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Girls Can Be Riggers Too: Saying Yes to a Breathtaking View

POSTED

5 Aug 2021

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Written By Abi Tabone

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There’s no way to glamourise it, working as an entertainment rigger is a hard slog. Working as a female rigger, perhaps even more so. Whatever path you’re interested in taking for an entertainment career, saying ‘yes’ to the opportunities you’re given is the only way to start.

Disclaimers up front; I’m not actually a rigger, but I’ve worked with riggers for many years.  And I’m old. I’ve hustled from working as a lighting technician in a theatre, to electrics jobs, dance parties, music festivals, tours, dingy pubs, RSLs, hauling heavy road cases up nightclub steps stinking of stale beer. I’ve worked doofs in places that were so decrepit the buildings have been demolished. I’ve been pregnant and worked at dance parties. I’ve been backstage, side of stage, on film sets and up followspot towers for half of my career. Yes it’s male dominated. But it’s never stopped many of the women I love and cherish from pursuing brilliant, shiny careers.

To illustrate my vintage, my first real gig came in about 1997 on Big Day Out in Melbourne. A friend called my landline to say I needed a “mobile phone” if I was serious about being a lighting tech. I distinctly remember having the ladies bathroom entirely to myself, working with an entirely male crew on the show. I’ve changed careers from lighting tech to rigging coordinator, operations manager for a rigging company, business development, digital producing, teaching and now, film producing. Every new opportunity I’ve taken up comes from a place of saying ‘yes’, taking the plunge, and figuring out the steps needed to execute on every gig.

Working with riggers over the years has left me in awe of their skill, tenacity and bravery. It’s a versatile trade. Typically the first in and the last out of any show, rigging gives you a great vantage point to see different departments at work. In live entertainment, riggers do points for sound, lighting and screens. In film and television, it’s even more varied. Colleagues have specialised into special effects, stunts or touring rigging as they find their groove.

Rigger Jo McAvenna, a female Gold Coast rigger for over 20 years, tells me that whilst it’s still “the quintessentially male dominated trade” it has a lot of depth and variety. Jo always encourages other female technicians she meets to make sure they’re building contacts, skills and tickets. Whilst COVID-19 has ground the major events industry to a stand still, the film industry is booming at the moment. But in the leaner times, when work may be more famine than feast, having a suite of tickets makes you more employable. Key tickets for a well-rounded rigger would include dogging, rigging, forklift and elevated work platform. Jo goes on to say “It’s great to see women out there on the tools. When I started it was a hard slog, and I do feel that it’s changed a lot now. Push wherever you can to get a foot in, put yourself out there, and go from there.”

A Sydney rigger and veteran of countless Australian events and festivals, over 40 films, and touring shows with the likes of Michael Jackson, Robbie Williams and Rammstein, Gillian Huxley is currently on location in Israel shooting Ninja Warrior and training young riggers. “It’s a diverse job. Truthfully I have never been ‘the girl over there’, or ‘that woman who does this job’ or the ‘token female’. I am pretty certain I’m a rigger.” On those occasions when she feels challenged or isolated, she reminds herself, and others that “Risk taking and deep breaths are equal parts to having the adventure.” To younger women starting out who feel a calling to follow in her footsteps she says: “When you’re working with someone more experienced than you, write 3 things down you learn that day. And the next and the next. I was told this when I started. I still have that book. I still write in it.”

Rigging is not easy. It is often hard, dirty, heavy work. You’ll be loading out at 2.00am, long after the shine has gone out of the show. But having the mindset to look for the opportunities, find what you’re good at and keep persevering will get you a long way. By its nature, rigging is a team pursuit. Having good communication skills is essential. Some of my wildest and most beautiful friends are riggers and they’re a motley bunch; circus performers, stunties, rock and rollers who’ve circled the globe. There’s a sense of edginess and kookiness to the kind of people who are drawn to rigging.  In any crew, there’s a sense of family.

What is common in entertainment is that we are collectively chasing and working towards beautiful, public, shared moments of creativity where people are spellbound. It might not save lives, but it is necessary. And addictive. That’s when you find yourself in the groove – pull it down, plan the next one, push the technical envelope and do it all again. Chasing the magic.

That magic might be an aria ringing out across the Harbour on a stage you helped build. It might be the moment on a film that seems impossible, but you remember the planning and technical wizardry that went into each shot. The roar of a crowd. Or the sweaty, sticky heartbeat of punters enchanted by music in a shared, euphoric moment.

Events have become slicker and more professional over my working life. Encouragingly, there are many layers of entertainment, and many avenues to find work. The versatility of rigging makes it a great career move. No two days are alike, and you won’t ever be bored. Whatever you choose, the key to finding your career path in entertainment is to say yes to opportunities. Chase the magic, say yes, and you’ll find your tribe.

Photos: Courtesy of Gillian Huxley

Written by Abi Tabone

Abi is a producer at Midwinter Films, with recent projects including Canneseries winning ‘Over and Out’.  Abi holds a Masters degree in Screen Arts and Business from AFTRS and is a member of staff at Compton School, Australia’s first business school for creatives.

Connect with Abi on LinkedIn

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