Theater Technician  What They Do

Just the Facts

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dotTheater technicians, sometimes called stagehands, work behind the scenes at all types of live shows. They are needed to design and set up lighting and sound systems, build sets, and take care of things like costumes and props. Basically, they do everything except sing, dance and act.

"Theater technicians handle a huge variety of jobs," says Chad Croteau. He is a lighting designer. "Everything from pushing road cases to running scenery automation systems. Most commonly, technicians are involved in setting up and running lighting and audio systems for shows."

"They can be running crew -- moving set pieces, setting gels [on lights]. They could be light board operators, sound board operators, stage managers who are in charge of the whole show, props or wardrobe. The sky is the limit," says Julie Ballard. She's the lighting director for The Dance Center at Columbia College in Chicago. She also has her own light design business.

Plays, concerts and dance recitals are just some of the shows that require theater technicians. Since most performances happen at night, theater technicians often work nights and weekends. They can easily work more than 60 hours a week.

Samantha Hindle is the head of sound at a theater. She says that technical direction, video/projection, stage carpentry (also called rigging), scenic carpentry (set construction), painting, props, hair, make-up and wardrobe are some of the other things theater technicians do. She says there are other specialties, as well.

"There's a limitless list of tasks for a stage technician," says Anthony Churchill. He's a technical director at the Performing Arts Center of Oakton Community College in Illinois. "Every show has a new set of problems and a new set of solutions."

Technicians are usually divided into carpentry, electrical, sound, lighting and costumes. Some people choose to specialize within those areas.

"I think most techs do specialize these days, but it's advantageous to be well-versed, or at least have a cursory knowledge, of all related production work," says Ernie Yezzi. He's a sound technician and electrician who also handles other tasks behind the scenes. He works at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University in Indiana.

Having diverse skills can serve you well in this field.

"I specialize in set design, but also do quite a bit of media design, such as projections," Churchill says.

The more skills you have, the more valuable you are to the crew.

While some theater technicians like Yezzi and Churchill work for colleges or universities, others, like Hindle, work for theaters. Still others, like Croteau, are self-employed.

"The majority of work for technicians is contractual, meaning that it's for a limited period of time," Croteau says. "Many technicians are freelancers who jump from one job to another with different employers. If they choose to join a union, like the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, then they are given work opportunities based on seniority and skill sets, but that's only in unionized theater and shows."

Since many theatrical productions are touring shows, being a theater technician also brings travel opportunities. Ballard's work has taken her across the U.S. and eastern Europe. "I have met all kinds of wonderful people and have been more fulfilled than I ever thought possible."

At a Glance

Make magic happen on the stage

  • Diverse skills can help you get ahead
  • You may have opportunities to travel
  • This career often requires working nights and weekends