We met with Fi Simpson, Stage and Production Manager, and Mel Howes, AV Technician, to talk about what happens behind the scenes in the Stage and Production team.

What is your job role?

Fi I am the Stage and Production Manager. I work with the Head of Production on planning and staffing events. I supervise the technicians, mentor them and help them learn technical skills in situ, broadening their skills for future employment opportunities.

Mel I am the AV Technician, but I’m very much focused on the audio and stage side of things. When we have residencies, visiting companies or hires, I work with the companies to build what is required and get it functioning from a sound perspective.

Fi Simpson smiling at the camera with reeds in the background

Fi Simpson

Mel Howes smiling at the camera with a brick wall in the background

Mel Howes

Did you both train to do these specific roles?

Fi I trained at Lamda (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), and then worked for a few years as a freelance lighting technician. I developed my skills to be a lighting designer, which took me to amazing places. I had shows in the West End, toured Europe and took one production over to Broadway. It was great fun.

Mel I trained in Technical Services at the Academy of Contemporary Music. My two years of study were during lockdown which provided additional challenges.

How did you find your way to Britten Pears Arts?

Fi I grew up in Suffolk and live locally with my family. The lighting design, unfortunately, took me away from home too much when the children were young, so I wanted to find work locally.

I retrained and was a teacher for 10 years, teaching Technical Theatre at Further and Higher Education levels before swapping to teaching primary school. I really enjoyed working with the little ones, but I wanted to get back into the Arts. Id known Geoff (Geoff Spain, Head of Production) for a long, long time and we just happened to bump into each other when Britten Pears Arts were advertising for a lighting technician. I was in the right place at the right time! That was nearly four years ago.

Mel I’ve been with the charity for just over a year now. After graduating, I volunteered at the Ipswich Sound City Festival, a multi-venue, music industry festival. Britten Pears Arts is my first paid professional job.

A women dressed in a night gown standing cross armed next to a man in a black suit singing.

Photograph from Violet, an opera that premiered at the Aldeburgh Festival 2022

What are your favourite parts of the role?

Fi I like working with people and the team here is great, that includes full time staff and the many freelancers we employ regularly. I enjoy managing the technicians and seeing their technical development.

I love it when we can light something with artistic input and a little bit of flare so it just works and looks lovely. Or when lighting a concert and youve got the fades exactly right, in the right time, and its working perfectly with the sound. That’s really satisfying.

Mel My favourites parts of the role are similar; I enjoy working with the groups. I love when weve got the full team in and we're all working together on different aspects and its a really great collaborative moment.

Performance-wise, I enjoy anything with the kids. Working on the kids’ shows, and seeing people, performers or audience members enjoying themselves and loving what they get to hear and how it looks and what weve all achieved. Thats a really great feeling and I do so enjoy that.

Im sure there isnt an average week in your role, but are there common themes to your daily tasks?

Fi It depends on whats been programmed and therefore what is coming to the stages. We might have a rare week where there are no public performances in the evenings, so during the day, we can get ahead on planning and implementing things for future projects like the Aldeburgh Festival, Summer at Snape. There is usually something happening in the week that involves us. Where there are no evening performances, sometimes Residencies are on site, or the Aldeburgh Young Musicians.

The period where there isnt anything on the Snape site, because its the season of Friday lunchtime concerts at Jubilee Hall, is our maintenance period. It is a very vital point of the year. All our technical equipment needs to be tested yearly to ensure that its safe.

Mel My role changes daily and tasks can be dependent on sound being required in the performance, rehearsal or recital. Sound is generally required for spoken word, or if a soloist wants amplification over an orchestra. We work alongside Synergy Audio for sound amplification and I have been learning live mixing with their support over the past year.

If sound is not required, I work as part of the stage team helping build, move, remove, maintain and clean as required. Flexibility is a key part of this job! I learn new skills every day and enjoy working across the team and the wider organisation.

A photograph from Celebration in Snape Maltings Concert Hall, March 2023

What is your favourite style of concert or event?

Fi Operas in the Concert Hall or Britten Studio. Being from a theatre background, the process is a familiar one from shows I worked on for many years. But it is lovely to have variety and different things to work on.

Mel I really enjoy working on the shows which involve children. During the spring Celebration concerts, where 43 schools and community music groups (around 1400 young people) perform in the Concert Hall across six nights, I ran the sound operation myself for the first time, supported by Synergy. From the sound desk I could clearly see the kids’ faces and see their joy of performing, which was really satisfying.

Do you work across Britten Pears Arts’ sites?

Fi Yes. One day during the Aldeburgh Festival, I was at Blythburgh Church and Mel was in Aldeburgh, high tailing it between each of the venues on the Britten Song Trail. Whatever venue we are using for public performances, there will be support from our team. We may be setting up the seating in the churches, assisting marketing to create trailers or supporting the musicians. The camaraderie and the collaboration we have across this fantastic team is absolutely amazing.

The permanent production team is five people and that is supplemented by regular, and rather wonderful, freelancers. We couldn’t do it all without the freelancers, to be honest. They work with us throughout the year on various projects and then it is all hands on deck during Festival. If you see us sitting outside, having a coffee break, its because weve been working our socks off inside getting ready for our audiences to have the best experience possible.

A photograph of Rapasa during a Snape Residency, Britten Studio