October 22, 2007
Robert Margoshes, Technical Director of the Moore Theatre
Robert Margoshes spent his twenties performing in rock bands. But an opportunity to work as a roadie for a headlining act made him realize he preferred working behind the scenes to playing on stage. After spending more than a decade on the road as a lighting technician for what he calls "giant corporate rock shows," he put down roots in Seattle. Today he works as technical director of the historic Moore Theatre, ensuring that the lighting, sound and special effects of each performance go off without a hitch.
Q: What does being technical director of a theater entail?
A: I'm responsible for all the technical needs and all the logistics of putting on the shows at the theater. So I coordinate any issues involving the lighting, sound, sets and scenery. If the performers are carrying their own production, we have to coordinate getting their trucks in the alley and unloading their equipment, setting it up, making it work and integrating it with our house system.
The shows are all different. There's no one formula. We have everything from rock bands with two semi trucks unloading sets and risers and amplifiers, and 20 stagehands lifting heavy things, to the Martha Graham Dance Company, which was a very lighting-extensive show with loads of scenery and a dance floor we had to roll out and tape down. Sometimes there's a lot of pressure because everything has to work, and there's a lot of technology.
While I'm in the middle of an all-encompassing show, I'm also advancing the other shows and dealing with paperwork from the last five shows. I also manage the production staffing. We have a house staff of four to five department heads -- lighting, sound and so on -- and we have another six or eight technicians that are here for most shows.
Q: How did you get started in this line of work?
A: I don't have a degree in theater crafts. My background is in rock-and-roll touring, and I learned on the job. In 1980, I had a friend who was on tour with the band Journey. I started going to the shop with my friend to load and unload trucks and work on the lighting. One day I told somebody, "I wouldn't mind doing this on the road if you ever need someone." And a week later I was in Canada with Journey.
Over the next 13 years, I was the lighting crew chief for Peter Gabriel, worked for U2 as the electrician on the Joshua Tree tour, did two major tours with Loverboy, spent months and months with Night Ranger, and on and on. I was gone an average of eight-and-a-half months a year. Thirteen years later, I didn't want to spend my life on the road anymore. I have a family. My son, who's now 24, was born shortly after I stopped touring.
Q: How did you make the transition from touring to theater work?
A: I moved up here from San Francisco 16 years ago and briefly worked for a stage lighting company that did local rock shows. Then I was independent for a while, doing a lot of corporate events like Boeing groundbreaking ceremonies and Microsoft company meetings.
I started at The Moore over a decade ago, when the head electrician here was touring with rock shows on the side. He wanted to make sure his job was waiting for him when he came home, so he called me each time he'd leave town and I'd come work as the show's house electrician. Eventually I became the full-time house electrician. And 15 months ago, they made me the technical director, which is perfect because I have such a strong love of this theater. I'm in my element here.
"I like music. But I like the technical aspects of the production more. That's what interests me. I used to be an active musician. But now I'm more interested in what goes on behind the scenes than in the music itself. I'm interested in the rigging, the special effects, the smoke, the lighting, the sound, the video, the scenery, the makeup, the costumes. I get excited about all those things, getting this stuff ready and putting on this kind of show."
Q: What's your work schedule?
A: I work long hours. We have a lot of shows on the weekends, so it's an extreme luxury for me to be home on Saturday or Sunday.
I usually come in mornings, but every day is not an epic thing of 18 hours. If I can get someone to cover for me or I've done my advance work well enough that I can walk away at the show, I will. And some days we just walk in during the afternoon and turn everything on and do the show. On the flip side, it took us six days to get ready for Spectrum Dance Theater, which was here for two days in early October. Plays and dance performances usually take more time to set up.
Q: How many shows do you work a week?
A: We have about four shows a week, though sometimes it's seven days in a row. The shows are eclectic, so it's always interesting.
Q: What's been your favorite show at The Moore?
A: I've been involved in so many thousands of shows over the years, the ones that stand out to me now are not necessarily the concerts. The theatrical ones are the ones that stand out to me the most, like Shockheaded Peter, which we had a few years back.
Q: What advice can you give aspiring theater technicians?
A: Try to keep up on who's got what equipment and who's doing what performances locally. When I was touring, I used to stay up on who's doing productions in every city in the country.
If you're interested in lighting, get involved with one of the lighting companies doing local live shows. They often take entry-level people. If you don't know anything about lighting, you can still get a job working in the shop [where the equipment's stored and repaired]. There's a lot of hardware, lots of bits and pieces, lots of basic wiring you can learn about there. Then you can work your way up.
If you're interested in sound, look into the local audio companies doing concerts and hotel and ballroom events. Again, see if you can get a job in the shop learning how to work on speakers and other equipment. And if you're interested in the theater, there are countless local organizations putting on theatrical productions and they're always looking for people. There are also children's theater productions and dance companies.
Q: Do you recommend getting a degree in theater arts?
A: Do people who go to school for lighting design get jobs like mine? Yes. But when I'm looking at new people coming through here, it's not necessarily the schooling or the degree of lighting design that attracts me. There's a lot of hard physical work involved that you have to be ready to do. It's lifting boxes and pushing cables and wiring -- it's dirty work. And after that, you can specialize in other directions.
Q: How often do you hire new technicians or stagehands?
A: We constantly bring in new people to staff shows, but do I have any [full-time] careers to offer people? I really don't. People do call me for work and we do occasionally bring them in, but it's usually, "Can you come in for four hours next Tuesday and help load in?"
Somebody is welcome to walk in and ask for me and I would definitely take the time to show them around. I'm always happy to talk. And if we bring in somebody to work a show and they work out well, we'll bring them in a second time.
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