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LW Theatres - Celebrating Women in Technical Roles

Category: Gender Balance, Women In Technology, #BreakTheBias, Inspiring women in STEM, LW Theatres, Gender Balance in Technology

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We spoke to Miriam, the Head of Electrics for the Cambridge Theatre about being female in a traditionally male environment and being part of the LW Theatres family.

Miriam Spencer on the set of the RSC’s Matilda The Musical. Set design: Rob Howell; lighting design: Hugh Vanstone.Miriam Spencer on the set of the RSC’s Matilda The Musical. Set design: Rob Howell; lighting design: Hugh Vanstone.

 

I am currently the Head of Electrics for the Cambridge Theatre, which is part of LW Theatres,

My interest in technical theatre started at secondary school where I was fortunate enough to learn from two very supportive staff members. Along with my family, they encouraged and inspired my interest in technology and physics, guided me towards university courses that were geared towards technical theatre, and supported me in my interests.

After graduating from drama college, I wanted to experience as much of the industry as I could. Since then, I have been fortunate enough to lead lighting teams for small to large scale grant-funded and commercial theatre productions, UK and international tours, a wide variety of theatre, dance, opera and corporate events. I have also worked in-house at several producing theatres.

Before joining LW Theatres, I was working as a freelance production electrician, relighting touring shows along with larger scale events and other high-profile projects.

 

Competing in a male-dominated industry

 Lighting and technical theatre is, traditionally, a male-dominated sector.

However, I have never believed that some jobs are just for men, that wasn't the environment I grew up in. My parents always encouraged us to pursue whatever we enjoyed and held a real interest in.

Perhaps I was interested in entering this field because I grew up around technology and gadgets! My grandad was an engineer for Rolls Royce and my dad was a principal systems analyst for Rolls Royce, so our family was always very comfortable around technology.

The entertainment and events industry shut down during the pandemic. Lots of freelancers, companies and venues were really struggling and there was a lot of concern about the impact on the industry’s supply chain and a real fear of skills loss.

Throughout that period I was impressed by LW Theatres, as they were constantly looking for ways to restart, and how to do that safely. I felt it was a brave move that showed a level of leadership that was lacking in many areas of the industry.

The approach LW Theatres took was about more than just their venues - it was much broader; any developments made would benefit many within the industry.

Considering the difficulties and struggles everyone in our industry had been through, an organisation demonstrating a breadth of vision, ambition and leadership was such a positive and encouraging thing to see. Their proactive, forward-thinking attitude impressed me. So, I applied for the position.

I really love my job, and one of the key reasons is the organisation is genuinely supportive. I believe, in any work environment, it is essential for people to feel their voices are heard and understood. Everyone needs to feel supported.

In my experience, if people are happy in/ at work, it’s inevitably going to be a conducive and healthy environment. For that to truly work, it’s vital this approach comes from the top down. Employees need to believe they are valued, respected, and appreciated.

 

Miriam Spencer on the set of the RSC’s Matilda The Musical. Set design: Rob Howell; lighting design: Hugh Vanstone.Miriam Spencer on the set of the RSC’s Matilda The Musical. Set design: Rob Howell; lighting design: Hugh Vanstone.

Challenges facing women in tech

There is certainly an under representation and lack of diversity in general. I believe some of the imbalance is due to several socio-economic factors; unless you have the financial resources, it can be quite difficult to enter the industry. Not everyone has the money to go to university, for example.

There is certainly still a gender imbalance, and if you look at the industry as a whole, while there are definitely more women working in technical theatre than when I first started, there remains a disparity.

My specific area of the industry has changed quite a lot over the past 10 years and is becoming less ‘traditional’ and more inclusive. Leadership teams have a clear desire to be more inclusive with gender balance in technology.

I'm not sure employers are the only people who can redress the imbalance, though. Skilled, knowledgeable and qualified employees are crucial. However, tech employers do need to adapt and to make routes in more accessible. A return to well-structured apprenticeships could be a way forward.

Self-confidence and belief are also factors; if you think there's a barrier, you can create one and talk yourself out of trying. Women need to believe that it’s achievable, if they are going to be interested in joining the tech sector. It’s a bit chicken and egg!

 

My advice for would-be lighting engineers

If you want to get involved in the technical side of theatre - great! My advice is to start by looking for work experience in a local theatre, a local venue, or in a school drama department. Find out what happens backstage by getting to know people involved in putting on productions who might need help - and who may be able to open doors for you, so that you can meet people and gain experience.

If you can go to university, an accredited degree course is a huge advantage in terms of employability. There are also some apprenticeship schemes. If you're London based there is a great apprenticeship scheme with White Light Ltd - a lighting, video, audio hire company in Wimbledon.

Everyone I’ve met at LW Theatres is quite lovely! There’s almost a family feel throughout the different venues, and everyone I’ve worked with has been genuinely welcoming to me, as a woman and as a new employee.

We have a fantastic team. Everyone is genuinely supportive, and it is a really happy place to work.

A healthy work environment and caring colleagues are two of the most important things for any employee. And that can only come from good leadership.

Miriam Spencer on the set of the RSC’s Matilda The Musical. Set design: Rob Howell; lighting design: Hugh Vanstone.Miriam Spencer on the set of the RSC’s Matilda The Musical. Set design: Rob Howell; lighting design: Hugh Vanstone.

For more information on LW Theatre’s DEI work please click here

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