If you have witnessed a performing arts production at Berkeley High School, you have benefitted from the stage crew. Students involved in stage crew take care of the technical aspects of productions such as building sets, setting up, and running lighting and sound systems. Students involved in the stage crew can be volunteers. Other students, if they choose to take the seventh-period class, Stagecraft, are a part of the stage crew and earn practicum hours for the course.
Meghan Malone, a senior at BHS who takes the class, says that Stagecraft is “a seventh-period class that focuses on developing students’ skills as stage crew which can be backstage, in the lighting booth, the sound booth, or as the stage manager. It also builds your skills with things like construction and with painting.”
Neptune Afifi, a tenth grader who also takes the class, noted that “each person in the class picks school shows to work on,” focusing on different skills.
According to the BHS course catalog, there are two full-year courses: Stagecraft 1/2, and Stagecraft 3/4. Stagecraft 1/2 must be taken before Stagecraft 3/4. In these Career and Technical Education courses, students learn about rigging, carpentry, lighting, and audio-video. The class meets twice per week, and requires some weekends and evening practicum hours.
Afifi highlighted the time commitment involved. “You have to have a lot of time to work shows to gain experience of what it would look like in reality,” Afifi said. “You really have to commit to the class and how much time outside of school it will take.”
While BHS students have been volunteering as part of stage crew, taking care of the technical aspects of theater and music productions, for many years, the Stagecraft class (introduced in the 2018-2019 school year) has led to better-equipped stage crews and thus more support for the performing arts at BHS since it began. Before this class, volunteering for backstage work was the only available option, which often meant that people lacked the necessary skills or training to do so, especially in terms of lighting.
Malone elaborated on how lack of skill limited how BHS performing arts could be supported and what kinds of shows could be produced: “Before this, we didn’t have people who knew how to build stuff, … (or) who were trained how to handle lights or mics, you can’t have that,” she said.
Aleka Vavloukis, a junior taking the Stagecraft class similarly shared that “if the school is to put on any performances, they need a backstage crew.” Having the class ensures that people can do the backstage crew job and students gain valuable skills and experience at the same time. Malone said that “the growth of the class has allowed for the musical program to really get started. So (we are) hoping to see it evolve further in the coming years, and (to) put on more elaborate and more engaging productions that can resonate with the Berkeley High School audience.”
Vavloukis appreciates the skills she is learning. She said in particular the class was “cool because (she) got to learn how to use power tools.” Malone also appreciated learning how to use machinery, work with wood, and how lighting systems work, in addition to being part of a “really awesome community.” Afifi described the class community as “unreal.” Vavloukis said, “It’s easy to make friends with the people because you’re working with them, and you have to spend a lot of time with them, and experience stress and problem solving with them.”
All the students pointed out the many benefits to being part of Stagecraft and the work of stage crew, in both the skill set and experience developed, in addition to the relationships formed.
Afifi is particularly interested in lighting and said, “Working shows with my classmates gives me a lot of experience and knowledge. Every show I work ends up as wonderful and fun memories.”
Looking ahead to graduating, Malone said “The most memorable thing has been the people that I’ve met and the connections that I’ve made.” Afifi felt similarly, saying that being part of the stage crew has created “lasting memories, whether it’s the conversations (they) have, the performances (they) see, or the hard work after the shows.”
Vavloukis described stage crew as “fun” first and foremost, spending time with friends working together and enjoying hanging out. Stage crew is more than a great experience for the students involved. The rest of the BHS community also gets to benefit from the performances they put on.