What the Hell Do Stagehands Do Anyhow?

JCS Load In Photo
Hauling a lot of stuff on to stage for a Broadway show.

Let’s concentrate on live performance, stage work, since that is where I primarily work these days.

In the theater we break down into three basic departments:

Audio, Electric (that’s lighting to you), and Carpentry (or carps).

Within the departments are many job descriptions. So let’s take a look at what they are.

The Audio Department (The Noise Boys)

The first position in the audio department would be the sound guy most audience members are familiar with, the Front of House Engineer, or FOH.

He or she would be the person standing behind the sound board located in the house (the place where the audience sits.) The FOH engineer is the person responsible for making sure the sound the audience hears sounds great, and a lot of the time he is the lead for the audio crew, in charge of putting together the PA (public address system) and amplifiers (amps).

Next up would be the Monitor Engineer.

This position is responsible for the sound that the performers hear. In my opinion this is the most technical job in the theater (or venue). Why? Because, while the FOH guy’s mix is generally a stereo mix (maybe with some fill), the Monitor mix may be 4, 5, 6 or more than a dozen separate mixes all tailored to each performer, some of them in stereo and mixed straight to their ears.

To assist the two board operators is our next crew member called the A2.

The A2 is responsible for setting up microphones and DI (Direct Input) boxes, running cable, passing out RF (wireless mics) and making sure they are properly placed and attached to the talent. The A2 is also the liaison between the talent and the monitor engineer (and FOH), helping to let the engineer(s) know what the performers need to hear. And of course the A2 is responsible for fixing whatever disasters happen on stage during the show. Sometimes there will be more than a single A2.  This by the way is my preferred position, or video projectionist – which brings us to the next job on the audio crew.

The Video Projectionist is responsible for anything having to do with getting an image from a computer to the screen. There’s a lot between the two, maybe I’ll talk about that later. There are also sometimes camera operators to do IMAG (image magnification) so the audience can see the performers close up on screen (or for recording purposes).

The Lighting and Electric Department (Blinkies / Sparkies)

First up is the LD or Lighting Director or ME (Master Electrician) (if you don’t count the lighting designer who is often the same person).

The LD will most often be found in the same location of the house during the show as the FOH Audio Engineer. During the show the LD will run the light board controlling all the lighting and effects such as atmosphere (hazer) strobes, mirror balls,etc. Most of the hard work is in the design and hang of the instrument plot beforehand, which the LD will be a part of. The ME is also responsible for tie-in and distribution of power for the venue, and shore power for touring vehicles.

Next on lighting would be the Assistant LD/ME who essentially does the same work as the LD and works a lot with the electric crew, supervising during the hang of the the lighting plot while the LD/ME is busy with paperwork etc.

Then there are the Spotlight Operators who I’m going to assume if you have ever been to a live show, you have seen their work. They take commands from the LD over com (our technical communications system via headsets) and follow performers around the stage to highlight their performances.

Everyone on the lighting/electric crew including the ME, AME and crew will all work together to take the lighting plot (the drawing showing where the lighting instruments will hang on pipes or trusses, or sit on the floor) from drawing to reality. This includes a lot of hard work running massive amounts of heavy cables and hanging heavy lighting fixtures. Nowadays there is also a lot of networking and programming involved for moving lights.

Let’s move along to the Carpentry Crew.

The Carpentry Crew (carps / splinters)

It may sound like the electrics do a lot of work but the real muscle of a theater is probably most often the Carp crew. You may think they build stuff out of wood (which they do) but wait! There’s more. Aside from sometimes assembling massive sets made of wood and steel / aluminum, the carps have a lot more to do.

The Master Carpenter/ Rigger (MC) is the person responsible for planning and implementing such things as: staging and rigging. Including SAFELY hanging chain motors which hold up lighting truss, set pieces, projection screens and any other objects that need to be in the air, including people. The Master Carp, his Assistant Master Carp (AMC) and crew also run and maintain the fly system and the Rail. The fly system is a massive machine which encompasses the whole of the flyhouse (everything above the stage floor). All the running rigging- wires,ropes (lines to us), pipes (battens), pulleys, blocks and arbors, where counterweights are loaded from the loading bridge, and other various parts (too much to mention right now).

Suffice it to say if it hangs in the air the carps are responsible for making sure it hangs safely! (In particular the riggers.)

The carps are also responsible for setting up things like “backline,” that’s all the band gear. They hang soft goods (all the black material that frames the stage) and drops (the big fancy paintings behind the performers). Then the Flyperson at the Rail (the place you may see us pull on all those ropes) moves things up and down (out and in to stagehands) in order to change scenes or looks of a show.

Carps also do a lot of sweeping and mopping on the stage. 

This is only the beginning of the description of the job. 

In addition to all this, the carp crew sometimes lays out audience seating.

There’s also people working props and sets (scenery), wardrobe, and hair/makeup during Broadway-type shows.

In addition to all this work every crew loads in every show from truck to stage and back out the door at load out for each show.

And at the Cerritos Center all crew members work to set up our meeting rooms, including technical gear, and tables and seating for events. 

Hours are long, sometimes starting early in the morning and ending in the middle of the night, then starting early the next day. Schedules are always subject to last minute changes and everyone is always expected to work at their maximum capacity. So tech services is not a job for the faint of heart.

Then there is a unique aspect to our building – configuration. All the walls, floors, seating and much of the ceilings are movable.

But we can talk about that later.



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