstage Centre in Purfleet-on-Thames, speaks with Head of Performance Venues at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Charles Haines, who became inspired from an idea he had seen in the United States.
“A few years ago, during a trip to the excellent USITT [US Institute of Theatre Technology] Trade Show, I saw their ‘Innovations Gallery’ in operation and fell in love with the concept.”
What is an Innovation Gallery?
“The USITT Innovation Gallery is an informal introduction service between independent creative innovators and the commercially minded developers behind our leading brands, products and services.”
Could anyone take part?
“Every year, the USITT staged the gallery with ideas farmed from all of the collegiate universities and drama educational establishments – with the ‘top 10’ putting on display at the annual show.”
How did they make decisions about which idea can appear in the gallery?
“All of the USITT members and visitors go through the gallery, making network connections and occasionally recruiting or arranging internships with the bright sparks showing their creativity. US staging engineering and lighting Chief Executive Officer’s sift through the output and some of the ideas even make it into production as actual catalogue products or find funding for commercial development.”
Charles continues, “As a marketing guy looking for smart ideas I could develop, it seemed a highly fertile ground for meeting creative and inventive people who got a kick out of solving techie problems with neat ‘stage fixes’. I was damn sure the UK would have equally talented technicians looking for a step up and some support…….and the ABTT “Industry Support Group” members [of which I was one] would be ideally placed to benefit from some extra R&D Innovations.”
How did the Virtual Ideas Platform idea develop over here in the UK?
“Later, over a cocktail or two, I discussed the idea with a contact from Guildhall School of Music & Drama about creating a UK version – and he agreed it was an exciting idea and ‘had legs’. One of his recent graduates had come up with a clever solution to a lighting rigging problem at Guildhall School, which he thought would be an ideal illustration of how it might work. “
From this start point, where or who did you go to next?
“On our return to the UK, we set up a meeting with the ABTT – and they thought it was a great idea too. Time went by while the idea fermented….then 2019 and COVID happened – and the world had a rethink about tradeshows.”
No doubt the COVID pandemic created a major interruption to the idea. Were you able to overcome this?
“Now it’s 2021 and I’m now at Guildhall School as Head of Performance Venues, surrounded by technical innovation and enthusiasm, desperate for a wider more far-reaching platform. The timings and technology are now perfectly aligned, and we’ve adjusted the pilot year concept to an online format which will develop into a regular feature of the ABTT calendar.”
And it is where we are now that makes this project so exciting. Not only does the ABTT Virtual Ideas Platform reach out to everyone and anyone in the theatre industry who may have an innovative idea, it is also inclusive of the enormous supply chain which supports so much of the work we produce.
From the 21st June the ABTT Virtual Ideas Platform is officially launched. It is an online project, and all the details can be discovered on the dedicated website here: www.abtt.VIP
The Backstage Centre have been ardent supporters and members of the Association of British Theatre Technicians seeing many trainee technicians and apprentices complete the ABTT Bronze Award programme, itself devised from an innovative idea from within the theatre industry, which continues to be delivered to the present day alongside the progression training in ABTT Silver and Gold awards.
The Association of British Theatre Technicians this year celebrates 60 years supporting the industry, and the Virtual Ideas Platform is a fitting way of including everyone across the sector with a truly inspirational project.
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama has provided a superb training experience for many of our Essex actors and technicians, and in recent years young technical talent have completed studies in Stage Management. Well done to recent graduates Meg Carey and Rhianna Bridgland-Bishop, both alumni from South Essex College Live Events and Theatre Production course.
The Backstage Centre are hoping new students joining the Level 4 Professional Diploma in Technical and Production for Creative Industries will embrace this superb innovation challenge.
Anyone studying on a relevant programme, such as the family of creative qualifications from the University of the Arts London will be well-placed to consider how this could become a creative, extended project in its own right. Our partners at the National College for Creative Industries at South Essex College are excited to embrace this excellent opportunity.
Do you only have to be in education or training to take part?
“The Virtual Ideas Platform is open to anyone and everyone with an idea.
We know when backstage people are faced with a technical challenge, they get inventive and creative, cook up ideas and find solutions. The Platform is here to recognise, salute and honour those innovators in our midst.”
Does it matter if I am not a specialist, like in lighting and sound?
“By its very nature, it is a dynamic working environment in which to invent and develop new and better ways of doing things – in special effects; costume and wardrobe, wigs, make-up and hair, scenery, stage, sound, lighting, automation, audio-visual and any other discipline adopted to make live performance.”
This pilot year’s winners will be announced at the PLASA/ABTT Trade Show at Olympia this September. https://www.plasashow.com/welcome
The Backstage Centre are supporters of the ABTT Virtual Ideas Platform and wish everyone at the ABTT and Guildhall School of Music and Drama every success in this pilot year.