The Technical Challenges of Touring Internationally

New York City, United States

It is critically important that there be one person on your tour who is responsible for planning and executing all of the technical elements of the show. Perhaps this is one of your company's designers who is willing to do lots more than normally expected of a designer because of the perks of international travel. Perhaps it is a freelancer who is chosen because s/he knows the part of the world where you're touring, or because s/he speaks the language.

Ideally you will have two people covering this area – a production designer and a stage manager -- but with budgets as tight as they are, you may have to count on one person to handle the gamut of responsibilities.

This person must have the requisite skill set to match the considerable challenges that go beyond his/her brilliance as a designer: Patience, powers of persuasion, ability to repair broken equipment, improvisational talents, calm under pressure, optimism, charisma, willingness to take on any task and leadership.

In addition, when a tour calls for performances in large theaters where high production values are critical, it may be necessary to factor in extra local technical support in the way of rental equipment and contracted professional crew.

Tech Rider

Each touring company should create a tech rider describing as much as possible about the technical needs of your production(s) (ie. lighting, sound, scenery, floor, props, crew.) However, it is not sufficient to send out the tech rider and expect that everything will be in place when you hit the ground. There is no such thing as too much advance preparation.

Here is a check list that will give you the feeling that you’ve done everything possible to prepare yourself and the venue for your arrival:

Sending Initial Production Information (several months ahead of the project)

A Technical Rider specific to the tour or projects should be sent to the tour host, producer or Embassy, before the venue is selected so production needs and schedules can be accommodated

Gathering Information (one month ahead of the project)

  • After venue selection, obtain the following from the theater as far in advance as possible
  • Coordinates for main technical Point of Contact person (could be venue Technical Director, Production Manager, or Producer)
  • Ground plan of the theater
  • Sectional drawing
  • Inventory of technical equipment including lighting, sound, projection and soft goods
  • Line set list (including any that may have permanent or immovable objects or usages)
  • Repertory Light plot (if there is one)
  • Sample plot for dance (if there is one)
  • 360◦ photos and videos of the stage (including a close-up of the floor), backstage, dressing rooms, overhead lighting positions, lighting board, auditorium, etc.
  • Auditorium seating plan
  • Job descriptions of the crew that will be supporting your performance and rehearsals

Advancing the Show (two weeks ahead of the project)

  • Designer/ Technical director customizes light plot and schedule based on information received. Plot is e-mailed to theater tech director with copy to local host institution or Embassy. Budgets may be impacted if the theater cannot answer your needs and additional outside equipment and crew must be engaged to supplement what the theater can provide. (It is not unheard of for the entire lighting and sound equipment and crew to be contracted if that solution is cheaper and more efficient than trying to interface with the theater’s in-house system.)
  • Additional information about scenery, flooring, and special sound requirements should also be sent
  • A production schedule detailing work hours, crew totals, tasks to be accomplished, and rehearsals should be sent to clarify all production expectations and provide a basis for understanding of the ways and means of assembling the production

Follow Up (throughout the planning process)

Follow up questions should be sent to the theater tech director, with a copy to your local host institution or Embassy, especially if no response to schedules and plans has been received. The purpose is to determine if there are communication issues, assess the comprehension and capability of the local management, and collaborate on solutions to any difficulties uncovered from the previous communication.


In the situation where the Production Designer/ Technical Director doesn't speak the local language (and the locals don't speak the touring company's) a translator should be in place for any working time in the theater. This need is vital and not to be underestimated. If the translator is not experienced in the vocabulary and work style of theater technology, s/he should familiarize him/herself in advance.

"Do I bring it or do I get it locally?"

Some things are almost always the theater's responsibility (dance floor, soft goods) and some things are almost always brought by the company (costumes, intricate props). But so much lands in the middle. We recommend bringing a stock of color (gel), spike tape in a variety of colors, glow tape and black gaffers tape. These things are expensive and can add poundage to the company’s baggage; however, it is often impossible to obtain these items locally and if they are not needed for some reason, donating some of it to a local theater or arts organization can earn a lot of gratitude.

If you have a show that requires certain equipment that is unavailable in various venues (within one country) on a tour, it might be worthwhile to investigate renting it once and then traveling with it in-country. This is often a great solution for items like light boards and projectors, which are heavy and expensive to transport from home, but which are critical to the show. Why configure and program this stuff anew at each theater if there's a way to carry it along?

Thanks to Barry Steele and Mike Riggs, both of whom contributed to this document with knowledge derived from Battery Dance Company tours..