The Basics

As stated previously, an IA crew is organized into several departments, Carpentry (including Flies, Riggers and Loaders), Electrics (which includes Sound), Properties, and Wardrobe (which includes Makeup) and Hair & Wigs. Rigging, Sound, and Projection and A/V are often treated separate specialties. The required number of hands needed for each department on a unionized travelling show is listed on a Yellow card (so-called "Yellow card shows"). Additional workers may occasionally be required in particular venues, depending on local conditions and contracts.

On MOST shows, once assigned hands are expected to stay in their own department. Again, this may vary according to contract, and the steward always has the right to move workers to another assignment as needed. DO NOT change jobs unless the Steward authorizes it, as there are good reasons to stay where you are assigned. Should you finish an assigned task, inform your department head or road person so you can be given another task. If everyone does their job, no more and no less, then everything will get done and nothing be missed.

Stagehands should wear sturdy, dark clothing, and sturdy footwear when on a call. You are basically in a "light industrial" work place and you should dress accordingly. Workers on a "show call", i.e. working backstage during a performance, are generally required to wear all black to avoid being seen by the audience.

A stagehand is expected to bring a minimum set of tools for the job assigned. At a minimum on a stage or concert event, a hand should have crescent wrench and work gloves, and a multi tool or pliers and screwdriver, and small flashlight are also suggested. Other tools can be added as needed. Carpenters may require a hammer, riggers may need a rope, a "split wheel" pulley and runner, and a carabiner. Electricians may need screwdrivers and pliers. Many stagehands carry work bags or "gig" bags with small tool kits to cover such situations.

Wardrobe workers should bring safety pins, bitelite, pencil, small scissors, needle and light and dark thread, and perhaps a needle nose pliers. Show up 15 minutes early and report to the Wardrobe head immediately upon arrival.

Theatrical events

Theatrical events are performances of plays by live actors in a traditional theatre venue. Plays in a traditional theatre are sometimes referred to as "legitimate theatre". Our job is to set up the scenery and costumes for the performance during the Load-in, operate it during the performance or Show Call, strike it (take it down) and load it back on the trucks during Load-out. In our Jurisdiction most shows are road shows, where the the show arrives pre-constructed, and we set it up under the supervision of the crew travelling with the show, road crew. Other times we may do production for a show, where we build and modify the scenery and costumes for an upcoming performance.

Theatres have their own language. Even directions are different than the audience might expect. Check out the section on Theatre spaces for specifics.


Another type of event is the Concert, a live musical performance. These may be in a traditional theatre or concert hall, but are more often are held in an arena, stadium, or outdoor festival. Because these are not spaces dedicated to performance, they are converted into a performance space for each show. Stagehands typically must set both the show AND all support equipment, including temporary staging, overhead trusses supporting massive lighting, projection and effects systems, and elaborate sound systems, all in the space of a few hours. They provide the stage labor during the concert performance, then strike it all back into the trucks for the load-out. Because shows are often large and everything must be provided, these are often our largest (and most hectic) events. Concerts require a similar-but-different set of skills to accomplish.

Trade Shows

Sometimes the call is for a "Trade Show", also known as "Pipe and Drape", which are exposition or display events. These shows are quite different from Theatre and Concert events. They require a different set of work skills as well as required tools, and have a different set of departments. On a small show, hands may cover all areas, or on a large show may be divided into different departments like a stage show. Freight handles loading and unloading of trucks and trailers; Deco (Decorators) puts up pipe and drapery to create display booths; E & D or I & D ("Exhibits & Design" or "Install & Decorate" respectively) put up display materials in a booth. And there is always a Job Steward who acts as both Steward and Foreman.

On ANY of these shows, there will be a LOT to get done in a short time. You are being paid to do a job that must get done on time and safely. You have to pay attention not only to your own job, but also to what is going on around you ("situational awareness"). That means it is NOT appropriate to text message or talk on a cell phone while working on a call. Save it for later when time and safety are not so critical.

There are usually regular breaks scheduled throughout the day, usually mid-morning and mid-afternoon. as well as meals every five hours or so. While a promoter MAY provide catering for the hands at an event, DO NOT make assumptions about catering. None of our contracts guarantee catering for the local crew (only break times). Check before going to catering. Sometimes it is only for the road crews and the talent.

One last point. On occasion a road crew may leave something behind at the end of the night. Do NOT assume it is free for the taking! Oftentimes leaving something is an accident, and the venue will need to ship it on to the road show at their next stop. Or, if the item was abandoned on purpose, it then belongs to the venue. It is NOT available to the hands UNLESS the venue informs the job steward to that effect. Taking these items is stealing, and offenders will be disciplined by the Local accordingly.

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Copyright © 2010 Mick Alderson