Milton Robinson: So you want to be a stage technician?
WhatsOnStage asks creatives to give their tips and tricks for starting their careers in the arts
We asked Curve Leicester's stage technician Milton Robinson to give us tips and advice for cutting your teeth in the theatre world.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Milton Robinson, I'm 55 years of age and I've been working in theatre for over 25 years. I started off as a casual at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham which gave me the experience to go on and work in theatres like the Hippodrome, The Old Rep, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet and City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) – in fact, I've worked in all the major theatres in the Birmingham area. I worked my way up to head flyman/deputy stage manager then to stage manager. I now work at Curve in Leicester.
When did you know that you wanted to be a stage technician?
I don't know but I think it was then I had been working in theatre for a few months because at time I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career. I suppose it was when I started to work at the Alexandra Theatre and that is when I knew it was what I wanted to do.
What was the first project you worked on?
I can't remember the first production that I worked on. I have worked on hundreds of shows but my early memories are show like Great Expectations the Musical, Summer Holiday, The Nutcracker and many more. They were good days, good companies to work with and so much fun.
Who helped you during the early part of your career?
That one is easy – he was a guy called Eddie Freeman, he was my first ever stage manager and he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. One of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me was work hard, turn up on time and be reliable. He was the one who gave me the chance to fly my first show. He put his trust in me and I didn't let him down, we're still good friends to this day.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Just simply believe in yourself and don't look back.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a stage technician?
In addition to working hard, being on time and being reliable, I would say listen to people who are more experienced than you – some of the best advice comes from experience. Also, don't give up – it's not easy starting out in theatre and sometimes it looks like you'll never get a chance, but if you keep going and keep trying, you will get there.
What resources proved most valuable to you during your early career?
I suppose I would say it was when I was made redundant a few years ago due to a restructure. At that point, I felt I didn't want to work in theatre anymore. However, I was asked by a friend of mine who was working at Curve if I fancied doing a get-in, working on the show and the get-out. I thought, "what the heck it's not going to hurt doing a bit of casual work", it was hard going back to being a casual worker but I grasped it with two hands, ran with it and seven years later I'm still there as a permanent part of the team.
What mistakes do you think are the easiest to make starting out?
Thinking you know it all, not listening to others and not working as part of a team. I have worked with people who have walked into a theatre and try to tell others how to do their job; this doesn't go down well with your fellow colleagues – take time to listen.
What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
That one is a hard one. There are so much aspects to this job but I suppose it's being able to teach new technicians and seeing their growth. I remember back when I was stage manager at the Alexandra Theatre and I announced I was leaving, one of my younger team members came up to me and said if it wasn't for me he wouldn't have got a chance or a career in theatre. It brought a smile to my face and that's when I knew it was all worth it.
What would you like to see in future generations?
To see more people from ethnically diverse communities but especially those over-25. It just seems to me that the younger generation from BAME backgrounds don't think that there is a career to be had in theatre. I am one of the few Black technicians in the industry and I hope that in the future our backstage teams are more representative of the world we live in.