A Career at the Northern Ballet

To mark World Theatre Day, Deputy Chief Electrician Martin Smith tells us about the path he took to get his role at dance drama company, Northern Ballet.

To mark World Theatre Day, Deputy Chief Electrician Martin Smith tells us about the path he took to get his role at dance drama company, Northern Ballet.


Job title: Deputy Chief Electrician

Company: Northern Ballet

What your job entails: Supporting the Chief Electrician and technical department in the efficient running of our lighting and sound department, supplying technical support to all Northern Ballet productions both in Leeds and on tour.

I technically oversee and manage the Short Ballet’s series of shows such as Ugly Duckling and Three Little Pigs. I act as Technical Manager for the Stanley and Audrey Burton Theatre, our studio theatre based in the Northern Ballet HQ in Leeds. I provide creative, feasible and efficient solutions to both practical and creative problems associated with all of the above situations.

Who you work closely with: Other technical staff of Northern Ballet, as well as technical staff based in other theatres we tour to. I also work with creative staff such as artistic directors, choreographers, lighting and sound designers, dancers and other practitioners.

Skills you need to do the job: The ability to make a good cup of tea is a skill that has aided me greatly across the years. More quantifiable skills include patience, dedication, pro-activeness, the ability to know when to listen and when to act.  Creative thinking with a grounding in common sense is also greatly welcomed by many people I’ve worked with. A willingness to try and a refusal to admit defeat isn’t necessarily a skill, but a very useful character trait that helps too!

How you got into your career: I was going to become a teacher originally, and did a degree in Technical Theatre before thinking about a PGCE. Whilst studying the degree, I undertook work placements and then casual work for Sheffield Theatres, which got me a good grounding in theatre skills. I was always one for not being bored, so tried to work on as many varied events/shows as I could, trying to meet and learn off as many different people as possible.

I graduated and then took full-time employment there for two years, until they closed for refurbishment and I moved on to join Northern Ballet. A year after I started I was promoted and have been deputy ever since, although with the company growing and the arts industry changing, my job is much different now than it was when I started for the company.

I also made some tea for some wise and experienced people.

Any advice for getting into a career like yours: Listen and learn from everyone, whether good or bad the experience is worth having. Go out into the world humble and grow into great things, no one is that great from the start, but we all have to learn somehow.  Not every day will be about doing what you want to do (and if it is and you are paid then you are just very lucky) but sometimes it just needs to be done, so don’t lose your sense of humour over it.

Best bit of your job: Achieving, succeeding, hearing the applause and the thank yous that everyone gets. Inventing, trying new things, fixing stuff, making things work with what’s available. The people are a big factor, travelling the country and experiencing everyone else’s stories is a big thing I enjoy about my job.

Worst bit of your job: Dealing with people who don’t enjoy their job or fail to show/demonstrate their passion for it. I should really mention the unsociable hours and the subsequent lack of a life in this section, but it doesn’t really bother me and never has, and I hope never will.

Top tip: Never stop trying, but never be afraid to ask!

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