I've been asked to do this AMA by some people on a different thread, and I will be more than glad to answer any questions that you may have about working behind the scenes in the live entertainment and theater business.

I'm a non card holding IATSE stagehand with three years of professional experience in the union work force, as well as two degrees and a college level education in the stagecraft field.

I'm still relatively young to the business on a professional level, and there's many other stagehands who have been doing this for a much longer time than I have who know more than I do, so if there are any stagehands out there who would like to help chime in on some things, please feel welcome!

EDIT 7:33 pm: Ill be back in a bit guys, need to make myself something to eat then im gonna start!

EDIT 2 12:33 am: I'm heading to bed, feel free to leave anymore questions! Il answer them in the morning. I've really enjoyed doing this with all of you.

EDIT 3 1:28 pm: Hey guys, I'm currently at work, when I get off I'm gonna answer some more questions. I would like to state that the opinions of the stars are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my locals. These are my own thoughts. Also, head on over to r/techtheatre if you'd like to explore our world any further. Talk to you guys soon!

Comments: 160 • Responses: 54  • Date: 

Vap0rX16 karma

When you've worked a WWE event, did you ever have a YES! contest with Daniel Bryan?

rdp318622 karma


sup3rspiffy15 karma

Most redditors have only ever heard stories of Justin Bieber being a douche, you said he was real nice though?

rdp318621 karma

he was respectful to us, and didn't act like a total ass. He was making jokes with us and surprisingly ok to be around. I think I might have had the very rare occurrence of meeting him and not wanting to punch him.

acb12313 karma

Which performer that you've worked with put in the most effort in their performance

rdp318624 karma

I think it would be a tie between Bruce Springsteen, Rammstein, and Katy Perry. Foster the People would def be a close second, those guys kill at their live shows.

I will say U2 when they were in town put on a hell of a show, just from the sheer scale of it. you can tell a lot of work and labor went into designing that entire production.

JRandomHacker17234212 karma

Best use of gaff tape?

rdp318610 karma

my driver side mirror was bumped off by a car two summers ago, i put it back in place, wrapped it up with gaff, and set it in place. Stayed there good and strong for two months before I got a new mirror to replace it.

hflsmg173179 karma

How did you get started in this line of work? What was your first job out of college? What was the first job you had in this line of work?

rdp318635 karma

When I was really young, like 5 or 6, I found my parents copy of the Phantom of the Opera. I fell in love with the music and just loved everything about it, then found a copy of Les Miserables and my father explained the show to me and I instantly fell in love with theater. When I was first grade, my grandmother and mother took me to NYC and took me to see my first Broadway show, which was Miss Saigon (which i fell asleep too), but the next night we saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. All of the lights and set pieces and colors and everything just fascinated me. Every year since then, they took me to NYC in December and would see more shows. This tradition continued on all the way to college. Around when I was in 4th grade we got to go see the Lion King on its opening weekend. During the intermission I went to use the bathroom and snuck backstage to look around. I looked around the empty stage when I was stopped by an actor asking me why I was backstage. I told him, "One day I'm gonna be working here on this show."

When I was in fifth grade, I wanted to audition to be in a show, but I didn't want to act, I just wanted to be a part of it. So my music teacher introduced me to the jobs that happen backstage. I ran lights for my fifth grade talent show and that was it for me. That's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was work on these shows. I told my teachers and friends that this was going to become my career. I worked backstage at every show up until I graduated at 8th grade. During those years my dad's coworker also happened to be a very senior member of the stagehand union in our city, and told me that if i was serious about this business, that when I graduate college to give him a call. He gave me tours backstage of the arenas and theaters, and even let me work backstage on some high school level shows when I was in sixth grade.

By the time I started high school though, I was getting bored with musicals and my interest in theater was starting to fade a little bit. That December on our annual trip, my grandmother got my younger brothers and I tickets to go see the Blue Man Group. I didn't really know too much about them at the time, but when I saw them, it completely re-sparked my love for theater. I had never seen anything quite like it and didn't know that theater meant more than just musicals, and I just fell in love with the job all over again. I then signed up to be i my high schools stage crew, and by the end of my senior year, I had worked on every show and was the student moderator of the stage crew. All my friends that I had made in my high school's crew i consider my closest friends and brother today.

I went to College and got my AA degree at my community college's theater program, working in the shop full time as a student employee and got to be the Assistant Technical Director on our production of Joseph, the show that got me into theater so very long ago in the first place. I then graduated and transferred to Towson University, one of the best schools to study the craft in the northeast, where I got my Bachelor of Science in Fine Arts in 2009, where I also met my current girlfriend and made a bunch of great friends and associates that are now a major player in the Baltimore theater scene. During all of this, I worked at my local grocery store alongside my grandfather and grandmother, who were the produce and floral managers there respectively for 30 years. It was a family owned store, and the owners and employees there have known me since I was a child and have known that this is what I've always wanted to do. I worked there in many different departments throughout my high school and college days, and they always worked with me when the time came for me to work a show. I worked there from 2002 to 2011, and am incredibly grateful for all of the support that they gave me.

After I graduated, I worked for a regional theater company helping turn their normal theatre in the round into a cabaret theater. I worked there for a month until the job was done. After that for about two years I worked at the grocery story and just took every call I could get, which were very far in few between. I thought that my dreams were out of my reach, and went back to school to get my EMT license to see if i could get another career going, till my dad made a phone call to his old co-worker, and I out of nowhere I got a phone call from the union to come to the arena for a load out, and I haven't looked back since.

The most emotional moment came for me when we had just finished loading in Lion King at the beginning of my starting career, and we everyone went on dinner break. 95% of the show was up, and i went and walked out on the empty lit stage, with all of the set pieces setup and the decks laid out and everything, and it was like I was transported back to when I was just a kid again, looking around saying that I was gonna work here some day, and here I was, almost 20 some years later and I was standing on that same stage. I had made it. I kept that promise to myself.

Without sounding to cliche, your dreams and goals can come true. Mine did, and yours can too.

Follow your Bliss.

speech-geek13 karma

As a junior in college studying to be a stage manager, this makes my life choice seem much more real. I needed this.

rdp31869 karma

keep at it and dont give up

Elljot9 karma

Favourite job and why?

rdp318664 karma


They came to Baltimore last April. I should probably state that Rammstein has been my absolute favorite band since I was in 6th grade (im 26 now) and getting to work backstage on a band whose live show and music I admired and played a big part in me getting into the theatre and concert business, it was needless to say I was excited. For months i wouldnt shut up about it and my coworkers (and my bosses) knew how much i was looking forward to it. The first day was just the rigging (115 some points for about 50 some motors? Cant remember exactly) but seeing the cases roll in with the logos just gave me chills. The next day i came in and worked on power, then was put on pyro crew, which if anyone here knows Rammstein, can understand how awesome that is. We were unloading the trucks and everyone was seeing how happy I was.

I was actually seeing the show with my gf, her father, and all of my close friends (who are also massive fans) so instead of sending me home, my boss kept me all day to help with pyro check and setting up house spotlights, so i got my rammstein crew pass and pretty much just stayed there all day backstage. After the fire dept came and inspected the effects, it was just hangout time. I went out in the loading dock to have a smoke (a clove) with sone of our guys and the tour guys, and i get a tap on the shoulder followed by a "that smells very good" I turn around, and it's Till, the singer. I get a pretty big smile on my face and start to laugh.

I go "yeah, it tastes even better" he then asks if he could have one. We end up chatting for about 15 min, which during i explained how Ive been a longtime fan and not only is it a pleasure to see them all live, its been and honor to work bdckstage ans setup this concert for them in my hometown, and i thank them for coming back to the united states. He then thanks me for all of my hard work the past two days and tells me to have a great time tonight, and that hed invite me and my gf to the after party if i didnt have to work. He then went off to start preparing for the show. Apparently the rest of the band were at the bar across the street where most of us gobto have a beer after a load out, which i found to be equally awesome.

Overall, its been the major highlight of my career. Sadly i couldnt get a pic with him or have him autograph my pass as its considered pretty unprofessional for us to do that, and i was on the clock working and I still needed to act professional and not start struck. But it was the best concert in my life and the highest point in my career so far.

johnTKbass19 karma

Just logged in to comment, upvote, and say I am EXTREMELY jealous. Rammstein was pretty much my high school soundtrack, I still haven't gotten to see them live yet, and it's even more awesome that they're cool guys.

rdp318626 karma

They intend on coming back for the next album cycle. so keep your ears open for dates. EVERYONE should see them before live. Best show in Rock PERIOD.

floobie5 karma

Thanks for doing the AMA... this is what I wanted to see.

I saw them live just last year, and like you, I've been a fan for quite a while (probably since I was 14... 25 now). I've been to some great shows over the years for a variety of reasons, but the spectacle Rammstein provided simply can't be beaten.

I actually had to travel to Vancouver to see them, since they skipped my city (Calgary). As I understand it, our stadium is generally ill-equipped to handle big, demanding acts like them. Apparently the ceiling can't handle all the equipment or something... do you have any more specific insights about that? What technical demands do acts like Rammstein have that some venues just can't handle?

rdp31864 karma

I'm not an engineer, so I cant exactly comment on the exact issue or give 100% accurate answers, but what I do know is that each ceiling in an arena is designed to hold a certain amount of weight, and some shows just cant accommodate that kind of force. An great example is the How to Train Your Dragon show: the show features a giant mother grid that spans the entire length of the arena floor at a weight of around 145,000 pounds. this is an unusually large grid for a show, but the grid for this show is essentially a railroad track flipped upside down and hung in the air so that the large dragon animatronics can fly above the audiences head in many varied directions. The ceiling has to be able to hold the weight of the grid, the motors holding the grid, the automation within the grid, the moving trams that the dragons fly on, and the dragons themselves. it's a lot of force being put on the ceiling. another example is the recently cancelled Lady GaGa tour. That show was absolutely massive and from what I've heard had a hard time finding arenas that could safely house her show, as it contained a pretty massive overlaying runway stage layout with a castle that from what i heard was about 4 stories tall. I honestly was surprised when they announced Rammstein at my local arena, as its been around since the 60's and has aged quite a bit over the years on top of it being smaller than most places, but they played there with lots of room to fit.

Like I said, I just set the shows up when they arrive and I don't have an exact gauge on how the building physics work in situations like that, but I'm slowly learning.

scavokretlaw7 karma

I've worked backstage on a number of different shows (nothing professionally, just college/community theatre). Depending on the show, the actual job seemed to vary quite a bit.

Professionally, what are your specific duties? Are you consistently doing the same things on each show, or could you be responsible for something entirely different depending on the needs of the show that you're currently working on?

rdp31867 karma

In theater settings it can vary. To start off with, and shows have departments. When we are called in to work a load in, we are given our department and job when we arrive (unless we rig, in which case our boss will call us and tell us that ahead of time). There's always electrics (which consist of lights and power distribution) Carpentry (the set pieces, drapes, curtains, drops and borders, and stage decks) Props (which is pretty self explanatory) Rigging (working up in the flys lowering in line sets to put set pieces, lights and truss on as well as motors) pushers (who are responsible for unloading all of the trucks and loading them back up on the load out) and the loaders (who organize all the loads in the trucks and pack em). This doesn't include the show calls, as those jobs all vary based on whatever show your working on. These positions are the same with concerts.

We have to be ready for whatever positions we are given when we arrive. When I worked on Wicked and Lion King, I was a carpenter, but when I worked on Million Dollar Quartet I was an electrician. It all depends on where they need you based on your skill.

bertie3437 karma

How was working with Bruce's tour? I've heard nothing but nice things about Bruce and the way he treats his tour group.

rdp318614 karma

Bruce's tour was really something special. I was called down to just help setup the show, and when I got down there the steward was looking around for climbers. One of my local guys told me to go say something, and I told him I could climb. "oh good, then your going to be on truss spot tomorrow night"

A truss spot is when a follow spotlight is put up in the air on a truss about 50 feet high alongside the other lighting fixtures. These are typically used when there are odd positions that the spots have to follow, or in this case, there's a lot of performers that are on one stage at one time.

I come back the next day, and all the spot operators meet up (who are all riggers that I work with regularly) and come to find out that there were 16 of us. Because I was the youngest, I was selected to be Bruce's spot operator. It was a 5 hour show with no opening act and no intermission, but it was a great show and lemme tell you, Bruce can def move around for a guy his age. I also earned a lot of respect with the local senior guys for that show because I did such a great job. His people were great to work with and overall it was definitely one of my career highlights.

DonDrapersLiver2 karma

Which tour was this? Just out of curiosity

rdp31862 karma

the most recent one from last fall. He was at Nationals Park last September

Ursus_Dingus5 karma

How was it working with Rammstein? I work at my High School's Tech Crew (theater, mainly lighting) and when I saw them live I was blown away not just by the pyros but the lights too. Incredible

Edit: And how's the pay? I don't wanna get personal but is it good to pursue?

rdp31863 karma

it was a dream come true for me man. one of the most amazing experiences of my life and the highest point in my career so far. I'm glad you enjoyed the show, cause I sure as hell did too.

Pay varies on where you work and who you work for. Union pay is different than touring pay, which is different from regional and community theater pay. It all depends on how you want to approach your career but you can definitely do it for a living as a full time career.

Ursus_Dingus2 karma

Awesome! Since you're answering promptly, I'll throw another one at ya- what do you do? Are you part of the backstage crew, sound, lighting, rigging or anything else? I'm pretty curious.

rdp31862 karma

all of the following. My strengths are in Lighting and Carpentry, while I'm currently learning more and more about rigging and do as many of those calls as I am offered. but normally, in our union, we do all of the them, so I've worked in all of those departments in some capacity.

MrCynicalDammit4 karma

Slept with anyone famous?

rdp318610 karma

Haha no. My girlfriend probably wouldn't appreciate that too much.

Lechubbybunny3 karma

I see you mentioned that Justin Bieber was one of the best people you have worked with. What made him so nice to work with? Literally all of Reddit who has interacted with him before called him an asshole lol

rdp31869 karma


Lechubbybunny3 karma

yeah, i was surprised when i read this cause it seems so different from this lmao


rdp31863 karma

I was equally as surprised when I met him to be honest. I'm not gonna say that he isn't douche, but that my experience with him was memorable and chill.

rance_james3 karma

What is probably the worst experience that you have had as a stagehand? Any nightmare concerts that you were just ready to be over with?

rdp31865 karma


rance_james3 karma

I bet man. Im freaked out by heights, so there is no way that I could climb. Thanks for making shows possible for guys like me who play for a living. We couldnt do it without guys like you. :)

rdp31861 karma

your quite welcome man.

yves_tanguy3 karma


rdp318610 karma



Also, I ran Trussspot for Incubus two years ago, and I had to climb up the wire ladder in front of the audience right before they took the stage. As I climbed up, the starting to stand up and clap and cheer. thinking the singer stuck his head out or something, i soon realized that they were yelling "climb! climb! climb!" apparently they got great joy from me climbing up 40ft high in front of them. when i got to the top and clipped into the fall arrest, they all stood up and cheered like i scored a touchdown or something. very weird but was pretty damn funny at the same time. Probably will be the only time I ever have that many people cheering for me ever.

roumagrl3 karma

You mentioned Rammstein did you help with any pyrotechnics during their shows? You also mentioned Til specifically, any reason?

Thanks for doing this :)

rdp31864 karma

I was on the pyro crew on the second day of the load in, which took about three hours alone for that department. Most of they're pyro uses Isopar and Lycopodium as the source, as both are safe fuels that have a very minimal chance of blow back and burn out much faster than gasoline or propane. Lyco is especially used for the body based effects (the Feuer Frei! masks, The Engel wings, the Du Riechst So Gut solo arms, the Mein Teil flamethrower etc). Basically anything that goes off within contact or off of a body.

Fun fact: all of their set pieces are burnt to shit. The trucks and stage smell like burnt steaks, and the lights have to be hung in particular places to avoid being hit by pyro, which inadvertently creates a unique lighting look for the band's shows.

Also, I smoked with Till. He bummed a smoke off of me.

EZCO_SLIM5 karma

as a huge rammstein fan i am incredibly jealous that you got to have a smoke with till, did you meet any other members of the band?

rdp31865 karma

nah, just Till. The rest of them were at the bar across the street while I was working. He says he likes to be with himself before a show normally and not around them to get his head clear and focus. From what I heard they were bouncing all over town checking out the tourist stops in Baltimore like the Museum of Industry, which I found awesome as a native.

roumagrl3 karma

Thanks for the answer. Learning about the pyro of their shows is really interesting. I've seen them live twice now and each time I'm amazed at their show.

I can so picture their stuff smelling and being burnt to hell.

rdp31867 karma

A lot of the local guys had never heard of them, so they didnt understand why the stages were solid metal with grates that felt all flakey and coarse. I showed them a video of the opening song Sonne, and they immediately understood. Everything on there show is fire proof and can be burnt without significant damage. (excluding the band themself of course, but that doesnt stop them)

Enantioselectivepear3 karma

What sort of hours do you work? And is it just a few days a week every now and then or do you work around the year?

rdp31863 karma

the hours are odd and not everyone can handle them at first. They consist of early mornings and really late nights. Depending on the show, a load in can take anywhere from 5-14 hours. Load outs follow the same suite. However there's days where I'm working all day and night. Just the other day I setup bleachers and lights for the AIPIC conference in DC and it took 27 hours. We loaded it out Monday night from 11pm to 6am.

As far as a normal work schedule, it fluctuates. Normally during the winter months (January and February) the work is at its slowest, where as the months of April-November are the busiest, especially the summer months during festivals and concerts. At least that's how it is in my area.

GunnarStahl3 karma

What do you eat on your lunch breaks?

rdp31869 karma

Normally either the Venue has catering for us or the artist brings their own catering. Normally the country shows bring their own food people, so every once in a while we get some country eats.

But normally? Dunkin Donuts. The fuel of Stagehands across America.

imthecheetah203 karma

How can you work on rigs while you look at your shoes the whole time?

Also, what kind of sandwich did you make?

rdp31863 karma

i have special glasses that I wear while I'm the air so i can constantly look at my shoes while working safely.

Ham and cheese on rye.

NKCougar3 karma

I'm surprised by you mentioning lil wayne - you said he was pleasant to work with. Any cool stories from working with him?

rdp31867 karma

I didn't have a whole lot of time with him, just like 20 minutes, but he was very relaxed and chill and knew that we were there to work. He also has a pretty good sense of humor about himself, and he was getting picked on by one of his security guys.

"Wayne, I don't know why we do a sound check for you when you dont fucking sing"

"Aw man, you just hating cause you gotta sit around on your fat ass all day and here me not sing and sound like shit."

mahoodie2 karma

How long do you intend to work as a stagehand?

rdp31864 karma

As long as my body will let me. It's all I've wanted to do as a child and I'm going to do it as long as I possibly can.

mahoodie3 karma

Good luck OP.

rdp31863 karma

thanks dude

(bro bump)

nbd7122 karma

I'm attempting to get into being a stagehand this summer in the DC area. What would be your best advice for a beginner. (I know all the basics of working with equipment, cable coiling, etc)

rdp31862 karma


nbd7121 karma

I'm graduating high school this year. I've been in tech theatre the entire four years.

rdp31862 karma

Then def give them a call.

Jr2102 karma

What was Simba like?

rdp318613 karma

Furry, because he's a goddamn lion.

EDIT: I really dont know how else to answer this question lol.

noseraisins2 karma

Wow, so have you ever had any major equipment malfunctions during an event, like lights or set structures falling down, curtains getting stuck, etc? Ever had actors or performers get injured during a show?

rdp31863 karma

We had a truss once that was hung on three motors (two on the ends, one in the middle). when the time came to bring it down, only the two end motors would work as the middle one failed and the truss started to buckle. It was pretty scary to watch but fortunately we were able to get it down safely.

In college we had a curtain light on fire during a show. It was an older drop that was in contact with a lighting fixture that was at full heat. That was fun.

travellingdreamer2 karma

What made you want to go into the stagefield?

rdp31863 karma

I answered this one up above, its the really long answer so feel free to read it there :)

Frajer2 karma

Is it completely different working on a broadway show versus a concert?

rdp31866 karma

It really is. I should explain that when I say I'm working on Broadway shows, I'm not literally working on Broadway. I working on the touring productions of those same shows that come through town.

The theater stagehand trade has been around for centuries and many tricks of the trade, knots, lingo, and traditions have been used for generations. There's more detail that goes into a setting up a theater production than with a concert, and by detail I mean specific little quirks such as the way a set piece is hung, or the type of point hang that's made, or even just in the lingo. Theater is a different beast entirely.

Concerts are normally ready to go out the box, and normally when setting them up the road crew can build them with their eyes closed. They're designed to go up fast, be safe, and come down fast. They're also designed to fit in any space and still look like the same show. Theater shows typically have to scaled larger or smaller based on the size of the space and the size of the proscenium. When Wicked was in town, we had to cut about 4 feet of each piece truss to fit in our space, as opposed to a U2 concert that's gonna fit and look the same in every venue you work in.

ILoveAllYouGuys1 karma

what local do you work then?

rdp31861 karma

Id prefer to keep that to myself uf you don't mind. I dont like putting out too much information but its in the DC/Metro/Baltimore area.

adamup272 karma

As an upcoming techie, what advice do you have to dealing with actors, other techies, stage managers (I'm lights crew training for master)? Also what do you consider to be easier: Flying in walls or flying in ceiling props?

rdp31866 karma

Stagehands hate being called techies. A Theater Technician is about as close as your gonna get to that but that's a term that pretty much used in college and high school theater. Most older guys consider it demeaning. But you didn't know so it's ok! I didn't either lol

Stick with it is my best advice, and take whatever lessons, tips, and training that more experienced guys give you. There is always someone who's gonna know more than you do. It's a business of collaboration, so work together!

Take whatever calls you can and find yourself a side job. Theater isn't a business that you can do for 24/7 unless your on the road, so if your working in the local community or regional theater scene, try to find a second job that has a flexible schedule that can create a secondary supplemental income.

Lastly, STAY HUMBLE. Theater is a business of egos and competitiveness, even in the union workforce these kinds of politics and attitudes are there and you have to not get concerned with any of it. If you start to work for a Union and you have a degree, DON't GO AROUND GLOATING OR TALKING ABOUT IT. Most of the guys that work in the IA have been doing this job for a lot longer than you've been in school and know a lot more than you may think.

ALWAYS BE EARLY. If you're arriving 15-30 minutes early, your arriving on time. If you're arriving on time, you're arriving late.

Start going to the gym and start working out if you're young. This job can seriously kick your ass physically, especially if you're rigging. You should also invest into indoor rock climbing. There's a ton of climbing that comes with this job, and being able to climb well and not wear yourself out can set you apart from others. If you have a fear of heights, break yourself of that fear now or it'll hold you back.

Work Hard and Stay Humble.

But most importantly of all, FOLLOW YOUR BLISS. Do what makes you happy and what feels right for you. It's a saying that played a big inspiration in the creation off Blue Man Group, and I've followed this motto as long as I can remember. So much so that I'm having it tattoo'd on my arm with the Blue Man Complex logo in the center. If your getting up in the morning to go to work and your not looking forward to it, your doing something wrong.

Get your degree. It's not required, but if you're young, it'll definitely help shotgun your career start faster.

hopefully this helps! message me if you have any other questions or want some advice!

rdp31862 karma

and for the second question, they can both be equally as hard ;p

randomtopic2 karma

what's mraz like?

rdp31864 karma

solid dude, really nice and said hi to everyone. very warm person to work with, you can tell that his music really does reflect him.

Ben19912 karma

what tour did you work on with Springsteen? Any additional stories besides the spotlight one?

rdp31863 karma

his most recent one from last year. And sadly I don't have any others :-/

pherring2 karma

If Keith Urban is playing about how long is load in?

rdp31862 karma

it varies. it depends on how many trucks the show has, how elaborate the setup is, how experienced the crew is (whether its a new tour crew or veteran guys on the show). It's never written in stone how long a gig will take.

rdp31867 karma