Students Learning the Technical Art of Stage Production at Flinders with Mr Brendon West

The Creative Arts is thriving at Matthew Flinders Anglican College and it’s not just for students who dream of one day performing on a professional stage under bright lights to enraptured audiences.

There are also many students aspiring to shine backstage, behind the scenes, by learning to operate the lighting, sound, costuming and set design that contribute to a successful staged production.  

To support our students who are keen to learn the technical art of stage productions, the College has introduced Flinders Theatre Tech Club as a new co-curricular offering on Friday lunchtimes.

The goal is to teach students the professional knowledge and skills to work safely and efficiently in the tech crews that support our amazing Flinders Creative Arts co-curricular productions and other College events, such as assemblies, award ceremonies and community celebrations. 

Fifteen Secondary students have joined the club this term, and are expertly guided by our Head of Drama Ms Charlene McMenamin and Technical Co-ordinator Mr Brendon West. 

We asked Brendon to share his passion for technical theatre and some of the highlights of his extensive career travelling the globe and working on major events such as the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies.

Brendan also explains why co-curricular offerings such as Theatre Tech Club are so powerful in teaching students valuable character traits and skills, such as resilience, confidence and adaptability, as well as how to problem solve, and think and act on your feet.  

Brendan, what is your career background?

I started my career in professional technical theatre in 1988. I was born into a family that owned and ran a theatre, so it kind of just happened. I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Stage Management at the University of Southern Queensland. Then I moved to Melbourne and began working at the Victorian Arts Centre. Soon after, I began touring shows for local bands and musical theatre nationally and then internationally.

I have worked as a stage manager, lighting designer, backstage technician, automation rigger, programmer and operator for productions in Australia and all over the world. These productions have included major musicals, theatre shows, band concerts and huge one-off gigs, like the opening and closing ceremonies for the Summer and Winter Olympic Games multiple times since Sydney 2000. I am so grateful as I have had a really fabulous career, met wonderful people and stood at the sides of some of the world's biggest stages.

What does it take to work as a technical co-ordinator? 

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Stage Management as well as High Risk Work Qualifications, including Advanced Rigging, IRATA rope access and many industry qualifications in lighting and automation systems. 

It helps that I’m passionate about technical theatre in any format, whether inside a theatre lighting a dance show, on a football oval flying performers across the stadium for an event or setting up a single projector so that one of our Flinders students can present their digital artwork in the Performance Centre Foyer. I’d like to think I bring as much passion for the job and to ‘getting it right’ whether it be that single projector or ready to trigger a cue that starts an Olympics opening ceremony.

In the backstage world, you really have to be present and ready to adapt on the fly. Situations occur that really quickly change your day. Like having a truck full of equipment catch fire in transit on a tour! That makes for a very difficult time! But it teaches you to be resilient in the face of adversity. Resilience is such an important trait to try and instil in our young people.

What do you enjoy about working at Flinders? 

I enjoy bringing the joy and pleasure of what I do to students who are keen to work backstage. The unparalleled facilities that we have at our College are extraordinary and enable us to teach a new generation of technicians real-world skills in professional spaces. For example, the Flinders Performance Centre offers stunning design, technical capability and acoustic offering.

I am so grateful for the diversity of my role at Flinders as we do much more than just ‘shows’. I am also able to support school events, such as for the Flinders Foundation and graduation ceremonies, and I get to teach our new co-curricular Theatre Tech Club students all about lighting, technical, audio and staging work. There are also many opportunities for creative arts students to explore their interests, whether through lighting design, soundscape or set design, and I hope to show young people with an interest in this industry how they can do this.

How has your career path evolved and pivoted over the years?  

I have been involved in technical theatre all of my working life and enjoy everything about this career, such as the spontaneity of getting a phone call and being asked if I am available to work on a show touring through Germany next week! 

I was the Performance Centre Manager here at Flinders when the Performance Centre opened in 2011. I returned to touring in 2012 and only had a real break during the pandemic, when two years of future bookings disappeared in a week. Then I shifted sideways and became a gardener, another passion of mine, which was unexpectedly and wildly successful. I was approached about joining the Flinders team again with the creation of our amazing Creative Arts program in 2019. And here we are.

What do you love about living on the Sunshine Coast? 

I grew up in the town of Cooroy, about 50 minutes’ north of Buderim. Currently I live in Cooran (just up the road from Cooroy) with my wife and two children. I spent from 1988 to 2006 ‘on tour’. We bought a small property in Cooran and have been based there. The Coast is just great. I like living in the bush and being so close to the ocean. But just living in Australia is really the best.

What are your favourite hobbies on the Sunshine Coast? 

I enjoy being outdoors gardening, rock climbing, hiking and mountain bike riding. 

What’s special about working in a school community? 

Being a part of the future of our country and helping to raise a good community.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? 

You never fail until you stop trying. 

Who gave you the advice and how has it helped you to grow as a person? 

I read it a while back and it always stuck with me. Long days at work can be hard, setbacks can be hard, LIFE can be hard. However, you must never stop trying because when the hard part is over, the feeling of having not given up is unmatched, and it builds that resilience.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Brendon.


Cover photo: Flinders Technical Co-ordinator, Mr Brendon West working on one of the College's 2022 Creative Arts co-curricular productions, A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Flinders technical theatre student Henri

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