Stagehand

  • Stagehand

Stagehands are the general labor of the stage; they push road cases, run cable, and stack speakers—the hardest, heaviest, and most tedious jobs in show production. It is not a glamorous gig, but it is where most people have to start to build a career. Stagehands are expected to start at the bottom and prove their mettle before advancing to roles as lighting technicians, audio engineers, or riggers


Duties

The specific tasks associated with the job will vary greatly from gig to gig; one day you might be unloading trucks, the next cutting gel for the lighting director. In a theatrical environment, stagehands are usually an extension of the set and props department. These crew members move set pieces and place props through scene changes. During preshow, the stagehands might clean the stage, help with cue safety checks, and participate in general repair and maintenance. A performance venue that hosts concerts and other touring productions will hire local stagehands to aid the tour crew with load-in, building the truss rig, hanging lights and audio arrays, running DMX cable, and assembling scenic structures. During load-out, these stagehands help break it all down again and pack the truck. Small touring shows will not carry a crew of stagehands, but rather specialists for each crucial position, relying on locals to fill in the gaps in each city. Large productions will employ general labor technicians who may be assigned to specific crews as entry-level helpers or function like production assistants on a film shoot. Typical tasks on any gig include assisting with the setup of the front-of-house positions and backstage areas, installing spotlights, running the audio snake, and sweeping the stage. 

Skills & Education

Stagehands are not expected to be specialists, but should have a firm general knowledge of lighting, audio, rigging, and video. A degree is not required, but an education in stagecraft or show production is helpful. Courses relevant to these degrees will introduce you to the gear, teach you the theories of technical theater and prepare you with an understanding of the hierarchy of a crew. A rookie off the street won’t hack it without knowing the terminology: what a gobo is, the difference between the front-of-house and the monitor engineers, and so on. A good stagehand has a strong work ethic, jumps in without having to be asked to help, and is a team player. Egos don’t last long on a crew. The job can be stressful and back-breaking, but taking it all on with a smile will impress everyone around you and make you a valued asset.

What to Expect

The job can be thankless, but a person who listens, pays attention to the crew lead, and asks questions will have the opportunity to learn a great deal. If you are not sure which specialty is right for you (lighting, audio, carpentry, props), this is where you have the opportunity to dabble in each. When you have decided which path to pursue, develop a relationship with members of the crew who have that position and soak up all the advice and technical knowledge you can. Making friends is the best way to get picked up for the next gig and will eventually lead to invitations to advance your career to the next level. A stagehand’s job is often thankless; you are expected to take a beating and be grateful for the privilege of loading the band’s backline or setting an actor’s prop. This might not sound fun or fair, but it is the time-honored tradition of breaking the weak and promoting the passionate. Those who pay their dues and gain the necessary skills and training can transition to work as a technician in a particular specialty, or pursue a track toward production and stage management as an assistant. 

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