For students interested in show business, a fresh program offered by Broward County Public Schools focuses on the whirl of activity backstage.
Installing lights. Setting up scenery. Repairing props.
The Stage Production program features basic instruction in various facets of work that goes on behind the scenes. Topics range from theater jargon to manipulating a forklift. The program is geared as workforce education for adult students, ages 18 and older.
The staff at Sheridan Technical Center in Hollywood partnered with representatives of Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale to design a program that suits industry demands for entry-level workers in the production field, said Tom Moncilovich, assistant director of Sheridan Technical Center.
Christopher Jahn, production supervisor at Broward’s arts center, based his recommendations for Sheridan’s curriculum on the variety of typical tasks involved with stagehand work.
“They need to know how to do basic carpentry, basic electrical wiring, mechanical assembly, and rigging – anything from simple ropes and pulleys to suspending heavy loads from fixed points,” Jahn said. “Not only do they need to know how to set up the scenery, lighting, sound, costumes, and props for a show, they need to know how to operate them during the show... While in the dark. And doing this quietly.”
Sheridan’s 9-week program, which includes hands-on learning with an assortment of instructors, is an untraditional format, according to representatives of the field.
At colleges and universities, production-related topics often are part of broader academic programs for those working on associate and bachelor’s degrees.
Some stagehands learn the trade on the job, perhaps working in theaters since high school. Others, who are handy with tools, venture into the theater arena with a background in building and mechanical trades.
Sheridan Technical Center offers a certificate of completion in stage production. The program launches in August.
“To my knowledge, there is no other technical center in Florida that offers stage production,” Moncilovich said.
Students pay about $930 for the program, which includes fees. No previous education or experience in the industry is required.
While the program is based at Sheridan Technical, administrators are seeking partnerships with theaters in South Florida to provide opportunities for students to work in real theatrical settings. Broward Center is being renovated and opportunities at that venue may be limited, at least for a while.
The working world for production folks, like actors, typically involves temporary assignments at a variety of venues. Some stage production workers are generalists. Others veer off into specific areas of expertise, which may require more education. In South Florida, the pay rates for most types of stage production work range from about $8 to $30 an hour, according to industry representatives. Full-time work in production is usually limited to management positions.
The demand for workers is based on the amount of types of productions. In addition to live theater, a background in stage production suits work in other venues, such as arenas, hotels, cruise ships and convention centers, Jahn said.
While some productions use trained specialists for sophisticated set design or running a digital sound board, general stage production is multi-faceted.
“Almost everybody does a variety of tasks,” said Gene Seyffer, technical director of Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables. “For most people the more you know about more things, the more employable you are.”