x Illustrated Theatre Production Guide 2 ed
SCENERY BUILDING
Building scenery is different from most other types of
general construction, in that scenery quite often needs
to do more than just sit there and look pretty. At times,
the action of the play dictates that units must fly in and
out, roll off stage, disappear, reappear, or sink into the
floor. Building scenery effectively requires an under-
standing of things like theatre rigging systems, casters
for rolling units around the stage, and the physical
nature of the proscenium stage and peculiar things like
trapdoors.
Whenever possible, building and painting scenery
in a shop is a much better practice than building it in
place on the stage. It sounds trite, but this actually does
match the real-world practice better than you might
think. Of course, shops in large cities must be able to
move their product to a theatre or a TV studio. But
even regional theatres must generally be able to trans-
port what they build. In order for a resident theatre to
remain solvent, it must have shows running all the time.
The next production must be built while the present
one is still in performance. Resident theatres most likely
have only a week, or perhaps two, between shows to get
the next one loaded in, through tech rehearsals, and
open to the public. These are intense periods with lots
of things to do and you cannot afford to wait until you
are in the theatre to start building the scenery.
It’s important to realize that there are many differ-
ent levels of theatre production, and that what works
for one does not always work for another. The nature
of scenery built in New York for a touring show and
the type of scenery built for a university show are often
quite different. Broadway shows have really big budgets
that a university or regional theatre can never match.
The tour versions of these shows sometimes use the
original set, but more often a special version is made
that is more tour-friendly.” Television is vastly differ-
ent from any sort of theatre work. As a result, there are
lots of different ways to approach most production
problems. I have tried to take the best of different
worlds and bring them together in a style of production
that can work for most theatres. You may not need to
worry about moving your show from town to town, but
certainly it must at least travel from the shop to the
stage. Learning to build scenery in units, or parts that
can be transported and easily assembled, is very impor-
tant if you have aspirations toward professional theatre.
Lighting in a theatre is also different from what one
would expect in most architectural environments. Fix-
tures must be relocated from one show to the next so
that they are properly placed for effects. The equipment
itself is very specialized to accommodate rapid reloca-
tion. Theatres frequently use portable power distribu-
tion networks and very complex control systems. The
chapters on lighting and electricity begin with a survey
of electrical theory, and progress to more specific infor-
mation about the current state of theatre lighting equip-
ment and practices.
DIFFERENT WORK ENVIRONMENTS
In talking to the editors at Focal Press about this book,
I became more aware of how my background in differ-
ent types of entertainment venues has influenced the
way I build scenery, and my basic philosophy of how
to approach the craft. My MFA is in scenery design, but
most of my work experience has been as a technical
director. I have been teaching college for 30 years, but
am also a long-standing member of Local 346 of IATSE
(the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employ-
ees). As a union stagehand, I have had the opportunity
to travel with national touring companies of Broadway
shows, and have set up hundreds of tour shows and rock
concerts. The touring experience impressed me with the
need to make sure that scenery is portable, and with
how that aspect of the craft leads to many clever inven-
tions that are always fun to figure out. Being a teacher
at a university has exposed me to many creative people,
and the enjoyment of being in on the development of
artistic endeavors that most stagehands are never exposed
to. My earliest work experiences were in regional the-
atres. I have also built scenery for television shows,
commercials, and news programs.
It is interesting how different the two worlds of the
union stagehand and the college theatre student are, and
how little they sometimes seem to know about each

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