Alex Banks: working backstage in London’s West End - posted 13th May
Alex Banks works backstage on the award-winning west-end musical, Hamilton! We got the opportunity to ask him some questions all about his job, how he got into working in musical theatre and more! A must-read for all expressive and performing arts fans!
How did you get into it?
We were taken to the theatre from a young age, mostly amateur productions but sometimes professional. Apart from watching the actual production I would also spend time trying to work out how the scenery was put together and how the same sections were utilized in different scenes. This sparked my interest.
What skills/training do you need?
You don’t need any formal training to do what I do. Some of my fellow carpenters went straight into the industry, others have undertaken apprenticeships or followed the same path that I took and received training via drama school or university.
After leaving school I undertook a BTEC at Pendleton college which covered all aspects of backstage work from lighting & sound to carpentry & set construction.
After completing my course I was very lucky to gain a place at Guildford School of Acting (GSA) on their 3 year ‘ Professional Production Skills’ degree course.
What's the worst/best part of the job?
I think the worst thing about the job is the hours that we work, 14/15 hour days are not uncommon, particularly when a show is about to open. It takes a while to build up your stamina but does eventually become a way of life.
The best part of the job is the people you meet I’ve met some amazing people whilst working in the west end. The audience reaction is also great to see, witnessing an entire auditorium of people on their feet at the end of a show that you have helped to run is pretty powerful stuff.
What is the easiest/hardest show you've done?
To date the hardest time I had was whilst I was still at uni. I was set designer for two touring productions that ran concurrently ‘Little Women’ and ‘Chess’. The logistics of getting everything constructed were a nightmare, particularly as I was in my final year and also preparing my dissertation. I had many sleepless nights.
My current show ‘Hamilton’ is quite easy as there are only 2 crew members backstage. All of the onstage changes are done by the cast.
What's the best/worst show you've done?
The best for me was Les Miserables. I was part of the 30th Anniversary performance. It was such an amazing experience and what a show! I worked there for 3 years in total. This was my first west end production, working on this show is an experience that I will never forget.
For someone studying to work in technical theatre, what advice would you give me?
Be punctual, lateness is not tolerated.
Work hard and always be willing to learn, always ask questions. Don’t be rude or dismissive to your colleagues, some of them will have ten times more experience than you, you will learn a lot by listening.
Does working on am dram shows help prepare you?
I would say it gives you a huge sense of how theatre works from all aspects and gives you a greater understanding of what really goes into a production.
How soon into the rehearsal period do you get involved?
Usually before rehearsals start, depending on the production, sometimes a rehearsal set is constructed.
When training do you have to do lots of different jobs before you can specialise in a certain area?
Yes, personally during my training we had lots of different show rolls on all different productions some I loved and some not. The one advantage of this type of training is that you can see where your skills lie and which aspects you enjoy the most.
How long was your training?
Altogether I trained professionally for 5 years but you learn every single day. You will never stop learning in an industry like ours.
What would be your dream show to work on tech wise?
I worked on my dream show, Les Miserables. It was the first show my parents took my sister and I to see in London so it had to be the first I worked on.
Technically it’s a complex show to be involved in and utilizes many of the theatrical techniques available eg mechanization, flying scenery, revolving stage etc, the large number of cast and crew can also present logistical difficulties so everyone involved is very well rehearsed.
Now I work on Hamilton so who knows what’s next?