Igniting connections across the globe.

Women Of Automation Part 2: Isabella Stadler

By Anna Robb

Isabella, what is your location, job title and job responsibilities day to day?

Hey there, I’m Izzy the Aussie and I’m an Automation Technician for PRG – Scenic Technologies.

I work out of the PRG – Scenic Technologies workshop in New Windsor, New York but my job takes me to all corners of the USA, sometimes beyond.

While in the workshop I’m responsible for system configuration and testing of the control components with the scenic pieces. This includes wiring components, configuring digital system components and some coding, programming cues and testing control and feedback circuits, testing winches and motors, calculating max velocities and encoder count ratios and the rest of the time it’s a heap of heavy lifting and coiling of cable!

When out on site I am responsible for the safe and successful delivery of our Automation Control Systems and this can involve system setup, testing and adjusting, rigging, setting limits, ensuring safe operation of each winch and drive, programming the show or training a programmer/operator and liaising with clients regarding the delivery of the system and any changes that need to be made.

How did you get into the field of Automation? What were the steps that lead you into this area?

My fascination with Automation began at University where I completed several internships focusing on different control systems. This, fortunately, carried over to my first large-scale tour where I was the cover for the Automation Operator on Dirty Dancing (Australia). Following the tour I was able to secure an Automation Internship with PRG – Scenic Technologies; this was 2 years ago and now I’m fortunate enough to be one of their programmers and on-site techs!

For the most part, Automation isn’t something taught in University or College in both the USA and Australia, but I’ve seen that start to change. I hold a Bachelor’s in Production but most of what I learnt has been on the job with a bit of extra homework to offset the practical skills. I tried to seek out different types of shows and systems and asked loads of questions and just said yes to every job I could manage.

What is the best part of your job? What is the worst?

The most enjoyable aspects of the job are travelling and the challenge of setting up a new show. Each gig is different, from the type of automated effect through to the crew who are installing it and there are always numerous obstacles to overcome be it physical or interpersonal.

The downside to the fabulousness is the long hours at all times of the day or night and the often impossible schedules and deadlines that the crew try their best to keep to.

This is the best and worst; I get to live and work internationally but at the same time I’m a really long way from home!

What skills do you need to have to be part of the Automation world?

There are a range of skills required in the Automation industry and differ from job to job, but I would say for an installation tech you need sound Carpentry and Mechanical skills, good electrical knowledge and understanding of control circuitry, good maths skills and good communication.

Further to this, for a programmer or operator for a show run you’d need some of the skills of the tech plus incredible communication skills, understand what each of your winches is capable of and know how to program it artistically and safely as well as be able to program quickly.

Above all, you need to be totally calm under pressure, things won’t always go to plan.

There are a hundred things that could potentially go wrong and you need to be able to safely and efficiently get out of any situation, be it in a load in or the middle of a show. Especially during a show, you then need to be able to communicate any problems, and a plan of action to resolve the issues and continue with the show as quickly as possible.

Name a person who inspires you and tell us why

Jenn Ryan – Head Carpenter of The Kinky Boots Australia Tour

She is the only female Head Carpenter in the large-scale touring Musical Theatre scene in Australia and she’s completely brilliant. It’s inspiring to see how she handles the various challenges of touring life and always with respect, fun and just the right amount of sass! It’s an honour to call her my friend.

If I were to pass on any nuggets of wisdom, it would be this:

Don’t give up, work hard, don’t do things half-assed and learn how to kickbox! Ladies, most of the jobs we do are male dominated ones, it’s just how it is, don’t let that stop you.

People will say all kinds of things, they won’t take you seriously and they’ll keep calling you sweetheart. Most of the time these slights aren’t intentional, and when they are you’ll be glad of the kickboxing. But the industry is changing every day, there is hope! Be yourself, don’t take any crap and go Wonder-Woman your way through the world!

Cover photo by Janusz Ciechowski
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