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Building, Designing and Running Shows: How to Get Involved Backstage

Opportunities in technical theater at Swat.

Student Imzadi Diaz '26 works on a lighting design for the Spring Night of Scenes, 2023.

Student Imzadi Diaz '26 works on a lighting design for the Spring Night of Scenes, 2023. Photo by Savannah Reich.

Theater artists are more than just actors. A finished show is a complex collaboration not just between performers and directors, but also between designers who create the visual ideas that drive the production and artisans who make those ideas a reality. Here at Swarthmore, we offer training in Lighting Design, Costume Design, Sound Design, Media Design and Set Design, as well as hands-on opportunities to be a part of the team that builds the sets and costumes for our shows. Most working professionals in the field will tell you that every modern theater artist should know a bit about all of these elements, even if you don't see yourself having a career in technical theater. Whether you find yourself jumping in and creating a light plot for a friend's Fringe show, painting a mural on your apartment wall, or being able to speak knowledgeably to all your collaborators in the theater, a little experience backstage will go a long way. 

Interested in getting involved with technical theater, but don't know where to start? Here are some ideas:

  • Sign up for Elements of Stagecraft in the Spring. This course, taught by our Technical Director Stephen Wiseley, will offer a hands-on introduction to all elements of technical theater. Students will work on basic designs and construction techniques for sets, costumes, lighting and sound. This is a great course to take if you'd like to sample all the elements of technical theater before signing up for a semester-long class in one of them. 
  • Work in our Costume Shop or Scene Shop. We are often accepting more students to work on the costumes and sets for our shows- contact Technical Director Stephen Wisely or Costume Shop Manager LeVonne Lindsay to learn more. These are campus jobs, so you can get paid to learn more about set construction or creating costume pieces! Feel free to stop by the Scene Shop on the first floor or the Costume Shop on the lower level of LPAC if you'd like to see where we work and chat more. 
  • Be a part of the run crew for one of our shows! In order to participate in this paid workstudy position, you'll need to talk to LeVonne Lindsay or Stephen Wiseley and let them know you're interested in working on the crew for a future show. When an opportunity comes up, they'll reach out and see if you're available. This is a great way to get your feet wet in the theater department and connect with other theater students. 
  • Be a stage manager for a Swarthmore Theater show! If you're interested in making sure our rehearsal rooms run smoothly and are inclusive to all, you might want to try stage management. Our Production Stage Manager for LPAC, Brady Gonsalves, offers workshops from time to time to get new stage managers trained and ready to run shows at Swarthmore. Watch out for our next workshop, and take the opportunity to learn from Brady's expertise! 

If you've already done a few of these things and are interested in challenging yourself further, any student who has taken a design course at Swarthmore is eligible to design one of our shows. Student designers have created gorgeous, imaginative work on our stages for many years, and our faculty is there to support you as you begin to take on design projects for full shows in our theater season. Whether you specialize in design or just take one class, we hope every theater student leaves Swarthmore with an appreciation for tech theater and for all the amazing artists who practice it.