The job title “Technical Director” can have any number of different job descriptions, depending on the production company. Some TDs are in charge of all technical aspects of a production, and others handle just one or two. I’ve seen cases where the TD was primarily in charge of lighting or sound, and others where his or her real function was to run the scene shop.
Some companies don’t even use this job title, preferring something like “Production Manager” or something similar. Back in grad school, the theatre department didn’t believe in TDs; they had a Production Manager to supervise and coordinate the productions, plus a full-time Shop Foreman and a full-time Master Carpenter, but each designer had an assistant designer to prepare the construction drawings and handle some of the work normally done by a TD.
In contrast, in college, there was a full-time Shop Foreman, but the TD position was filled by a student for each show, and his or her job consisted of coordinating and supervising the scenery construction, installation, and strike. Often, it also included preparing the construction drawings from the designer’s elevations or model.
In some cases the TD position may be combined with a Theatre Manager position, although, in my own experience, these two jobs require different skills, interests, and mindsets — and the combination may result in more than a full-time job.
To make life even more interesting, the term Technical Director is also used in fields outside of theatre, such as software development, engineering, and film and television, where the duties may be totally different.
Confusing? Sure, but it doesn’t have to be.
As I mentioned in other posts, the important thing is for the production company to define the specific duties up front. Then you can find someone who is qualified and wants to fulfill those duties. Like set designers, TDs don’t all come from the same background or have the same skill sets or interests.
Whatever the title and job description, the position is an important one, and unfortunately it’s too often neglected. The best TDs I’ve seen functioned like architectural project managers, making sure things happened on schedule and on budget, that everyone had what they needed, and that people communicated during the process. They anticipated needs and problems and kept them to a minimum.
In my own case, I learned far more about being a TD during my years in the architectural field than I ever did in theatre school. That’s where I learned that “it takes far less time to prevent a fire than to put it out,” something that I keep in mind all the time.
Here’s a sample list of duties I’ve seen TDs have in different companies, which you can pick and choose from to develop your own job description (I have not included tasks normally associated with a Theatre Manager). In some cases, of course, the TD will need to coordinate closely with the producer, director, or other people. The list assumes that the production company already has a producer and/or production manager to handle the artistic and business end of things:
- Develop the production schedule, including auditions, rehearsals, design deadlines, construction and installation dates, and a strike plan. Coordination with other folks is critical here. You can refer to The project schedule for ideas on the design and construction phases, and for how to set up a schedule on a spreadsheet.
- Schedule, attend, and run production and/or design meetings.
- Attend and coordinate all technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals, working closely with the Stage Manager.
- Attend the Paper Tech with the Director, Stage Manager, and designers as needed.
- Hire scene shop staff as needed, including carpenters, painters, riggers and prop builders.
- Hire additional (temporary) technical staff as needed, including the hanging and focusing crew, sound technicians, and costume shop staff. Coordination with the various designers and the producer is critical here.
- Supervise and maintain the scene shop itself, including tools and equipment, inventory, and safety equipment.
- Train any new hires as to the proper operation of power and hand tools, as well as safety procedures.
- Supervise scenery construction, painting, installation, and strike.
- Serve as the Shop Foreman for the company, which can include taking care of the shop’s equipment as mentioned above.
- Serve as the Master Carpenter for the production, which sometimes includes preparing the construction drawings from the set designer’s elevations.
- Purchase materials and supplies. Some of these can be picked up at the vendor’s place and some can be delivered to the theatre by the vendor. Some companies require that a TD have a current driver’s license and clean driving record as a condition of employment.
- Review all designers’ drawings to make sure the work can be accomplished on time and within budget, given the company’s resources.
There will always be other duties, of course, but the list above will give you a good place to start picking and choosing — to understanding and defining what your own company needs from a TD.
One thing to consider carefully up front is whether your own TD should be a management position or a supervisory position, and how the position will fit into the current structure. Then you can pick and choose duties, and then, given those duties, you can decide how much of a solid background the TD will need to carry out the job. Knowing all this will help you put together a solid and very clear job description.