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Stagehand


Description

Stagehands move and set up props and scenery in theater productions. They are the jack-of-all-trades in the theater and perform tasks like moving big set pieces in between scenes, propping up phony set walls, and holding the ladder for the lighting technicians. They literally give a hand to help out where needed. A stagehand directly reports to the technical manager who is in charge of construction, production or administration.

Stagehands must maintain records to ensure that the inventory of equipment remains stable. They are responsible for checking out, renting, or requisitioning all equipment needed for production and construction. Stagehands work as constructors, doing lighting as well as administrative work. Once the lighting technicians have placed, aimed, and adjusted the lights, stagehands set up the equipment used to cast shadows necessary to achieve desired effects. Stagehands unload the parts of the set that come from storage and place them for the carpenters or prop-makers to revamp. Also, whenever the sets need to be reassembled from storage, stagehands will do it.

Stagehands may help build hanging scaffolding above the perimeter of sets upon which lights used in the photography are placed. When a backing or a large painted background is required to simulate a view through windows and doors, it is the stagehand that installs it. After the photography is completed, the stagehand may also be responsible for dismantling the backings, sets, and scaffolding.

Stagehands also estimate construction costs and try to work within the means of their budget to maintain income and expenditures. A clerk is usually assigned to the grip department to help with the administrative burden, including keeping accurate records of the daily grip personnel to ensure proper payroll for the department each week.

Stagehands are often employed on a casual basis for a specific production, and may not be part of the theater's full-time staff. They also may be touring with a particular production.
 
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  Interests and Skills  
Stagehands must be solid team players. They should be able to adapt to a variety of production styles and deadline requirements. Stagehands must keep up with changes in technology and in the industry. They often move heavy equipment and set up difficult sets. Due to the physical nature of the job, stagehands must be strong, in good shape and have the ability to work with their hands. The work is most rewarding for those who enjoy working with tools and equipment on tasks requiring precision.

Stagehands should also be really comfortable with heights. Setting up scaffolds is always done at a considerable height. Finally, patience and the ability to work through to deadlines are essential skills for stage technicians, who are often required to work long hours during productions.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Determine set specifications and discuss set-design requirements with production personnel
  • Climb ladders and scaffolding to set up proper sets and stages
  • Transport and position stage fixtures and props
  • Change scenery between acts and scenes according to scripts
  • Move and dismantle sets, backdrops, scenery and other stage equipment
  • Test apparatus to ensure proper functioning and safety
  • Pickup and deliver equipment and supplies
  • Prop up phony set walls and background scenes
  • Provide their own tools normally used in the trade
  • Stagehands will work long days and irregular hours, including evenings and weekends. They must arrive before the production to set up, work during the scene changes and dismantle when the play is over. Consequently, stagehands must remain flexible in their work availability. They almost always work indoors.
  • There are various occupational hazards connected with this job. Sometimes sets fall on stagehands causing considerable damage and lights and light fittings can also fall. Occasionally they bump their heads against low hanging fixtures or trip over the many wires that lie on the floor during filming. They can also get splinters, injuries from boards with nails, and suffer other cuts and bruises. They normally bring their own tools to the set and wear safety shoes.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Stagehands work for theater companies, troupes and independent theaters. Stagehands are usually employed on a casual basis for a specific production, and may not be part of the theater's full-time staff. They may also tour with a particular production. Stagehands also work with musicians and bands setting up their sets before a show. In these circumstances, they are either part of the band's crew or are employed on a regular basis at a particular venue or musical theater.

  Long Term Career Potential  
A stagehand usually starts out as part of a basic crew and then works up through various theater levels to stage manager or stage technician. Many theaters promote from within, although there is a lot of interchanging between theaters depending on how many productions are going on. Advancement is a slow process and may take many years since openings are few. In fact, advancement really comes in the form of an increasing pay level, based on growing professional status and recognition.
 

  Educational Paths  
There are no standard educational training requirements for becoming a stagehand. Education and training in carpentry and rigging are helpful. Volunteering and apprenticeship work are always great methods of gaining experience along with making the right connections. Learning directly from stagehands and technicians is valuable experience.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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