Sarah Philpot talks mixing live sound and backstage gender bias

Breakthrough Talent Award winner, Sarah Philpot, reflects on her transition from lighting design to mixing live sound, and the backstage gender bias she’s encountered along the way.

What first sparked your interest in sound engineering? 

“I spent most of my childhood stood next to PA desks in pubs because my parents were in bands and toured the pub circuit. I also used to perform at open mic nights, playing piano and guitar. I stepped in as a lighting tech last minute for a school production, but my heart was with live sound, so I began learning the basics using ancient theatre equipment.”

Have you faced any additional barriers breaking into the sector?

“Most people are really interested in getting me on board their company, band or their venue and it can be a really uplifting experience until we get to things like rigging and derigging, where suddenly I’m deemed not strong enough to pitch in. I knew when I was beginning that being weak wasn’t going to work in my favour, so I worked hard to make sure that even if I couldn’t necessarily do a thing the way a man would do it – I have a different approach that would mean I could still lift a heavy speaker onto a tripod stand. There is still an outdated preconception that men are stronger, more capable and should exclusively lift heavy equipment. However, like I tell everyone, if I need help, I will ask for it.”

How did it feel to win a Breakthrough Talent Award at Production Futures ON TOUR?

“It was a shock but I’m so happy to have won, I later found out that my close friends and previous winners, Gabi Wilson and Elliot Baines, as well as the course leader from my masters course had nominated me, which was unbelievably sweet.”

What advice would you offer others looking to follow in your footsteps? 

“Have confidence in your abilities and know your worth. If someone expects you to work for free, they don’t believe you have enough knowledge or experience. Doing work for free is what makes this industry white and middle class because that demographic is more likely to be able to work for free. Equally, networking is an important part of the industry, so make sure you push yourself out of your comfort zone and build as much valuable contacts as possible.”

Where can we expect to see you in the future?

“I’ve recently been working for Barefoot Live as a sound technician. I have been working as a sound technician at at weddings which is good fun, it’s a great pathway to the touring circuit. During and post-university, I was entering venues that already had systems in place, but I soon realised that I didn’t understand how a PA system was put together, so working at weddings has helped me learn exactly that.”

Words: Jacob Waite

Photo: Production Futures