I’m a professional scenic carpenter. I chose this profession while I was in college, and I love what I do, but this position doesn’t exactly get a lot of attention in the theatre world. In fact, I’ve had so many people ask me what a scenic carpenter even is, so today I’m going to give the answers to the most common questions I get about what I do:
1. What Is a Scenic Carpenter?
Well, that is fairly simple. It’s a person who builds the sets for shows. We are given construction drawings from the technical director, and we build whatever needs to be built. You need a bunch of 22×7-foot walls? We build those walls exactly to the specifications of the set designer and technical director.
2. What Types of Skills Do You Have as a Scenic Carpenter?
I have many different skills. I am very skilled at woodworking and can build pretty much anything you want, just like so many other carpenters out there. Most are also trained in welding, foam carving and paper-mâché and have the ability to use a vast number of power tools. We are also very skilled at solving problems on the fly, since we often encounter tricky issues and have to think fast to solve them in a quick, efficient manner.
3. So, If You Have All These Marketable Skills, Why Use Them for Theatre?
I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked this question. We chose theatre for the same reason a lot of other people have chosen their careers: because we love what we do. We love theatre, even if it is a lot of hard work. Yes, we know our skills could have gotten us a lot of other jobs, but if we wanted those jobs, we would have gotten them. We didn’t choose theatre as a last resort — it’s what we love and what we’re good at.
4. Can You Even Get a Job in That Field?
This is another question I get a lot (along with everyone else who works in theatre). The answer is yes. There is a high demand for carpenters in the theatre space, though sometimes you have to travel a long way from home to get one of these jobs.
5. So, You Started Off as an Actor. Why Didn’t You Stick With That?
Let me just clear one thing up for anyone who has ever asked this question of any theatre technician. We are not failed actors. In fact, a lot of us who started off acting were very good at acting but realized we enjoyed another side of theatre even more. Some of the best carpenters I have worked with have been really good actors, but they chose to do carpentry because they enjoyed creating shows instead of being in them.
6. Doesn’t It Bother You That Your Creations Only Last for a Short Time Before They’re Torn Down?
Sometimes, yes. I’ve had situations where it would take me months to build a set for a show that was only going to run for three days and would get torn down immediately after it closed. It can be a bit frustrating, but at the same time, I like to look at it like it’s my way of creating art that changes people’s lives. A show’s run might be short, but when people come to see it, they get to escape reality for a bit, and I know I played a part in helping them do so.