The Life of Ryley – all about our Elgiva tech intern
There are a range of people involved in bringing Elgiva performances to stage and screen; one innovation the theatre has introduced in the last couple of years is our internships, meaning we can complement our staff and volunteers with people just starting out in the professional world, learning from them just as much as they learn from us.
Theatre can be a difficult world to break into, so The Elgiva is delighted to give our interns a chance to tackle all sorts of behind-the-scenes tasks and roles, giving them hands-on experience of what it’s really like to work in theatre. Rather than just dipping a toe in the theatrical waters, our scheme aims to fully immerse our interns in the backstage world of performance, and from sound and lighting to marketing and programming, our intern Ryley Fountain has built an impressive range of skills over the last year-and-a-half.
We caught up with 18-year-old Ryley Fountain (virtually, of course) to find out a little more about his experiences as an Elgiva intern. We started off by asking him what made him apply to join the Elgiva crew.
“First off, it was a personal link,” Ryley explains. “I was applying for work experience at college, I had heard so many good things about The Elgiva, and I already knew Mikey (The Elgiva’s Senior Technician), so I thought he would be able to introduce me to everyone there and give me lots of background before I started.
“I was planning on my experience being a technical journey, but I actually started off in marketing, which gave me an insight into how the shows are booked and how the season is programmed; this gave me an insight into the management of the theatre, which meant that when I moved into the technical side, I had a much better understanding of how the theatre actually works. In fact, everyone at The Elgiva does a bit of everything and pitches in with whatever needs doing – one day I even went to the Council offices to help fix a mixer!”
Has the internship differed from Ryley’s expectations?
“It’s been better,” he laughs. “I thought it was going to be good, working at The Elgiva, and I thought it would help my prospects, but I ended up having way more responsibilities than I expected. As the intern, I thought I would be shadowing all the time, but I was given a lot of independent responsibilities. For example, I ran the sound for one of the practice shows for The Wizard of Oz, by Rare Productions, which was amazing! That involved setting up the desk, ensuring the levels were right, sorting out the compression… the whole thing! It was an incredible experience.”
Although the theatre is currently shut due to lockdown, Ryley is keeping busy; one of his hobbies is online music mixing, which, he says, keeps the sound part of his brain active, while also honing his mixing skills. “I’ve been trying to keep it all going from home,” he explains. “The lighting and backstage stuff is hard to practise, but I have kept my knowledge up on sound.”
” I have learned so much, and it’s proper hands-on experience, so I am also learning why things happen, as well as the how.”
One thing the internship has shown Ryley is that he definitely wants to pursue a career in theatre. “That’s my main goal,” he says, “to work in theatre full-time, and hopefully a smaller theatre. I like the whole teching side, but in larger theatres, you sometimes only get to do one side – lighting, or backstage, for example – and I enjoy every aspect, so I’d like to be a theatre technician, rather than a lighting tech. The Elgiva is great because it’s both a receiving house, staging productions from other companies, but it also puts on its own productions, so it’s the best of both worlds and The Elgiva goes from panto to music gig to comedy show, so there’s always something new going on and something new to learn. It’s a much wider range.”
When Ryley’s not at the theatre, he’s studying for an Extended Diploma in Music Technology L3 at Bucks College. Originally he was doing a day a week at the theatre, but he soon volunteered for extra duties. He was set to man the spotlight for panto, which was just about to open when the pre-Christmas lockdown was announced. “That was incredibly frustrating,” Ryley says. “Obviously the theatre had to close, but we’d all set up for panto, we were just about to open and then everything closed. I didn’t even get to touch the spot!”
Ryley reveals that the get-ins – when a production gets all set up on the stage and the lighting and sound is programmed in – have been the most surprising learning curve for him. “Get-ins are much harder than you think, and they have to be done quickly. Sometimes there are really, really heavy props, and sometimes it’s the sheer number… you have to be on your A game the whole time and be really focussed. Everything has to come into the theatre in the right order, be stored in the right way, in the right place, so the set-up can happen properly.
“Mikey, the Senior Technician teaches me a lot. He doesn’t just tell me stuff, he explains it and then tells me to ‘go do it’! Like with the stage beams, he taught me how to do it, but then I had to take them down myself. He was with me every step of the way, checking and explaining. He pushes me, but in a really positive way and he’s always got my back. I have learned so much, and it’s proper hands-on experience, so I am also learning why things happen, as well as the how.”
Has anything surprised Ryley about what he gets up to backstage? “How important the tech briefings are,” he says. “We do a lot of briefing… who’s coming in, how we’re going to set up, that sort of thing. There are loads of questions and answers, but they are all valuable because the answers are so helpful for setting up and making sure it’s all exactly right. Even the unexpected questions turn out to be helpful. There are lots of lists and plans to read up on, so everyone knows how everything is set up and how it works.”
In the future, Ryley would love to work his way up to Senior Technician somewhere. “I’d love to still be part of the work, while also managing it. Mikey always listens to his team, but at the end of the day, he makes the decisions, because he’s the most experienced. He also uses his experience to teach others, so it’s a great team experience – he always knows the quickest and easiest way to do something. Theatre is definitely the life for me. I’ve done quite a lot of sound and stage work but haven’t actually done much lighting, so that’s an area I’d like to develop when we get back to work. ”
Ryley would love to stay at The Elgiva, partly due to our in-house techs, who “have lots of experience and it’s always fun!”
“Before I started at The Elgiva, I wasn’t very social – in fact I was quite shy,” Ryley explains. “I used to get nervous, but being at The Elgiva, you just have to get stuck in! You have to find out from all the productions exactly what they want, while explaining to them exactly how you’ll get it done. It’s done wonders for my communication skills… I can talk to anyone now, and I have loads of confidence. I feel like I could do anything now.”
Ryley’s last point is for anyone considering a theatre internship; “I definitely say do it,” he declares. “It’s great experience and a great opportunity.”