ONE of the things the National Arts Festival is best known for is its outstanding technical expertise and professional stage services, breathing life into artists’ creative visions – and this is thanks largely to our Technical Director, Nicci Spalding, who can spot a missing plug, a wrongly angled light or misplaced nail at 100 paces!
Nicci, who holds an honours degree in Dramatic Arts from the University of the Witwatersrand, has been working on the production side of the entertainment industry since 1994. She has extensive cross-disciplinary experience, having worked on productions in every genre.
In between appointing a team for 2019 and venue scheduling, we asked Nicci to come out from under her desk and answer a few questions about her job…
What does your job as Technical Manager entail? How long have you been at NAF?
I attended the National Arts Festival for the first time in 1994, and I joined the Festival tech team in 1997 and returned every year until 2004. After a bit of a break doing all sorts of other things around the world, I came back in 2011 [, just part time you understand… just for a little while…
What is the biggest change you have seen at the Festival over the years?
I think what impresses me the most is the things that don’t change. The fact that no matter what happens, no matter how tight the budget is or many disasters we face, the Festival happens. The artists arrive with the most incredible work, the technical teams make it happen, the audiences come out to see it, and the people of Makhanda rally round to support us all, and this amazing event takes place. It blows me away every year.
What is the single greatest asset a Technical Director must have?
An Elastic Brain. You have to be able to multitask your multi-tasking and switch between things all of the time. Just the other day I was fixing a vacuum cleaner while talking to a lighting designer on the phone
about what colours we are going to use for a production.
Best bits about your job?
Without a doubt, the team that I work with.
What happens in your office when it’s not Festival?
We plan another Festival.
Some highlights over the years – your favourite or funniest moments?
Oh, there have been so many. But I would say that the time the street parade got rained on so hard that we had to take shelter in Nombulelo Hall – not knowing that there was a funeral later that morning in the hall. The brass band was playing a suitably festive number to keep everyone’s spirits up when the undertakers arrived with a hearse. The family was actually very touched when the coffin was given a very colourful guard of honour into the hall. I will not forget that morning in a hurry.
There must be some hectic things that happen backstage that the audience is totally unaware of. Can you let us into some secrets?
Then I would have to kill you. What happens backstage stays backstage.
What is your favourite stress-time snack?
We, in the technical office, do not discriminate against any snack food but, if we had to nominate favourites, then Nik Naks, Chipniks and Nanaga Rusks are who we turn to when times are hard.