Carte Blanche at Sadler’s Wells · By Monika Gruber

I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a week in London, being hosted by the Sadler’s Wells theatre London’s dancehouse.

Before I arrived, I got through the technical paperwork, all to be found on the website of Sadler’s Wells. After reading it, I felt I already knew a lot about the stages, security issues, and basically all necessary details around a production, because the lists are so thorough and informative and leave practically no big questions unanswered. You can also download the plans in three different CAD versions and pdf.

The technical team of the Tanzquartier is used to send all their information and plans to confirmed incoming artists only, which we will change now to the Sadler’s Wells system. There are multiple advantages as creating much less data traffic, the ability to change information faster for artists and production teams, so that was te first thing, that affected my work even before my arrival. The technical information section of Sadler’s Wells is a showcase of how to make like easier for incoming artists as well as for the in-house crew.

Emma Wilson (Director of Technical & Production) accompanied me through my week here at Sadler’s Wells and helped also to open doors to other houses (The Place and also the Royal Opera House, for example) and also to the PLASA.

PLASA Show is an exhibition and conference, designed to profile all aspects of the entertainment and installation industries. The PLASA is the place to see the newest gadgets and innovations and is ideal for technical staff and tech afficionados, just a good place to meet people, see and hear about new developments, most of which are of technical nature.

I was surprised and amazed to find and attend a seminar there, which was called “Improving our aproach to mental health”. Before the seminar I was not really sure about what to expect and did not know if I would stay throughout the whole seminar, but it turned out to be very interesting and a source for many discussions and new ideas there and also at my workplace in the Tanzquartier as well as with colleagues from other institutions.

I heard about different aspects of special needs or problems a person working especially in our industry can face recognised many of them, and basically everybody is affected. If not personally, than through colleagues, accidents, suicides or event terror attacks or private matters or else. (Paris, Manchester, to name some attacks which happened during concerts and had quite an impact on audience but also working crew).

It is extremely important to face themes of loss, fear, grief, traumas, divorces, burn-out, to name some, because those problems are causing quite a lot of pain and trouble and the troubles are not going away by ignoring them. There is a very important new approach to those problems in the UK, like having hotline numbers ready, talking to people who you see are struggling offering sponsorship, being open and aware and a source to talk to, which can make a real difference. Very often close colleagues know when somebody is having problems before anyone else, because we spend a lot of time at work.

It could be much more done than just putting up a sticker or paper with a hotline number on it. If we are able to provide a good, affordable or even free helping environment of professionals that take care of mental health and know about the special situations our jobs generate, it could mean saving a life, or improving a life to a better. Mental first aid should be as important as physical first aid and have at least the same awareness, attention and resources.

I really think the further dealing with a crisis, the healing process also needs to be taken out of institutions. For example in Austria we have to evaluate our workplaces and scale the amound of stress we feel about different aspects of our workfield together with the company’s doctor or the work inspector, but all in the workplace, which may not be the right place for those themes, because there is still a stigma to talk about it and it may be considered as weakness, which could be used as an instrument to judge your work performance and so people do not feel free to talk (also it provides no real help just evaluation).

Sadler’s Wells has an insurance especially for staff, who need help in any kind of crisis or trouble and everyone working there can go and take sessions with psychologists or coaches helping, if someone is in need, no matter what the cause of the crisis is (private or work related). The information who uses the services it is completely confidential, no personal information or data of how many staff have used the service is ever shared with the theatre.

I really think, that is something we should also consider and discuss in our institution, and the whole industry of artistic productions: to be more open to mental health issues in general! We all know, that we are working in a stressful environment, often on the edge of our strenght and at the moment there is a lot of denial to be noticed when it comes to issues that affect mental stability.

We also exchanged our experiences regarding safety, information, technical standards, planned obsolence of products, blackout demands of artists an things that changed over the last twenty years.

I will for sure overthink our inspection routines in regard of regularity and intervals as well as evacuating scenarios and paperwork provided for our front of house personnel and also office staff, after having talked to Emma about the routines at Sadler’s Wells. Sadler’s Wells is again a perfectly organised house, leaving no grey areas, when it comes to safety of the working environment.

I was also able to get to look into the work of the Programming team provided by the Programming Manager Richard Cross and his assistant Sarah Lacombe, who showed me how they work and explained their artistic development programs as well as the programming structure and such. Being a much bigger institution than ours those structures are not really comparable to our small house.

It was interesting to see, that there is a really great audience hospitality performed, I never really felt that in comparable houses in Vienna, so there is also something to think about. English politeness versus Viennese “politeness” (Viennese people know what I am talking about), for sure something to think about, at least for me.

I would like to thank all people of Sadler’s Wells, especially Emma Wilson for the patience and time and much appreciated talks we had.

Monika Gruber
Technical Director at Tanzquartier Wien
28 September 2017