“Walking in for the day, I can never be sure where and what I’ll be working on.”
Some people think facilities managers just make sure the lifts are running and the lights are on. In reality, an FM wears many hats. From space management to sustainability and security in the built environment, responsibilities can vary from FM to FM. It’s a career full of opportunity that takes people down different paths.
Facility Management’s ‘How I Got Here’ series chats to impressive people who have worked in the field to map out some of the paths taken and demystify this essential profession.
This week, we speak to Katie Harrigan, the technical and venue services team leader of The Round, a new performing arts hub in Nunawading, Melbourne. Harrigan is key to making sure the show can go on. One minute she is reviewing safety and security for patrons and the next she is rigging equipment 10 metres up in the air to support the many performers who come through the venue.
Facility Management: What sort of work had you done before working at The Round and how did it prepare you for your current role?
Katie Harrigan: Prior to working at The Round I was the technical services supervisor for Moonee Valley City Council’s performing arts centre, the Clocktower Centre.
Leading the technical department at Clocktower primed my skills in event organisation and venue operations. A strong focus of the role was technical services delivery and it was this side of operations that prepared me for the exciting challenges that planning and commissioning The Round presented.
Prior to the Clocktower I was a freelancing technician, specialising in sound production.
FM: How did you get the job as technical and venue services team leader at The Round?
Katie Harrigan: I stumbled across the job listing for The Round on my socials and I decided to throw my hat into the ring. After meeting the centre coordinator during the interview, it was clear that this was a golden opportunity worth getting in on the ground floor.
FM: What are your responsibilities and who are your stakeholders?
Katie Harrigan: I have oversight of the technical department, which is supported by a pool of very talented, professional and proficient technicians. My responsibilities include leadership and management of technical services, management of production and technical facilities, and asset management.
I also have venue operations as part of my purview, so business improvement, finance and contract management, compliance, safety and emergency management, and corporate responsibilities.
I work with a wide range of stakeholders, including professional, semi-professional and community stakeholders, council stakeholders, industry counterparts and a wide range of venue services contractors.
FM: What does your average day look like?
Katie Harrigan: What I love about my job is the diversity. Walking in for the day, I can never be sure where and what I’ll be working on.
I might be bouncing from a production meeting to a venue defect meeting, to an Op’s [operations] meeting, and the next thing I know I’m 10 metres up in the air rigging an LED star cloth, testing and tagging, or flying television flats for the touring production.
Apart from the odd spreadsheet or purchase requisition, there really is never a dull moment.
FM: Did you do any study and do you still use those skills in your role now?
Katie Harrigan: I’ve completed a Bachelor of Media Studies and went on to complete a Certificate IV and Advanced Diploma of Sound Production.
I had a blast undertaking my bachelor, however it was the TAFE courses that provided me with the practical skills I currently use in my role.
Having said that, the majority of skills I use now I learnt on the floor, in particular the ability to multi-task with competing deadlines. Once you have a foot in the door the upskilling is exponential.
FM: What are the demands on you from the performers versus the demands on you from the audience? Do they require different things from a venue operations perspective?
Katie Harrigan: Demands received from the audience are for the most part fairly fundamental – a clean and safe venue, a comfortable temperature and theatre doors to open on time. When it comes to the ability to multi-task with competing deadlines, practice makes perfect.
The demands received from performers are two-pronged: the fundamentals and their specific technical requirements. This could range from a basic balloon drop, custom orchestra lift height, flying a performer, dozens of wireless microphone systems, or a five-piece vintage Ludwig drum kit – the sky’s the limit. All technical requirements require a good look through the occupational health and safety lens.
As there is such variation between technical requirements, careful consideration is required to provide a safe environment for patrons, staff and performers alike. From mitigating fall hazards on stage to identifying impact hazards when transitioning in dark conditions, safely executing the use of fire, water or pyrotechnics, or cleaning up spill hazards when the foam machines ramp up to 11.
FM: What technology do you rely on to do your job?
Katie Harrigan: From a hardware perspective, I rely heavily on PC and Macs, digital mixing systems, lighting control platforms and vision systems to deliver events. For every piece of hardware there is software that enables us to operate more efficiently.
The Round also has all the modern venue systems that ensures the facility runs as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Systems include solar PV, rainwater recycling, accessible auto-assist doors, intelligent venue lighting control, motorised hoists systems and multi-faceted fire safety systems.
FM: What do you enjoy about your job?
Katie Harrigan: I love the community focus that comes with working for Local Government. I love working with my hands, in addition to my computer. I love that every person who comes into The Round in some way contributes to storytelling and the creative arts.