This topic has 4 replies, 5 voices, and was last updated 5 years ago by AmySue.

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     Rachael Claxton
      • Experience: 5-10 years
      • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

      A question for the group on the role of the painters within the Production Department as a whole:

      Some theatres have the painters under the department of “sets” or “scenic”, with the Charge Artist reporting directly to the Technical Director, while some theatres break out Paint as their own separate department, in which case the Charge is supervised by the Production Manager. I’ve worked in both types of structures and definitely think there are pros and cons to each approach. I’m interested in seeing a larger picture of how the paint department functions within other theatres across the country.

      – What do you prefer as a painter? What are the pros and cons to both management structures?

      – What do you find that you like/dislike about working under a TD?

      – What are your/your theatres’ rationalizations for being your own department or being encompassed under the umbrella of “Sets”?

      Any and all thoughts are appreciated!



      I work in a shop that builds for many Philadelphia regional theatres. We are a new company, 2 years, of which I am the scene charge. What makes my situation a bit unique is that my production manager and TD are co-owners of the company. So in reality I am a the head of my department and I mostly report only to the Production Manager, but the TD is my boss in the way that its his company too. So as I am left mostly to my devices, the TD is still bossman.

      I have mostly worked in environments where the TD acts as shop manager and he holds the umbrella of Scenic and everyone else is under him. The main con to this structure I find is that in my experience a TD often will not know much about what goes into the painterly aspects of a set, and if the charge is not allowed some amount of control, the overall product surely suffers. Things as simple as order of operations, such as which piece of scenery needs to be painted first, or what steps each piece has to go through to get to the end product can often be a wall for the scenic.

      I have also faced a decent amount of trying to explain why. Why something needs to be done, why something wont work, why i need a certain material. The amount of times I have had to explain gravity to people is astounding, as well as needing lights on to paint. Then there is the all-enraging question “couldn’t you just…?”.

      I find that working as an equal to the TD makes things flow better. The TD is no longer needs to add the scenic side of things to their plate. It empowers the charge to get things done faster, and the overall environment feels more collaborative in regards to achieving the final product as well a great back and forth for problem solving.

      The last point I would make is that often if the Charge is working under a TD, I feel you are treated more as a paintbrush than an artist. In Philadelphia I have found that it has taken some effort to show people that a Charge Artist is a real position and is quite important, especially as the shows they are wanting to produce are more complex and require a higher level of planning and skill.


       Angelique Powers
        • Experience: 20+ years
        • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

        Member Member

        Fitch- you made some really great points!

        The worst experience I had as a Charge was when the TD ran the shop like a dictator and went so far as to tell me what types of paint to use and what tool I should use to apply them, and didn’t even want to collaborate with me about how the scenery arrived on my paint deck. I was his glorified paint brush.

        However, in most parts, I have had it good.

        My TD’s have been my “boss” when it came to telling me the schedule of load in needs, and what my “total budget” is. I always felt emboldened to ask for more money if I needed it and we work together to chose the best materials to build the set out out- ie what fits his budget and strength needs to my “make it pretty” needs. And then I’m left to my own devices to plan and paint the show as I saw fit to meet the Designer’s wishes.

        I have also felt that when I needed to use my PM as “bully” for when Designers weren’t communicating enough or if was getting shaft from my TD.

        COLLABORATION is the key word here.

        Because it’s my Td’s job to sign my time card, they are my boss. But I refuse to work at a place where they get to boss me around anymore.

        Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk


        Hi Rachael!

        You and I have a little bit of work experience crossover so my opinion will likely be familiar!

        I’ve had wonderful and terrible experiences, in big and little houses, with both simple and complicated hierarchies. I think as far as role and responsibility structures go, I like being under a good TD, and having a production manager on top of us, who stands between us and the Artistic Director. Or between me and the designer but will step aside to allow more transparency in the artistic process. But they mostly hold the money bag and are responsible for walking a irrational designer away from the ledge. (though I feel a paintbrush can do this with more sensitivity than a moneybag). PM’s take care of payroll, shop rental, and material budget and various resources like machine rental or rigging consultation, I (or the TD) make the calls, they take care of the paperwork. They write the checks (or tell the artistic director who to make the check out to). They defer to the TD and the Charge for answering any scenery questions and only step in to advocate for a bigger production budget from the Artistic Director or Board of Directors if the moneymark is set too low for the production.

        Then, under them is my TD, who sets the production timeline, staffing, materials, and the build and load-in schedule. I consult with both as a equal but seperate entity, but answering to (and, frankly, demanding of, ha!) the TD. I am responsible for staffing my own painters, establishing a timeline, confirming and aquiring my own materials (though in most big houses that falls under the TD’s job, much to their chagrin), and I fold all of that into the TD’s budget to present to PM. I would bring 95% of my quiries to the TD and we would keep things between us until we hit a money wall or space issue. Then we go to the PM for permission to rent or purchase whatever we need. This works when the TD understands that I know more about the paint process than they do and they are happy to have someone else managing that process. Most good TD’s are happy to give that responsibility away. But, lots of theaters have just a PM or just a TD or hell, just a carpenter that the production calls their TD but they are really just being paid a lump sum to build some scenery and get out of there. In some of those cases I have stepped in and taken on the role of TD, or a PM to keep things organized and efficient. Sometimes those were better experiences than those with too many cooks in the kitchen.

        What I find now is that there are some kick-ass indi TD’s in Chicago and not very many pro-shops so the rules/roles are being stripped and streamlined. Its kind of nice, but it requires a united front between the TD and charge.

        Actually, no matter the hierarchy, a united front between theTD and charge is the only thing that can stave off being eaten alive in a production process from hell.

          • Experience: 0-5 years
          • Scenic Status: Full Time Regular

          What I have run into the most has been the most frustrating for me:

          Theatres that say the Scenic Charge is a department head, but when it comes down to it you’re not. I have been told in multiple Theatres that I was a department head but then don’t get any keys into buildings or invited to dept. head or production meetings. Working with those Theatres I’ve found that they use the term dept. head for a painter when it’s convenient for the company.

          I would rather just be told I’m under the TD at that point because that’s how they see the position.

          Where I’m at now is interesting but works. I work alongside the Props master and TD but am not required to attend tech or dept. head meetings. I attend all production and design meetings. I run my own budget and shop for my own supplies but the TD handles my time sheet. I hire my own over-hire but the TD also does their time sheet. This structure works well for our shop because the Props Master, TD and I always communicate really well and work through shows at a good pace. The TD has become the person who oversees the entire building and is the communication point with any maintenance issue which keeps confusion to a minimum when a random person wanders into our building

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