Behind the Scenes of Theatre’s Build Crew

A look into the contributions of the AMHS Build Crew.


Photo Credit: Irene Li

Merisa Prisha Raj and Kazu Pang

When you arrive at a theatrical production, you observe a few things: first and foremost, the actors and what they are wearing, then the sets, and finally, the background of sounds and lighting. Four out of those five elements are manipulated behind the scenes by a large group of dedicated students and directors that cooperate in an after-school club called Build Crew.

Build Crew is responsible for building and designing the unique sets and costumes to ensure the needs of the actors and actresses are met. Mr. Justin Karr, the technical director of the Performing Arts department, notes that he is in charge of “all the technical elements—props, costumes, the scenery, lights, sounds, and there are other designers that I help oversee that are specialists in those areas.” Mr. Karr is in charge of managing the Build Crew and is responsible for “getting everything finished by the time that we need it,” as well as designing and building the sets. 

Build Crew is responsible for building and designing the unique sets and costumes to ensure the needs of the actors and actresses are met, as well as the logistical dimensions of the objects.”

The main adversary of Build Crew is one that many may not suspect: space. Materials have to be ordered adjacent to when they will be utilized, as there is not enough space to store them all at once. Mr. Karr notes that “if you ever come see our shows you can see sometimes the stage itself is full of stuff.” As soon as the Build Crew produces portions of the set, it has to instantaneously ship it out to the stage to make space for the next project. Not to mention, the pandemic has also negatively impacted the Build Crew. Junior Nicholas Corral details, “For an entire year we were unable to get into the theater although we still met online and, you know, had just a bit of a community there.” As a result, there was a lack of experienced members within Build Crew. “We had a big crop of seniors who had graduated and there hadn’t been a lot of new freshmen coming in so that was… interesting,” Corral added.

For senior Irene Li, the set for one particular production, Bright Star in 2018, stood out. “Bright Star’s iconic set was a whole house, where the orchestra was also sitting on it, and the actors were also going on top of it.” She reflects, “When you’re building the individual pieces, it’s not that exciting … but when you put it all together, and it’s all painted, it looks really cool.”

Future plans for the Build Crew are just as promising, according to junior Seven Suwandi: “For the Spongebob musical, the set’s a lot more ambitious this time … there are more moveable objects … and we’re actually decorating the actual theater itself, where the seats are, making an entire ocean.”

After Mitty’s winter production of the fall musical, Frankenstein, Show Crew celebrates their dedicated work on the production by having dinner together.

Despite the connotation of the word “build,” the crew creates lighting, sounds, and switching of sets controlled by a special division of the club called Show Crew. For every performance, Show Crew recruits approximately 20 to 30 people to help execute these tasks. Usually around two to three people are assigned to run each part of the set such as the soundboard, sound effects, spotlights, lightboard, stage manager, and more. To train, Show Crew uses booth shadows—students who watch backstage how these devices are operated.

The only other training that is received is the tech week, the first week of Show Crew, where everything about a position is taught. Show Crew members attend every rehearsal the theater production goes through. Finally, the following question still lingers: what happens if there is a slip up? Junior Emma Clark responds, “I remember in freshman year during Mamma Mia!, one of the actors forgot the prop of this money they were supposed to throw out dramatically and rain down during the song, but we just kept going and threw out ‘fake money’—like… like air.”