Spotlites Technical Manager reveals what he packs in his Edinburgh suitcase

I am about to go to Edinburgh to build 3 theatre spaces in our own edfringe venue Spotlites @ The Merchants’ Hall and was thinking what is the most important thing to pack.

spotlites suitcase packed

packed full of gaffa tape?

Well, we spend about 3 months in technical preparation for the Edinburgh festival – this includes things like pat testing thousands of metres of cables, lights, fans, sound desks and all the electrical equipment we need. We also maintain all the equipment from simple changing gels in a light up to soldering pcbs (printed circuit boards) on a sound desk. But it is way more than that, for example we have to run in lots of cables for the lights in the theatre and we have to calculate the length of the cable – no point taking five 3 metre cables when you only need one 15 meter one and different things need different connectors. The sound desk uses jacks and xlrs, the lights need 15 amp connectors, the intelligent lights need 16amp and dmx connectors, laptops need rj45 connectors, printers use usb connectors, the dimmers use 63amp connectors on three phases – it is a logistical rollercoaster of interconnectivity.


spotlites cable connectors cheap

which ones goes where?

So how do we ensure it all works as it should – simple – we build the venue before we take it to Edinburgh. No, not actually get brick layers and plumbers involved, we set up the lights with their dimmers and the lighting console with all the cables, power, gels, dmx addresses, hanging ironmongery, we plug all the sound equipment into everything and test if everything all works. This may sound a bit like we over do things but we are restricted by the amount of actual time we have on site in Edinburgh. Then we spend ages labelling everything with how it links together.


spotlites cheap pat test label free

pass or fail

So back to the original question, what tools do we take – well not many as everything should just plug and play – although we do take our general tool box for repairs and maintenance. And I do sneak into one of the trucks our welding gear when no one is looking. So the most important thing I take with me is my spotlites schedule of fit-up and technical drawings – which is all on my laptop and printed out as a backup as well of course.


Spotlites technical cad drawing help

Technical Drawing of something




Recycled Theatre – a Spotlites Technicians Blog

I spend a lot of my time trying to source the weird and wonderful scenery and props we use in Spotlites’ professional shows, everything from a light up beating heart to dinosaur bones. This involves a lot of thinking outside the box and although my friend “the interweb” is a very quick and handy tool to have on hand I use a lot of the things I see around me.

I do a lot of recycling – this is from removing all the electronic circuits and bits from old computers and hi-fis to using Pringle tubes / lids and a lot of packaging material. We have a very large selection of different coloured lids in the Spotlites props store, all our out of date bandages from our first aid kits are stained with tea and used as costumes, anything that is broken first comes to me for disassembly – I even have a large container of tiny screws and bolts.

I also spend a lot of time in diy stores and boot fairs handling products and toys trying to think how they made the items and looking at construction techniques used. One of the problems I encounter is that we don’t have an injection moulding setup in the theatre so I and up making weaker joints in things as I have to redesign items.

But what about 3D printers I hear you say – well this seems to be a marvellous invention that may well in the future be cost effective for someone like me to use, but at the moment it is a bit too expensive and they all come in bright colours. But then again there are always new and exciting products coming onto the market that attract my attention – the latest being Sugru – it is a self setting rubber compound that is fantastic and sets after about 30 mins, or what about Steelstick which you mould with your hands and it sets like metal.

But nothing can beat the indispensable CT1 – a clear silicone mastic type material that we use so much at Spotlites in our prop making. A lot of these props have to be created due to the fantastical and off beam nature of the shows we produce. So next time you go the the theatre, spare a thought about the hours of research and creativity that went into making the props!


Mind Reading – a skill of Spotlites Theatre Technicians

Mind reading is an art, it is a science, it is Derren Brown showing you the impossible, yes? Well maybe but, mind reading is a skill theatre technicians use everyday at Spotlites. We need to predict what the artistic people (director, designer, actor, lighting bloke, sound girl, choreographer etc) want from the venue they are working in.
At Spotlites it gets even more complicated, for as an Edinburgh Fringe venue with a passion for International works as well as home grown, we have to know what is the theatre vogue across the globe. Our Far East shows are very, very good at surround sound within their soundscapes, the Italians love loud, very loud music, our European shows like to use subtitles and so need clear bright projectors, but need help justifying their text on the screen (justifying as in shaping and aligning the images) on computers without English Operating Software!
Is Derren Brown a Theatre Technician?
As technical time at the fringe is tight – although we give all our companies at least 3 hours of tech time, we have to mind read and provide solutions to problems before they arrive. For example, last year one show wanted to hang a large light bulb from the lighting rig (aka RSC 1990s style) and we predicted they wouldn’t bring enough lighting cable with them we packed an extra 15 metre 15 amp cable just for their show. Is this Mind reading?
Another show about love and cooking onstage made us polish the crystal ball and a black floor cloth mysteriously appeared as if by magic, it saved time on clean up, we also arranged a food waste recycling system. An American company brought a huge set of chairs with them, and our spirit guide suggested they would not want to take them back with them afterwards and our Tarot Cards decided to have on standby a furniture charity group.
We try to predict what is going to break and go wrong – we stock gaffa tape, lx tape, glue, flame proofing, multiple backup devices, instruction manuals, saws, hammers, cables ties, spare bulbs and a multitude of other mystical things from our wizards box.
Maplins on Dalry Road know us by our first names now! We have a sound suppliers that delivered 12 mic stand adaptors within 10 mins at 8pm on a Friday night.
But is this “Mind Reading” or just being careful, is there a difference with being Derren Brown and a Spotlites Technician – they both amaze you with their predictive prowess, but who would you rather have operate your light in a edfringe show?
Gaffa Tape is as useful as a Crystal Ball

Never leave home without your crystal ball and gaffa tape