Steven Wilkins, production carpenter

 2 August 2012

Steven "Wilky" Wilkins started out as a technician and now freelances in production carpentry. He has both a forklift truck licence and a diploma in stage make-up.

"I get real satisfaction from getting it done quickly and right, especially when others are saying it can’t be done."

Hometown?

I'm originally from Portsmouth, but I'm now living in Sheffield.

What job do you do?

I'm a self-employed production carpenter.

What previous jobs have you done?

I kind of evolved into it from being a technical stage manager. Luckily I've been constantly working since I left college. 

My first job was as an arts centre technician. I’ve worked as a backline technician (looking after musical instruments), a lighting designer, and chief technician. Then I was stage manager at Cliffs Pavilion in Southend.

I was technical stage manager on a nationwide tour of the musical RENT a few years ago, and also Fame the year after. I've worked on a number of other musicals and plays, including Buddy: the Musical and Saturday Night Fever, which I was production carpenter for. A few years later, I was master carpenter on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. 

"At curtain down, I get a well-earned pint!"

After that, I freelanced for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and Northern Ballet Theatre. I worked on more musical shows, including Cats and Starlight Express.

What qualifications do you have?

I’ve got a diploma in stage management and technical theatre from Highbury College and Southdowns College. I’ve also got both a forklift license and a diploma in stage make-up!

What do you do at work?

As a production carpenter, my day depends on the type of show I’m working on. On a small show such as Fame, which can fit into three trailers, my day begins at about 6.30am, when a hotel wake-up call brings me round.

I make my way to the venue for about 7.45 am. The 'get in' starts at 8am, and the lighting and sound trailer is unloaded. Whilst this is going on I, along with the local stage crew, move all the stage equipment into the right positions – things like masking, legs and borders. I've usually got a (hopefully accurate) layout plan known as a hanging plot to help with this. 

The production electricians start hanging the lighting rig, and I start to hang flying pieces (bits of moving scenery) around them as and when I can. I then unload the second trailer, which contains all the pit instruments for the band and all the wardrobe, costumes, washers and driers and so on.

It’s now about 10am, so we might stop for a quick cuppa whilst electrics continue rigging. By about 10.20am, electrics have finished rigging all of the overhead lighting, and I start to lay the floor. By 11am, the floor is down and we commence with the set fit up.

By lunchtime we are two thirds of the way to having the set finished. If we haven’t reached a certain point by lunchtime, it’s a case of skipping lunch and working through. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often. Starting again at 2pm, we carry on with building the set, which is about another hour's work. The show's stage management crew start to unload the props from the third trailer, whilst I start sorting out any snags with the workings of the set.

"You’re never too big to sweep up or make tea."

The band starts a soundcheck at 3.30pm, and the cast starts to soundcheck an hour later. Whilst this is happening, it’s a case of sorting out quick change areas, and making sure everything is generally tidy and ready for the show. By 6.00pm the cast are off the stage, and we can complete any work we couldn’t do during the soundcheck.

If I can, I like to try and nip back to the hotel and grab a shower before the show. I watch the show, to see that everything works and looks OK, and at curtain down at 10.15pm, I get the chance of going for a well-earned pint!

This process is the same for shows on a larger scale, except it's spread over a longer time period.

What’s the best thing about your job?

There are some fantastic people that work in this industry. The sense of camaraderie can be amazing.

I get real satisfaction from getting it done quickly and right, especially when others are saying it can’t be done.

And the worst thing about the job?

On the flipside, it can be quite a hectic industry. I also dislike being away from home a lot and staying in bad hotels.

How do I get into music?

It’s always a good idea to get a solid education, but for me I think theatre is such a practical discipline that real hands-on experience is vital.

To go to a big live events venue and work as a casual member of crew gives you an immense opportunity to learn while you're doing the job. You get to watch all manner of people and their differing methods of how to do things.

In performing arts it’s a case of both what and who you know. There are plenty of people who are working now who started like this, have been picked up by tours and shows, and now have a solid career.

Other things to remember: no one knows everything, and you’re never too big to sweep the stage, or make the tea and be polite.


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