When you’re a Scenic Charge Artist, you’re expected to wear a lot of hats. The job description seems obvious, but it’s quite a handful when you break it down. I know that this job varies between companies, but here is a basic overview of what you might have to do as a Scenic Charge Artist:
- Interview candidates for your team.
- Be knowledgeable of scenic treatments and how to execute them.
- Provide samples for designers to approve and for your team to reference.
- Come up with ways to execute scenery that works for the needs of the show.
- Teach your team new techniques they might not be familiar with.
- Learn from your team to implement new techniques you may not be familiar with.
- Budget materials in the paint shop and place orders for upcoming projects.
- Track scenery coming in and out of the shop.
- Meet deadlines for load-in, focus, etc.
- Communicate daily with Shop Foreman, Technical Director, and other departments as needed.
- Communicate with designers and directors for notes.
- Delegate tasks to your team.
- Schedule work calls for your team.
- Make sure your team is happy and motivated to do the best they can.
- Be the point of contact for the paint shop.
- Maintain tools in the paint shop.
- Problem solve with your team.
- Evaluate schedules to come up with the most efficient way to complete scenic treatments.
- Keep track of timecards for your team and budget labor accordingly.
- Attend production meetings.
I think one reason why I have come to really enjoy being a Scenic Charge Artist is all the planning, prep-work, and paperwork that goes into it.
The notebook I used last summer is this cheap hardcover one from Brandless. I’m not crazy about this brand – I just like that it was large, lined in some way, had a spot for my pencil, and had a hardcover to it in case I couldn’t find a table nearby to write on. I’ve used journals and composition notebooks in the past, and they’ve also worked well. I just recommend something durable.
Timecard + OT Tracker
The first page I have is dedicated to keeping track of hours; both for myself and my team.
Reasons why I think it’s important to have a timecard tracker:
- To have a record of hours worked in case there is any question of it.
- To help my team keep track once timecard Friday comes along.
- To assess overtime hours and stick to the labor budget.
- To keep track of the crazy overnight and evening calls that are always inevitable.
A couple of things I have done to make this tracker efficient:
- I’ve highlighted every other Friday green and pink to represent payday and the due date to submit time-cards.
- I have the end date of each employee’s contract by their name.
- I track sick days and absences throughout the week. Let’s say your labor budget is 40 hours a week for each employee. If an employee has “0” hours for two days out of the week, I potentially schedule them to come into work for more hours later in the week and still stay at or under 40 hours.
Every time I start a new notebook for another season, I always make sure to transfer my recipes so I have them when I need them. When you’re charging a show, you want to streamline any process that you can – so having a little recipe book for yourself and your team to reference saves so much time.
Examples of recipes:
- starch (shown above)
- scenic goop; ratios of additives to binders (so many types of goop!)
- glazes that use special products
- rock hard water putty, Bondo, or powder joint compound mud mixes
- water to paint for pneumatic sprayers
- acetone to auto body paint for pneumatic sprayers
- water to raw umber/burnt umber for a dirty water distressing mix
Inventory + Order List
I recommend starting your season with a good ol’ inventory list. Not only does this help you put in orders for paint in a timely manner, but it also can help you know what paint you have a ton of so you can find ways to use that if you can.
I also recommend keeping an ongoing list of things to order for the paint shop. Having this near your inventory list will make your life a lot easier.
Some overall tips about ordering and tracking materials:
- I always try and be as “scrappy” as I can in the paint shop and see what I can creatively substitute before ordering a new product. Being resourceful can not only challenge you creatively but also save a ton of money in the long run.
- I also recommend sorting your order list by priority. I like putting “wishlist” items on this list just in case there is room in the budget for a new tool or product that we normally wouldn’t stock.
- When doing your inventory list, save some room next to quantities to put another round of them for the end of the season (this is pictured above). This is a neat way to compare the two quantities and see what colors you use most often! It also saves you the hassle of re-writing each line item.
I start off every show putting together a unit list. I typically go through the paint elevations for the show and write down every piece of scenery that’s noted on those. Then, I check the designer drawings and shop draftings to make sure there isn’t an additional unit that just didn’t get it’s own paint elevation. It’s also so important to make sure that the shop is using the same vernacular as you are when you’re addressing units. For example, “downstage walls” might be what you and the designer call it, but “portal walls” might be what the shop is calling it. And if that’s the case – good luck on trying to communicate about that unit throughout the shop.
So then I take that unit list I made and get really specific with it. For example, “false proscenium” might be a line item on my overall unit list, but here in this list, I have “false pro tiles” and “false pro trim” noted separately. I even create a line item for touch ups if I know a unit is going to be loaded in after it’s being painted.
I can go back and reference this list to make sure I’m not missing any scenery. I also can write down deadlines next to each unit here to make sure I prioritize units accordingly.
This type of list is really my “secret weapon” as a paint charge. I don’t know how I survived a summer season without doing this, but it was so much easier after I started this method.
In the paint shop, it’s likely that you’ll get scenery in pieces and parts so you want to be able to track it, label it, and cross it off your punch lists in those parts and pieces. In order to make this list accurate, I talk to the Shop Foreman and Technical Director to see what units are being built in pieces so I can separate it out accordingly. Regardless of whether you’re making a list or not, you should already be communicating with your shop in this way so that you can plan your paint treatments accordingly.
Composite Punch Lists
When you’re charging for summer stock, it’s very likely that you’ll have multiple shows in the shop at the same time. This is where I love having composite unit and punch lists, with associated deadlines next to each line item. I use the same method as before, just for multiple shows. This way, I can delegate tasks easily because I can see everything that needs to be done simultaneously.
Scenery Tracker + Scheduler
I don’t do this tracker for every show, but it did come in handy for one show in particular. We had a ton of flats getting the same overall technique, but couldn’t get them at the same time or even in the same place to be painted. This is a pretty standard problem for a summer stock festival. We also had to hand off units to scenery for a step and get them back for a paint treatment before they got loaded in. And on top of all of that, most of these units were on a paint frame and had to be flipped over to be treated on both sides.
This tracker saved us big time for that show. I was able to tell what unit had more steps remaining and what units were in scenery or paints. I also could get three or four units to the same step and then ask for scenery’s help to flip them all at once, rather than one at a time. I also could track what coat of paint each unit had; this was especially important because the units were translucencies and too many coats of paint could’ve completely ruined the effect!
I also don’t do this type of tracker for every show. I made this when I was the Scenic Charge Artist for an academic season, as well as a freelance Scenic Artist on a show. This tracker helped me stay on top of what needed to be painted for each show, per day. I knew I needed to make moves on units simultaneously to use dry time to my advantage, so I had each day scheduled for multiple units and multiple shows. This worked well when I was the only scenic for a project. I worked backwards from load-in and made a deadline for myself to meet every day until then. I could also schedule myself days off to relax and work on other things without stressing about getting a project done, because I knew I allotted my time efficiently.
Process + Sample Notes
This is a pretty standard procedure for a Charge Artist, but I do use my notebook to write down the process for each unit. I find this especially helpful for drops or deck treatments. I normally use this list to start figuring out how many days it’ll take to complete all treatments for a unit. I also use this list to figure out how many people each step needs.
Honestly, I don’t stick to this process entirely when I’m painting. Sometimes things don’t always go as you planned, and that’s just part of it. But what’s important is that you allotted time for that to happen prior to making promises to your shop that you’ll have scenery done by a certain time.
There is something about writing down each step in your process that really does help save time in the long run. Seeing everything written down also helps me figure out if any step is superfluous so I can just cut it out of the process entirely.
Daily Task Delegation + To Do List
This is what I consider to be the make or break of effective management. I love making these lists. So, I make a new to-do list every day with separate tasks for each step associated with a unit. For example, if a door needs to be painted that day, I’ll create separate line items such as “prime door”, “first coat on the door”, “second coat on the door”, and “seal door with satin”.
This type of list making is helpful for me for a number of reasons:
I can easily see what items are outstanding on my to-do list.
- If an outstanding step is to seal or prime something, I can delegate that to somebody as an in-between project if they are in dry time (this saves so much time in the shop!)
- I normally write down the person’s initials next to the step that I’d like that person to do. I love to plan ahead and figure out what tasks I can have certain people do based on their skill set or general work ethic and attitude.
Call me crazy, but I like to make separate to do lists for blocks of time in the day (8am-10am, 3pm-5pm, etc). This helps me set goals and deadlines for each unit. Things really change and shift around a lot throughout the day, and when priorities change for the scene shop, they also change for you. I also like to write down Scenery’s goals for the day if they depend on us to make sure we are all on track for the same ultimate deadline.
Shop Projects + Cleanup Tasks
I like to keep a list of things that need to be done for the shop – whether that’s organizing paint, scrubbing off shelving, or making new tools to improve the shop. This way, I always have something ready for someone to do in case of dry time, or in case we’re waiting on getting scenery to paint. I’m a firm believer in dismissing my crew if there’s nothing to paint, but I won’t do that unless the shop space itself is neat and tidy at the very least.
I also reference this list at the end of a season to make sure we leave a shop space in better condition than where we found it. Taking the time to make sure you have a shop that functions well is important, and actually saves time later on – so I’ll incorporate some shop improvement projects into the mix earlier on if it’s going to benefit the team in some way.
I hope this post helped some of you charge artists out there. I’m sure some of these layouts and organizational tips can help project managers, project coordinators, technical directors, and educators in general.
Being completely honest here – writing this post is making me feel strangely vulnerable, like I’m sharing my trade secrets (the 11 secret herbs and spices of being a charge artist?). I want others to succeed and improve and learn, which is why I’m sharing so much of my personal workflow here. If you have tips or advice for how you organize your content and tasks, let me know down below or on Instagram – @craftswomancentral.
The original version of this article was posted by Batul Rizvi at her blog, The Craftswoman Central. It is focused on ways to empower the working woman – specifically working in scene shops, but also in the trade industry in general.
Batul Rivzi is a freelance Set Designer and Scenic Charge artist based in Virginia. She studied at North Carolina School of the Arts and has worked for the Heritage Theatre Festival, Totem Pole Playhouse and the University of Virginia Drama Dept. You can find more of her work online here.
For additional reading on budgeting and planning, please see our earlier article; The Paper Trail
Tags: Business Management Planning Scenic Charge Artist