Pro AVL Asia January–February 2024

Page 22


L–R: Micah Johnson, Entertech director Kate Kelly and senior AV engineer Richard Hulston

Pushing the first domino Micah Johnson discusses Entertech’s efforts in fostering the next generation of theatre engineers through education and exposure to new technologies

Micah Johnson INCEPTED IN 1979, STUDIO ENTERTECH has undergone a lot of changes over four decades, but one thing remains the same – a love for theatre at its core. From performing arts centres to stadiums to local community theatres, Entertech, made up of experts from a performing arts background, collaborates with venue operators, architects and builders to design spaces that bring people together. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility, and Entertech isn’t afraid to tackle challenges that the industry faces. As well as a dedication to creating inclusive, safe, accessible, efficient spaces for those on both sides of the curtain, managing director and theatre consultant Micah Johnson and the Entertech team are on a mission to foster the next generation of technicians. Entertech has supported the Victorian Association of Performing Arts Centres (VAPAC) in forming the VAPAC Industry Development Initiative, with the

aim of bringing together a taskforce from venues, events and consulting to support new structures that will help attract and retain talented individuals old and new. Johnson notes his plans for the VAPAC initiative for the near future: “We’ve conducted some roundtables, bringing industry people together to talk about these issues, and have plans to create individual programmes for training, apprenticeships and partnerships with government bodies.” Entertech also works closely with the education sector, designing venues in schools and universities as professional spaces, consciously crafted to host training to further build the industry skills base. When visiting local schools today, Johnson sees familiar roadblocks that he and his peers encountered as young technicians: “When talking with students, a lot of them are unclear on the career path they should be taking. In particular, teachers are saying ‘we can get a kid interested in being a

technician to this point or grade here, and there’s a gap and they just disappear and don’t come back’.” Johnson asserts this can be helped by giving students access to the same technologies that are appearing in leading professional venues – immersive audio in its various forms included. Schools – as well as community venues – are now installing 3D object-based audio and active acoustic systems, giving young people the opportunity to experiment with the next generation of live audio tools. “We’ve put these systems into some universities as well as large commercial theatres, and staff from more forward-looking schools and centres will often hear about the work we’ve done on the grapevine and will have the resources to implement them really quickly, which is fantastic.” But what about educational and community spaces where a big budget isn’t something afforded to them? Johnson insists there’s ways round it without compromising opportunities: “There’s still that pool of innovative technical artists who are willing to experiment and see what they can do with fewer resources. Also, there are commercial systems coming out that are bridging that gap – systems that provide a more flexible speaker matrix, for example, so you don’t need to go and buy the whole system like you do with certain bigger brands. A lot of these venues use Dante or something similar, so that the speakers can be moved around, you can add and remove channels, or you can change how they interact. These products are encouraging innovative artists to be able to ramp up towards the high end of the technology and user-friendly interfaces so

that they can achieve a lot more, regardless of resources.” It’s early days for the VAPAC initiative, but Johnson sees no reason why it can’t grow into its very own beast in time, saying: “We’re a small company so, realistically, we can’t support this whole thing on an ongoing basis by ourselves but, in 10 years, whether we’re still involved in it directly or not, I’d like to see a structure that’s still making sure that the industry is healthy for our technicians and that they’re bringing them in nicely. “And for now, the initiative is set up with VAPAC meaning its scope is specific to Victoria, but I don’t think it’s something that can be boxed in as these issues are happening everywhere. My goal with this scheme is to push the first domino, if you like, and then be able to look back and say ‘hey, it’s lit a fire and it is starting itself’ – it’s setting up new initiatives and systems that are making it easier and more attractive for technicians to come into the industry and, more importantly, stay in it.” Johnson explains that Entertech’s drive derives from a love for local enterprises and a love for the industry, which he feels separates his company from large international theatre consultancy firms. “There’s something about giving back to our local community here – that’s why we do it. And I believe that’s the case for a lot of people in theatre, no one’s really in it for the money. You’re in it because you love what it is. We’re not a big engineering company that’s just trying to make the dollars work. We’re in it to make the industry work now and in the future.”

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