Most people don't realize all the work involved in building stage platforms, changing scenes and keeping the action going in theater productions, operas, concerts and movies. Those who do much of this work are stagehands, who collaborate with set designers, lighting, sound and costume directors to amaze audiences with realistic background sets. Some of these workers are skilled carpenters or electricians, but many are trained laborers who get most of their experience on the job. Stagehands earn salaries averaging slightly below $30,000 annually.
Salary and Qualifications
Although extremely rare, some stagehands earn six-figure annual incomes. For example, those who worked at Carnegie Hall in New York City had total compensation packages worth $290,000 in 2009, according to The Record of North Jersey. Most stagehands, however, make far less. The average annual salary for stagehands was $27,000 as of 2013, according to the job website Indeed. Most of these workers have at least high school diplomas and technical skills. Some employers may also require a year or more experience in set production. Other essential requirements are physical strength and stamina, familiarity with equipment safety and lifting procedures, and customer service, interpersonal, problem-solving and teamwork skills.
Salary by Region
In 2013, average annual salaries for stagehands varied within the four U.S. regions. In the Northeast region, they earned the highest salaries of $33,000 in New York and the lowest of $23,000 in Maine, according to Indeed. Those in the West made between $18,000 and $29,000 per year, respectively, in Hawaii and California. Stagehands in the South earned the least amount in Louisiana and the most in Washington, D.C. -- $23,000 and $32,000, respectively. Employers in the Midwest paid these laborers $20,000 to $29,000, respectively, in South Dakota and Illinois.
Stagehands may earn higher salaries in certain industries. For example, set and exhibit designers -- who work with stagehands -- earned the highest salaries of $68,740 in the movie industry as of May 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They only made $36,830 annually working for performing arts companies. That suggests stagehands' salaries may also be higher in the movie industry, although the BLS doesn't report those figures. Earnings are primarily higher in California and New York because of higher living and housing costs. These states are also home to most movie companies.
While the BLS doesn't forecast jobs for stagehands, it does for set and exhibit designers -- and hiring for stagehands is likely commensurate with these professionals. The BLS projects a 27-percent increase in hiring among specialized design firms, which primarily work with theater, opera and dance companies. Jobs for these designers and stagehands should be most plentiful with independent design firms, as more theater and production companies are outsourcing these services.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Set and Exhibit Designers: Job Outlook
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment Statistics: Set and Exhibit Designers
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- International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees :Stagehand Basics
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- Indeed: Stagehand Salary
- The Record: Ahearn: For Backstage Labor, Rich Rewards
- Indeed: Stagehand Salary in Maine, and New York
- Indeed: Stagehand Salary in Hawaii, and California
- Indeed: Stagehand Salary in Louisiana, and Washington, DC
- Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images