Three of Gearhouse’s first year students, who are currently enrolled at the Kentse Mpahlwa Gearhouse Academy in Cape Town, recently worked on the Johannesburg leg of the RMB Starlight Classics (Sept 2013), after they impressed JAM Events production managers, Sam McGrath and Joanne Jaques with their hard work and skills at the Cape Town event held in March 2013. 

To receive such recognition of excellence from a production company is an absolute honour for these “newbies” and an affirmation for them that going the extra mile to keep their clients happy is the way to stand out in the industry. 

A quick interview delivered some insight on what keeps these youngsters motivated and how they manage to deliver such a recognisable quality of service. Clearly a trio of strong personalities; they define themselves as follows:

Michael Wessels: In one word, “pedantic”. I strive to be professional in the work place, whilst learning from my peers and colleagues.

Pieter Coetzee:  I would say I am hyperactive. At work I am hardworking, willing, always thinking of how to improve where possible, a little crazy and open-minded. In my private life I am a lot quieter and laid back.

Robin Peterson: I am governed by my strong moral ethics.

Do you have a mentor and if so, who and what special traits drew you to them?

Michael: I would consider my main mentor at Gearhouse to be Hayden Bagley. Because Hayden is already in his second year in the internship, he understands what it is like for us to be in this big industry for the first time. He is patient and he strove to make sure that I understood the task at hand, whilst still maintaining a professional attitude towards the client on the particular gig that we were assigned to. 

In saying that, I must admit that the entire AV department has taken me under their wing and under the skilful guidance of AV Technician, Matthew Holmes, I am learning more each day. He has a great passion for his job and it’s evident in his work. His positive attitude provides a strong backbone for the department, helping me to learn a lot in such a short time.

Pieter: Ryan Shepherd (Gearhouse Project Manager) and Mark Gandy (Senior Structures Technician). These guys are proof that there is no limit to what you can do or become. I admire these two particularly for the name they have built for themselves in the industry both locally and internationally, especially because they started from the bottom. 

Robin: I do not have a specific mentor.

What is your ultimate career goal?

Michael: One day I would like to work in theatres on major productions like Cirque du Soleil. That is a very farfetched dream at this point in my career, but it is something that I would like to work towards.

Pieter: To work internationally within whichever path I take in Gearhouse.

Robin: To become the Power HOD.

Considering the gruelling hours that go into setting up an event and the challenges facing you in this industry, what keeps you motivated? 

Michael: Both the end product and the reaction from the client at the end of the day are sufficient motivation for me!

Pieter: I am motivated by knowing that the more effort I put into my work the more benefits I reap and the more opportunities I create. I’m not looking at now, where I might be suffering a tad… lol…but future rewards will be worth it!

Robin: I love to see the look on the faces of the people who watch the show.

What has been the highlight of being part of the Kentse Mphalwa Gearhouse internship programme so far?

Michael: I have acquired skills that I may never have had a chance to, if it had not been for this opportunity.

Pieter: Being allowed to make mistakes and to experience all the departments and to be able to draw from all the knowledge that is at my disposal. 

Robin: Working on RMB Starlight Classics – Cape Town & Johannesburg.

What challenges do you face in your work and what is your approach to them?

Michael: Every outdoor, sport and live event that I have attended since I was a child encouraged my interest in the technical side of events. I have always offered to lend a hand to the crew on any of the events and after a while I got involved with a small company doing parties and small events and really enjoyed where the work took me, so when I heard about the internship at Gearhouse, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of such a large scale and professional company.

Sometimes the sheer diversity of cultures and work ethics amongst the different players can create problems. I try not to get involved when it comes to politics or arguments, but when it affects me directly; I try to defuse the situation with a calm, rational approach.

Pieter: Working with lazy people is my bugbear. I just ignore them or try to help.

Robin: The long working hours can be very hard, but I just try to remember that it's ultimately worth it when you see the end result. 

What would your advice be to other young people joining this industry?

Michael: Work hard and be punctual.

Pieter: Don’t be lazy and don’t always think you are right. 

Which department would you like to specialise in and why? 

Michael: I have taken a liking to the Audio Visual department and I can see myself going far in the industry with this department because of my pedantic behaviour, attention to detail, logical thinking and artistic ability – it’s a good fit!

Pieter: A few years back while I was still in high school I went to a few film shoots with a grip company and instantly knew I wanted to be part of either the Live Event industry or Film but as it turns out I really enjoy Structures and Rigging. I like hard labour and enjoy the physical side of the jobs, for example building and climbing. 

Robin: Power and audio as I have a great love and respect for both disciplines.

Would you encourage others to join the industry?

Michael: Sure but only if they are willing to work hard.

Pieter: Yes, but they should be prepared to know what it feels like to really work hard!

What character traits would you say someone would need to have in order to do your job?

Michael: People need to be open to learning and need to disregard race or socio-economic standing. Everybody has to learn to work together.

Pieter: You need to be friendly, non-offensive, focused, open minded and definitely hard working!

Robin: Be resilient and independent.

What does the opportunity to work for a company as reputable as Gearhouse SA mean to you?

Michael: It is a great honour to work for Gearhouse, as it opens so many doors into the live event Industry. 

Pieter: I think this internship is absolutely brilliant to give people a chance to even work for a company with a reputation like this. I enjoy every moment and I am absolutely grateful to have gotten the chance to work for Gearhouse.

Robin: It means I work with and learn from the best the South African Technical Services industry has to offer.

You recently worked on RMB Starlight Classics, how was that experience for you?

Michael: The RMB Starlight Classics Tour has been the highlight of my career so far. The CTN show was one of the first events that we worked on as students and being selected to work on the JHB leg was a great privilege. RMB Starlight Classics JHB was a great learning experience, getting to work with people from a different branch of our company, and learning different skills and seeing how they conduct themselves in a professional environment. 

Pieter: It was my second time and I enjoyed it even more than the first. Once again, I have learnt so much from Ryan and others on the project. I had an absolute blast. 

Robin: It was a great experience to work on this show and see developing talent in SA.

It is an honour for RMB and JAM Events to have sponsored you to travel with the show to set up in JHB after your Cape Town delivery - what are your feelings around that?

Michael: I am very grateful for the opportunity that RMB allowed me. The tour to JHB has helped me to realise the great opportunities that await me in the future. 

Pieter: I feel absolutely honoured to work on such a wonderful project twice in one year. To see the success of the show was a great feeling.

Robin: It was a great honour for me to have been picked as I was just doing my job.

These three will probably only graduate at the end of 2014, if they decide to specialise in their second year at the Academy, as well. Either way, we look forward to welcoming this enthusiastic energy into the industry and hope to see them succeed on their respective career paths.

Gearhouse’ annual industry Internship runs from training centres in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. This free-of-charge, full-time in-house training programme teaches learners theoretical and practical components in key technical areas: 

  • Lighting 
  • Sound 
  • Audio-Visual 
  • Rigging 
  • Structures 
  • Power 

The course aims to produce work-ready industry entrants with a strong foundation in the exacting safety standards and methodology required for the Technical Production Services industry. Around 30 Kentse Mphalwa Gearhouse Academy graduates enter the industry each year.

Story Akani Tshimbane Photo Robyn D'Alessandro

Nov 27, 2013

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