Lee Bee Bee, technical director of theatre company, The Theatre Practice, explains why there are few home-grown specialists in her field.
INTERVIEW BY DAPHNE ONG
Published on 27 September 2016
INTERVIEW BY DAPHNE ONG
WHAT DO I DO AS A TECHNICAL DIRECTOR? I deal with hammers and screws; nuts and bolts. Nothing fancy.
Generally speaking, I oversee the technical aspects of The Theatre Practice’s (TTP) productions, which include lighting, sound, staging and set building. I also help run their new black-box space, advising and overseeing technical aspects from equipment to hiring people.
In the theatre, you have got to find what you want to do. For me, I have found what I enjoy doing. One day, I’m holding a hammer; the next day, I’m just mopping the floor; and the day after that I’m doing administrative work.
I started out in lighting design, went on to do various other things before becoming a production manager. I then wanted to do something different that didn’t require coordinating with and managing so many people. Sometimes I find dealing with objects more interesting than dealing with people. You can manipulate objects the way you want, and they don’t talk back at you! I still work closely with designers and directors, but the kind of input is different, perspectives are different, and we deal with different materials.
Not very many people specialise in technical directing in Singapore. Our theatre scene is so small; there are only so many people who have the training and capability to do technical work at this level. We are also a small country, and we sometimes don’t have the right resources to create what we want. On the plus side, we learn to be more creative and do more with limited resources. Another deterrent is the high-level of competition; the workload is also so challenging that people get too tired, and don’t want to do it for what is not very high pay.
Perception might also be another reason why few people take on technical directing. It is a position that does not garner as much recognition as design. Theatremakers sometimes think their shows cannot go without a costume or lighting designer, but can do without a technical or even props person, thinking the crew can handle everything. Some aren’t even sure what a technical director does!
Some think that we should do everything — the answer is both yes and no. We deal with technical aspects, but not necessarily all of it. For example, I engineer the set build and pull-down and coordinate with sound and lighting technicians, but I don’t handle sound and lighting myself. No one is capable of doing every single thing in a theatre!
TTP is quite different from other companies in their philosophy, and I have a good artistic director who trusts me to do what I’m doing. TTP is the company I have worked with the most. I have done only lighting design with other companies. I pick and choose who I work with because I want to be happy with what I do. It’s simple — if I don’t like it, I don’t do it.
LEE BEE BEE has enjoyed a design career spanning more than 20 years. Her lighting designs have been used for various performances, including theatre, opera, musicals and dance. Before returning to Singapore from the United States, she was a professional lighting designer who taught lighting design and theatre technology in a university setting. She holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in Lighting Design from the University of Cincinnati — College-Conservatory of Music. In 2007, she joined The Theatre Practice as their in-house production manager. She is currently the company’s technical director.