The Automation Department is responsible for a production’s moving scenery, creating and controlling a complex sequence of scene changes that happen on stage. For example, in The Lion King, the stage is raised to represent Pride Rock at the beginning of the production and then this part of the stage is lowered to make the stage a flat surface.
The automation system can control elements such as electric motors, hydraulics and pneumatics to move lifts, flying scenery and stage trucks.
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What are the main responsibilities of the Automation Department?
- Powering up a range of equipment on the automation system
- Checking individual show components
- Overseeing multiple moving elements that fly, revolve or move on trucks
- Operating digital systems that are used in automation
- Operating deck plots (cues on stage)
- Performing safety checks and maintenance on any moving pieces of scenery
What positions make up the Automation Department?
For large-scale theatrical productions, these are some common roles that are employed for the duration of the production run. As every production is different, the staff in these roles will have knowledge and experience relevant to the production’s specific requirements.
Head of Automation – The head of the department is ultimately responsible for the daily running of the department and its ability to efficiently deliver a safe and reliable system throughout the production. The Head of Automation would usually have at least two years’ experience as a Deputy.
Deputy Head of Automation – The Deputy Head (sometimes called the Number 2) should have as much knowledge of automated systems as the head of department, but not as much experience in leadership. The Deputy Head of Automation would usually have at least two years’ experience as an Automation Technician.
Automation Technician – This role tends to be less focused on operating the primary automation control console during performances, and instead is generally weighted towards deck plots (cues on stage), as well as maintenance. An Automation Technician would usually have at least two years’ experience in technical theatre or similar and interest or experience in engineering, robotics or control systems.
Automation Dep. – This is a part-time/ casual role filled by someone who can learn various roles within the department to cover sickness or holiday, usually the roles carried out by Technicians. An Automation Dep. would have at least two years’ experience in roles similar to those they are covering.
Other roles that can be involved within the field of Automation include Engineers, Mechanics, Production Staff and Programmers.
What qualifications do I need to work in Automation?
Automation can be a highly specific field. It is possible to train within a theatre, however the below qualification areas may also help:
- Technical Theatre
- Set Design
- Digital Design
See our training opportunities here.
What skills do I need to work in Automation?
- Understanding hydraulic lifts, elevators, revolves and flown elements
- Remaining calm under pressure
- Some level of creative understanding
- Comfortable with digital software
What does a career in automation look like?
Automation is a very specific job within theatre. You can often transition from a Stage Crew or Stagehand position into Automation. Once you are trained up into this position, you have a very distinct skill set and can then transfer from show to show. Smaller productions tend to have smaller or simpler sets so you may mostly be working on larger productions.
Find out what Backstage Crew members do here.
How much do you earn working in Automation?
Working in Automation you could earn between £25k - £45k.
You can also search vacancies using The Stage Jobs here.
Photo: Alex Brenner
Published: 5 December 2019
Thank you to Automation Operator/ Programmer Nick Page for providing information for this blog post. Nick runs the website automation.london, which helps connect current Automation vacancies with relevant and experienced Automation professionals.