Education and Training: None
Salary: Varies—see profile
Employment Outlook: Poor
Definition and Nature of the Work
Stagehands perform a variety of behind-the-scenes functions in many kinds of productions. Although most often associated with the theater, they also work in film, commercials, and television. Stagehands are responsible for building, maintaining, moving, and storing sets. They take care of the many changing details in a stage, television, or movie production.
Prop stagehands are in charge of "props," a shortened term for "stage property." Props are the smallest parts of a stage setting. They range from personal props such as gloves, eyeglasses, and other items that an actor wears, to hand props that an actor may carry such as books or a briefcase, and set props such as furniture and rugs. Prop stagehands ensure that these items are in place at the beginning of a scene and that they are collected at the end of a scene. Prop stagehands may also be responsible for locating and obtaining props.
Other stagehands, known as grips in the motion picture and television industries, move equipment and scenery. They often set up flats (movable wooden frames used in stage scenery) and may paint or decorate them according to the scenic designer's specifications. When a production is completed, the grip dismantles the scenery or set pieces and stores them or prepares them for return to the supplier.
Theatrical stagehands are called flyers if they hand the scenery up into the roof and lower it down on stage. Some stagehands work with electricians or lighting people. They set up lights for the lighting director, make sure the equipment is working, and put the equipment away. Theatrical stagehands often work under the supervision of a sound engineer as well. They are responsible for the sound system, which produces music and amplifies the artists' voices.
In union theaters and studios, these different jobs are divided among many stagehands. In nonunion theaters, each stagehand may perform several tasks.
Education and Training Requirements
Stagehands must be strong and physically fit because they routinely lift and carry heavy equipment. Most training for this position occurs on the job. Prospective stagehands must know how the equipment works, what it can do, and how to fix it in an emergency. More advanced stagehands have training in electrical work, carpentry, or photography. It is increasingly important, especially in video production, for a stagehand to have formal education in technical areas to work with computerized equipment.
Some vocational schools and two-year colleges offer courses in the technical and artistic skills needed for advanced stagehand work. Candidates should be interested in drama, dance, and music since they will be surrounded by people and activities related to these fields every day. It is also helpful to have experience working on school plays, video productions, or community playhouse performances.
Getting the Job
Interested individuals can apply directly to community theaters and college playhouses for work as a stagehand. Many openings in summer stock and local theaters provide seasonal jobs for students. Some corporations have their own video production studios and hire freelance rather than union labor; however, many theaters, television stations, and film studios require union membership. Unions offer apprenticeship programs but may accept only a limited number of apprentices each year.
Opportunities in theater depend on the number of local productions per season and on public and private funding of theaters. Stagehand positions are more plentiful in New York City's theater district than anywhere else in the United States. Television and motion picture stagehands are in greater demand in Los Angeles, California.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Experienced stagehands sometimes specialize in one aspect of behind-the-scenes production, becoming electricians, carpenters, production assistants, or scenic designers. They may also move into stage management. According to the Occupational Information Network, the employment outlook for stagehand work is poor, with projected growth being slower than average. Prospective stage-hands may have a better chance finding work in video production for the music industry, cable television, or corporate production studios.
Stagehands may work on productions either indoors or outdoors, in theaters or studios, or "on location." They may have additional outside duties. Stagehands belonging to a union must abide by union rules and work only within their job title and description. All stagehands perform physical labor such as lifting and moving heavy props. They may also be called on to work overtime. Union members work a forty-hour week, usually on different shifts.
Earnings and Benefits
The salary range varies because this job title covers many kinds of workers. Union members usually earn more than nonunion stagehands. Pay varies according to the location and size of the production facility. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, stagehands, grips, and set-up workers earn a median hourly salary of $9.79. Pay in New York is generally higher. Assistant stagehands in commercial television unions reportedly earn a minimum of $700 a week.
Where to Go for More Information
International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada
1430 Broadway, 20th Fl.
New York, NY 10018
National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians
501 Third St. NW, Ste. 880
Washington, DC 20001-2797
Union contracts provide benefits, including health insurance, vacations, and pension plans. Larger television stations tend to be unionized; smaller ones usually are not. Many public, cable, production house, and corporate video departments are not unionized.