Master Carpenter

  • Master Carpenter

Under the supervision of the set designer and technical director, the master carpenter is ultimately responsible for the construction of all scenic elements of a live production. He or she leads a crew of stage carpenters and works closely with the scenic painters and fabricators to execute the design to specification, on schedule, and on budget.


Duties

Following the specifications of the blueprints and models provided by the set designer, the master carpenter orders materials and cooperates with the technical director and other production departments to develop a construction schedule. Based on this schedule, he or she assigns responsibilities to each member of the crew; while one team is building the 4-by-8-foot flats, others are constructing the staircase and so forth. In some cases, the master carpenter may also be tasked as an administrative lead over other production departments like props and painters. In those circumstances, the master carpenter is responsible for scheduling personnel, approving timecards for payroll, and serving as the union shop steward on productions that have negotiated with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees under a collective bargaining agreement.

If employed full-time at a theater, this person is also tasked with managing the scene shop, maintaining tools and equipment, and acting as a liaison to visiting production staff when renting the theater’s space. The first priority of the master carpenter must always be the safety of the crew; second, the care of the facility. In conjunction with the technical director, the master carpenter must ensure that all safety protocols are adhered to and that equipment is functioning properly. When necessary, he or she will communicate with the local fire inspector to perform a walk-through of the theater and test fire prevention measures.

Skills & Education

In addition to being an effective manager of the carpentry and stage crew, the master carpenter must also be technically skilled in the techniques of set construction and operation of related equipment. If the sound of a chopsaw running at 4400 RPM makes you nervous, this isn’t the vocation for you. A college degree in theatrical design or show production is recommended, as are courses in stagecraft, drafting, and the use of software like Auto CAD. The most dangerous hazard in a scene shop is an inexperienced technician; it doesn’t take much to lose a finger at a table saw or suffer serious injury from a 2-by-4 kicking back because it has pinched the blade. Therefore, the master carpenter should be specifically trained in each piece of machinery used in the shop and capable of properly training others.

What to Expect

This is a senior-level role and requires experience as a professional stage carpenter; previous work history as a theatrical technician in lighting, audio, rigging, or props is also beneficial. An entry-level gig as a stagehand on the running crew is a great place to start, as it will introduce you to members of your local production community and allow you to network your way up to a spot on the construction crew. In most communities, there are opportunities to volunteer or intern as a carpenter with a neighborhood theater; this will gain you the necessary hands-on experience and training required while building your résumé of credits.  All technicians must endure the temporary rite of passage that is working for free, but it usually doesn’t take long to hear about a paying gig; that’s when you work your connections to land the job.

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