A great deal can be learned by becoming involved in high school or college theatrical performances. If possible, gain experience in many different capacities, including acting, stage design, lighting, and special effects. Another way to get experience is by working as a volunteer for amateur community theater productions or special benefit events. This sort of broad experience may lead to a paid or volunteer summer job assisting in a professional theater.
Experiences gained in other fields may be helpful background for some stage production jobs. For example, aspiring costume designers can learn by working for clothes designers in the fashion industry.
For small productions with fewer employees, stage workers must be able to do a variety of tasks. In larger productions (such as those on Broadway), responsibilities are divided among many different workers, each with a special area of expertise. The following paragraphs describe some of these areas of responsibility.
Stage technicians include many different workers, such as carpenters, prop makers, lighting designers, lighting-equipment operators, sound technicians, electricians, riggers, and costume workers.
When installing stage equipment, stage technicians begin with blueprints, diagrams, and specifications concerning the stage area. They confer with the stage manager to establish what kinds of sets, scenery, props, lighting, and sound equipment are required for the event or show, and where each should be placed.
Then the technicians gather props provided by the production company and build other props or scenery using hammers, saws, and other hand tools and power tools. If they are working in a theater, they climb ladders or scaffolding to the grid work at the ceiling and use cables to attach curtains, scenery, and other equipment that needs to be moved, raised, and lowered during performances. They may need to balance on and crawl along beams near the ceiling to connect the cables.
Stage technicians also position lights and sound equipment on or around the stage. They clamp light fixtures to supports and connect electrical wiring from the fixtures to power sources and control panels.
The sound equipment used on and around stages usually includes microphones, speakers, and amplifiers. Technicians position this equipment and attach the wires that connect it to power sources and to the sound-mixing equipment that controls the volume and quality of the sound.
During rehearsals and performances, stage technicians in some theaters may follow cues and pull cables that raise and lower curtains and other equipment. Sometimes they also operate the lighting and sound equipment.
Costume designers choose the costumes necessary for a production, including their style, fabric, color, and pattern. They may do research to design clothes that are historically and stylistically authentic. They discuss their ideas with the stage director and make sketches of costumes for the director's approval. They check stores and specialty clothing shops for garments that would meet their needs. If appropriate items are not found, designers may have the costumes made from scratch. They oversee the purchasing of fabric and supervise the workers who actually create the costumes. Costume designers also work with actors to make sure that costumes fit properly. In a large production, they may supervise several assistants who help in all aspects of the job, including locating hard-to-find items.
Other workers help to complete the desired appearance of the performers. Hairstylists and makeup artists use cosmetics, greasepaint, wigs, plastics, latex, and other materials to change the look of their hair and skin. Once costumes have been made for a show, wardrobe supervisors keep them in good condition for each performance by ironing, mending, and cleaning them, and doing any necessary minor alterations. Dressers help performers to get dressed before a show and change quickly between scenes.