The Bartlett


Stage Crew Society - My First Show in Bloomsbury Theatre

By Karen Lin

white wall with text: Bloomsbury Theatre and Studio

UCL has hundreds of societies that you can dream of. Being a UCL student, it will be a huge loss if you don’t join any societies while you are here.

At the end of September last year, I went to the Welcome Fair that the Student Union hosted. All the societies were at the fair to introduce themselves to the freshmen. Because of my love of musicals, my target was to find the Musical Theatre Society and ask for their socials. However, I know that I am more interested in the backstage of musicals than in being a performer. So, when I went to the Musical Theatre’s stall and asked if they have a backstage team, one of the members told me that there is a society called Stage Crew that does all the backstage work for not only the Musical Theatre but all the other societies that need backstage. That was the first time I was introduced to the Stage Crew Society.

Who are Stage Crew?

Stage Crew provide all sorts of technical support for performances across UCL, from musical theatre, and drama to jazz and comedy. We are based in the Bloomsbury Theatre but also do external shows whenever students needed.

Why am I in Stage Crew?

I am studying MArch Design for Performance and Interaction at the Bartlett. One of the reasons I want to do this course is because I want to work for fashion runway shows as a set designer. I was so dope when I found out that UCL has a specific society like Stage Crew. It is the perfect way to learn the skills while having fun. Meanwhile, Stage Crew doesn’t require any skill set before joining. All technical skills can be trained from the sessions run by the society. In addition, it is the perfect way to get the experience of how the industry works in production!

The Bloomsbury Theatre Training

Theatre with red seats

As I mentioned above, Stage Crew provided training from the beginners level to more advance. It includes lighting, sound, stage management and prop fabrication. The training runs twice per year during the first and second terms. In term 1, we had our training week during the reading week in November.

One priority is Health and Safety in the theatre. It is mandatory for all members if we are doing shows in the Bloomsbury Theatre. (You can still participate in the production of the show if the show is external) During the Health and Safety training, the technicians in the theatre ran through all the safety notes including the fire escape route with us. Also, it was the best chance to know all the backstage spaces because we were given a tour of the theatre.

In term 1, besides the Health and Safety training, I also joined two more trainings: Lighting Basics and Sound Basics.

abstract lighting effects and 'cafe bar' sign

closeup of spotlights

In Lighting Basics, we were taught about all the basic lighting fixtures that the theatre used, and we physically installed the fixtures with gobo (the steel sheet that creates a pattern to the lights) and colour film (to change the colour of lights). In addition to the traditional lighting fixtures, we were playing with the DMX system to control the lighting system from the lighting desk as well. It was a fun introduction to how the lighting was generated behind the stage to get the stage effect.

stage crew working behind the scenes

In Sound Basics, we mainly focused on the microphone and the sound mixing system. To be honest, the tunes and channels on the sound desk are still quite complex to me. However, I learned that the sound on the stage is more than just tuning the microphone, but also with all the sound effects.

King Charles III

perfomance, with man dressed as king

performance with king and bishop

The last November, the Drama Society presented King Charles III in the Bloomsbury Theatre. It was the first ever show production I joined as a Stage Crew member. For the show, I was part of the Stage Management team as an assistant stage manager. I couldn’t get the training for Stage Management during the Bloomsbury Theatre Training, but I have experience as a backstage manager when I was in Drama Club (but the scale was different from King Charles III, this one was a huge show!)

stage crew working on set

During the production week, I was travelling back and forth between Stratford and Bloomsbury every day as it was expected all crew members can help in preparation from Day 1. It was an extremely hectic week, so we all made sure to have enough sleep and food.

stage crew watching show from behind the scenes

folder and masks on desk

As assistant stage manager, my main responsibility was to be at backstage all the time during the show time, mainly responsible for the arrangement of the props and taking care of the cast. It didn’t require a lot of technical skills. We were only assigned a few jobs such as helping the Drama Society to change the stage set in a few scenes and hanging out the props at a specific time. Once the show started, we were on the stage left and right to watch the show, just like all the other audience.

screen showing ceremonial march

scene from play with journalists, people looking at phone and screen in background showing two men and news ticker

King Charles III was indeed an excellent show that the Drama Society put on. Especially on the last day of the show, I could genuinely feel that the audiences love it. They were cheering, laughing, and giving reactions to the show. Despite the audience couldn’t see us, Stage Crew, in person, they still gave us applause for the effort we put in. We incorporated a live stream into this production, and I got feedback from my friends saying it was unexpected and exciting. It was hard to describe my feeling when I heard an actual response from the audience that they recognized our efforts in the show, it was a proud moment.

It is such an accomplishment for me to join a huge crew and production that I have never experienced before. Although it is hard for me to balance my study with production since I am in a master course that makes me have a more intense schedule than the other crew members, it is still worth my time to participate in.

side view of stage showing crew in wings

Future Show Dates

Stage Crew has been producing so many shows for UCL societies. Almost every two weeks we are having something going on. You can check on the Stage Crew Society Instagram page to see what productions we are working on.

I signed up for two shows for Term 2: (1) Pole Fitness Club - Spring Showcase and Competition and (2) Dance Society - Breathe. The Pole Fitness showcase is in this upcoming week during the reading week, and I am going to be the sound assistant this time! I am more than excited to participate in more technical sides of the production for Term 2.