How To Become a Stagehand (With Skills and Steps)

Updated January 26, 2023

Stagehands are a crucial part of any type of live performance. They work on most of the technical aspects of a show and need to have a diverse skill set to successfully perform their duties. Regardless of your previous professional experiences, knowing the steps you can take to get a stagehand job can significantly improve your odds of success. In this article, we discuss what a stagehand is, what they do, their typical work environment, the skills they need to perform the job and the steps you need to take to become one.

What is a stagehand?

A stagehand is an employee who works at theaters, concerts, film and TV sets and other similar locations, performing a variety of tasks required to run a live or pre-recorded act. Also known as stage technicians, they are essential for any show, and they work on all technical elements required for a show's success, including the ones related to sound, light and stage equipment, both before and during the actual show.

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What does a stagehand do?

Stagehands usually perform a wide variety of tasks and do whatever is needed to ensure the show goes on without any issues. Some of their most common job duties include:

  • Managing the set: Set management is one of the most common roles of stagehands and consists of knowing exactly what equipment performers need and at what specific times. They also make adjustments based on the show's script and handle the dismantling of equipment once the show is over.

  • Assembling the lighting elements: Stagehands assemble and sometimes manage all elements of a show's lighting, such as support structures, electrical cords and the actual lights, and they arrange them to fit the show's script. While larger shows employ lighting managers to organize all lighting-related tasks, stagehands are usually responsible for managing the lights for smaller shows.

  • Arranging the sound equipment: Stagehands also work on setting up the sound equipment and making sure it works as it should. Although most shows have sound technicians, stagehands are there to assist them.

  • Preparing show signs: Most show venues are universal and need to be prepared with specific signage before each show. Stagehands usually take on this responsibility and place various signs, banners and other forms of signage.

  • Assisting the performers: Stagehands also assist performers before, during and after the show, helping them get in and out of difficult costumes and handle different props.

  • Removing waste: Between shows, stagehands are responsible for removing any trash and other unusable elements from the stage and preparing the setting for the next show.

Related: Stage Management Skills: Definition and Examples

Stagehand work environment

The exact work environment for a stagehand greatly depends on the type of show they work for. Some shows only take place in a single venue, meaning that the stagehands working there can stay in one geographical place, while others are tours and take place in different venues across a certain area, meaning that the stagehands would need to travel to perform their work tasks.

Most stagehands work long hours in the days before the actual show, as they also need to attend all rehearsals and practices, plus the actual performance. Given the fact that most shows take place when other people have the time to see them, such as weekends, evenings and holidays, stagehands usually need to work irregular hours.

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Stagehand skills

Stagehands require a wide variety of skills to perform their duties. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Strength and stamina: Depending on their exact role within the production, stagehands may perform physically demanding jobs or work at heights. Given the physical nature of the role and the long hours they sometimes need to work, stagehands usually require both physical strength and endurance.

  • Teamwork skills: Preparing the stage before, during and after a performance is a team effort, and stagehands need to be able to efficiently communicate and work as a team. Although they may perform individual tasks, they must be in line with the overall plan.

  • The ability to work under pressure: Shows have to take place at a very specific time, so preparation may be influenced by the approaching deadline. Stagehands need to be able to perform to the best of their ability under pressure.

  • Handyman skills: Although some stagehands specialize in a single aspect of the job, they need to have the practical skills and technical knowledge to work on issues outside their specialty when needed.

  • Knowledge of health and safety regulations: Stagehands often perform dangerous tasks, so knowing and applying all safety procedures is crucial for the physical integrity of everyone involved.

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How to become a stagehand

Consider these steps to improve the odds of becoming a stagehand:

1. Join an apprenticeship program or local drama society

Although there is no official educational requirement or qualification for becoming a stagehand, having direct experience with any of the elements required for art production is likely to boost your chances of employment in the field. You can join a local drama society and help them arrange plays, train in using electrical equipment, carpentry tools and other equipment used in theaters or contact your local Department of Labor for stagehand apprenticeship opportunities.

2. Apply for stagehand jobs at small production companies and theaters

Once you gain some relevant skills and experience, you can start applying for low-level stagehand jobs. Some of the most effective ways of finding suitable jobs for your level of experience level are by using an online employment website or contacting venues and production companies in your area.

3. Join a union

After working in entry-level stagehand roles for at least three years, you become eligible to join the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Joining this union then allows you to apply for high-level stagehand jobs, like those for Broadway theaters.

4. Specialize in an aspect of stagehand work

After spending a few years improving your skills and gaining relevant experience, one of the best ways of improving the odds of being selected for a major production is specialization in a single element. Becoming a stage electrician, carpenter, scenic designer, production assistant or any other specific role can set you apart from other candidates and help you get a high-level job in the industry.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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