Live events come together in many ways. Some firms bring in their own internal teams, while others employ a professional known as the technical director to facilitate the process. Essentially, the job of a technical director (TD) is to make a show run efficiently. From beginning to end, the TD plays a pivotal role in ensuring the event is executed not only successfully, but also in the most efficient way for the client. The benefit of a TD can sometimes be undervalued because it can take solving a problem for their role to be recognized, when the true value of what they do is minimizing any issues on show site. But, whether an event goes off exactly as planned, or experiences challenges, a good TD is well worth the investment and the value they can provide pays for themselves, significantly more than the cost.
The technical director’s job begins long before the show loads into the venue. One of the key responsibilities of the TD is to orchestrate all the elements of the event in advance to make sure an optimal plan is in place with maximum efficiency for load in, show execution, and load out. A technical director will typically require site visits to inspect the location, and identify any potential pitfalls that may have any impact, as well as efficiencies that are in place in order to develop the best strategy to deliver the show. They will also work with the venue’s operations for items such as power drops, rigging points, internet connectivity, and look for any uniqueness regarding the property, such as rules regarding bringing in lifts, using loading docks, fire marshal regulations, and any government and city guidelines.
The technical director acts as the point person to coordinate all the different contractors, such as the scenic, lighting, sound, video, or entertainment crews. The TD will make sure the right teams are in place, and put together a very regimented schedule for delivery, set up, testing, rehearsals, and strike times, organized for optimal efficiency to avoid overtime, and work to maximize on cost savings for the client. The technical director can ensure everyone is on schedule and interfaces with the stage manager to call the show. An experienced TD is working to ensure the entire production team is maximizing the value by preparing a process that takes the show from concept to completion, and holds everyone accountable to make sure all the elements are connected to deliver the show and meet any financial budget.
Organizational and communication skills are essential for a technical director to be successful, but at the heart of the role is problem-solving. The best TDs are usually ones that come from a theatrical live event space, working in the industry for a long time and are very seasoned with the experience to overcome obstacles. On show site, they will deal with the “Oh, by the way...” changes and additions that can pop up, and adjust the schedule accordingly or manage any potential impact. The greatest value a TD brings to the table is eliminating risk, as they are trained to deal with challenges that can arise that you can’t plan for within the live event world.
The best TDs are in demand, and I would estimate that in the United States, there are probably fewer than 100 that bring in that high level of quality and experience. The cost of having a technical director on an event can roughly run between $5-25K, depending on the size and scope of the event, so it’s important to determine if the show’s budget can afford the investment. For a small show with a low production budget, it might not make sense to invest in a technical director, but once the budget goes up and the complexity increases, the need for a TD on staff becomes essential to ensure a successful event. For a basic rule of thumb, if the show’s budget is $100K or more, a TD is a great investment. For mid-sized shows under $100K, the investment in a technical director would need to be determined based on the scale and complexity of the event.
The technical director wears many hats, and has a potpourri of things to deal with to manage the event process. It takes a special type of person that excels at a myriad of skills—patience, problem-solving, communications, organization, creativity, relationship-building, and the ability to multi-task—to name a few. They touch each part of the event and interface with everyone on the team—producers, clients, and contractors— to make things happen according to plan, and tackle any obstacles that occur along the way to create a seamless experience. Often times TDs are not truly appreciated until something goes awry on an event, but the real value they bring is immeasurable, as they are key to delivering a successful show.