ABTT Technician of the Year 2019

8 June 2019

The ABTT is exceptionally pleased to have presented Martin Chisnall with the Technician of the Year Award for 2019, at a ceremony held at the end of the first day of the annual ABTT Theatre Show at Alexandra Palace, north London.

In front of a hugely appreciative audience of Theatre Industry peers and colleagues, Martin received a signed certificate along with the coveted ABTT Hook-Clamp. Having been introduced and announced as this year’s winner by long-time collaborator and friend, Lighting Designer Nick Richings, Martin was presented with the personalised trophy engraved with his name and the title of the award by ABTT Chairman Richard Bunn, Theatre Consultant at Arup.

With current West End productions including Bitter Wheat (Garrick Theatre), Night of the Iguana (Noel Coward Theatre) and the musical The Light in the Piazza (Royal Festival Hall), Martin caught the lighting bug early, illuminating every play and musical possible in his school’s theatre.

An avid reader of any stage lighting book he could lay his hands on, primarily those by Francis Reid, Fred Bentham and Richard Pilbrow, he applied and was subsequently accepted into the National Youth Theatre in the early 1980s, then based at the Shaw Theatre, London.

Seeing his potential, the NYT’s Lighting Course leader Jerry Hodgson, offered Martin his first paid work on the Shaw’s Christmas production of Mother Goose, lit my Mark Jonathon. It was here that Martin’s schoolboy’s dream of operating more than 18 dimmers came true, when he was put in charge of the MMS lighting board.

As Assistant Electrician at the Lyric Hammersmith, the depth of Martin’s knowledge was further increased, again working with Jerry at the busy producing house, alongside some of the leading lighting designers of the day, including Brian Harris, Andy Philips, Mick Hughes and Chris Ellis.

This led to promotion to Chief Electrician on his move to the Unicorn Theatre for Children, then located at the Arts Theatre in central London, and subsequently onto the legendary Theatre Royal Stratford East, under the Artistic Directorship of Philip Hedley.

Going freelance in 1992, Martin paired up with Nick Richings to work on Wendy Toye’s touring production of The Sound of Music, the first of many shows they worked on together.

Reflecting in his citation, Nick disclosed, “Martin has always had a dry sense of humour mixed with sharp technical knowledge. His brilliance for me is that he intrinsically understands what I want and how to deliver it and has frequently given me advice on how to achieve things without ever being afraid to let me know if things we not possible. However, at the same time he would secretly be working out how to give me the effect or lighting positions I wanted (usually involving roof voids), all to my great surprise when I discovered the LX team had been beavering away and had managed to do the impossible. He is also great as a sounding board when something gets too much – the best solution being to nip to the pub.”

He continued, “Since my first encounter with Martin, his talents have been spotted by many other lighting designers including Mark Henderson, Rick Fisher, Hugh Vanstone, Howard Harrison, Jon Clark, Peter Mumford, and most recently Neil Austin, with whom he collaborated for the award-winning Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”

Neil, unable to attend the ABTT Award ceremony due to technical rehearsals on his and Martin’s latest project together (Bitter Wheat), sent his commendations, “Martin is an extraordinary professional. He has been at the top of the Production Electrician industry for more years than he’d like me to mention and yet still has such an enthusiasm for his job.

His attention to detail is as legendary as his sharp sense of humour and reticence to suffer fools. He nurtures new talent, spotting promising people and giving them freelance work to encourage their careers. He has worked on the largest of musicals and spectaculars and brings that level of knowledge, attention to detail and professionalism to the smallest of plays.

Going into a production week with Martin by your side is to know that you have chosen the best. The level of preparation and detail he brings to a project is truly impressive – it will be Martin that reminds you of the things you’ve forgotten; that spots the errors in the plan; that nudges the Production Manager into action; and that surprises you with the extras that you wanted but failed to specify. He protects you from the worst and allows you to get on and light the show whilst he sorts out the rest.

Simply put: he is the best and deserves this recognition.”


L-R: Martin Chisnall, Production Electrician & ABTT Technician of the Year 2019, with Lighting Designer Neil Austin, celebrating the 2017 Olivier Award for Best Lighting for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

When not travelling the world on Mamma Mia duties – a show with which he has a twenty-year association – Martin is a keen ‘fair weather’ cyclist, with a penchant for white crumbly cheese.

The Technician of the Year Award is one of the most important accolades the Association bestows, as it recognises the achievement of an individual at the heart of their career but who consistently delivers technical excellence.

Open to ABTT members and non-members alike, recipients have usually pursued full employment in a backstage or production management role for at least 10 years and have predominantly worked on the presentation of live performance in places of entertainment or on theatrical experiences in non-conventional spaces.

Their qualities will include not only a mastery of their chosen discipline but also recognition as an expert practitioner by their peers, having achieved and promoted best practice throughout their career: in doing so they will have made a significant contribution to technical excellence in the delivery of world class performance.

Robin Townley, ABTT CEO, commented after the presentation: “The ABTT has adopted four underpinning core values: Promoting Inclusion & Diversity: Enabling Talent: Acknowledging Achievement and Representing All. The ABTT Theatre Show is one of the Association’s flagship events and we are very pleased to be able to take the opportunity this evening to acknowledge Martin’s tremendous achievements as a Production Electrician of exceptional talent and ability.

We hope that by giving his peers the opportunity with this Award to mark and record their respect for his commitment and contribution we shall also provide a platform by which to encourage a new generation of future talent to pursue backstage careers in our industry.

We recognise that we must share in the sector’s efforts to attract that new talent from throughout all of our society and to ensure the careers they seek to pursue are sustainable and rewarding.  To this end we are looking forward to hosting an Associations’ Breakfast Forum at the Theatre Show tomorrow morning where representatives from a broad range of organisations supporting aspects of theatre and live performance will be able to hear presentations about: Get Into Theatre – the essential website to help young people find all the information and opportunities they need to pursue a successful career in theatre in the UK; Stage Sight – a forum working  to create an off stage workforce that is more reflective of our society today, inclusive of ethnicity, class and disability; and UK NAWC – the UK National Arts Wellbeing Collective, dedicated to promoting wellbeing and mental health in the arts industries. By providing space and time for our sector to come together and consider best practice going forward we hope to positively contribute to the successful future of our industry.”

Martin joins an illustrious list of ABTT Technician of the Year winners, including: Malcolm Glanville (2018), Charlotte Lockyer (2017), Steve Huttly (2016), Gavin Pell (2015), Peter Lambert (2014), Ben Sandford (2013), Andy Brown (2012), Alex Hitchcock (2011), David Draude (2010), John Tapster (2009), Simon Stone (2008), Othman ‘Hoffman’ McGregor-Read (2007), Antony Bridges (2006, awarded posthumously), Stuart Crane (2005), Fraser Hall (2004), Andy Voller (2003) & Nick Ware (2002)