Work It: Scene Shop

Sophomore Oscar Brautigam.

Photo by Anton Zemba

This column is dedicated to all student workers at Lawrence. There are many opportunities to make money as well as gain experience. Each week, I will feature different jobs on campus and ask participants to describe what they are passionate about.


Students may not know that being part of the shop crew is a paid work study. The Scene Shop is located in the Conservatory’s Performing Arts Center. This term, the scene shop staff is hard at work on “Burnstein’s Mass” in Stansbury Theatre and the Gaines Series in Cloak Theatre. As part of the staff, I wanted to interview my fellow co-workers about why they are passionate about their work.

Theatre consists of building the sets from scratch, lighting, sound and props. The scene shop does it all, usually in a matter of eight weeks. It is a small but mighty group currently consisting of ten workers from a variety of years and majors. There are shop supervisors and shop assistants. Shop supervisors delegate tasks to different groups and prep the tasks ahead of time.

The shop advisors carry out various tasks and assist the scene shop students when needed. There is one Master Carpenter who oversees all things carpentry and one Master Electrician who works with lighting and sound. The staff is supervised by Adjunct Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Technical Director Aaron Sherkow. Sherkow normally does not hire freshmen, but he will make an exception if they attend shop hours in his Stagecraft class.

Senior Liz Risley has worked in the shop since her sophomore year and has worked up to be the Master Electrician where she is in charge of lighting and electronics. Junior Meryl Cason has worked in the shop for almost a year. She is a theatre major and working in the shop is relevant with technical theatre, a field she is interested in looking into. Sophomore Oscar Brautigam was hired the end of fall term of  his freshman year. He enjoys working with tools and says working in a scene shop is something he wants to do continue doing outside college.

“I like the people I work with,” added Risley. Outside of the job, the staff have other jobs and extracurricular activities. Risley also works as a student art model and occasionally acts in the productions. Brautigam acts in the productions as well, but for the most part he eats, sleeps and breathes shop. “I live here mostly,” he added. Carson sometimes helps out in the costume shop. As far as extracurricular activities, she enjoys anything dance and design.

There are many ways to get hired for the job. Carson attended lab hours which are required for the stagecraft class offered by the Theatre Department. Brautigam was hired from Stagecraft, and was able to join the staff in building stuff the last week of fall term. Junior Chris Follina had a concussion after getting hit by a car his freshman year and showed up to shop to learn what he missed. He ended up working for the shop for almost a year.

Shop not only teaches practical skills, but also valuable life lessons that are not taught in a classroom. The staff collectively feel they have a better understanding of tools and how to work with them, as well as following set plans. Shop requires teamwork where everyone breaks up into smaller groups delegated with various tasks. There are always different things to do in the shop and every day is different. Risley feels she has learned how lights work and how to properly paint. She no longer has to ask her older brother for help on projects.

Carson learned the value of working in groups because she had never been part of a group before working in shop. Her growing knowledge of how to use tools gave her the confidence to fix a cabinet shelf at her house. Brautigam learned about responsibility and how to teach other people things, which was something he used to struggle with and is still learning.

Although Risley enjoys working in the shop now, it is not something she would consider doing in the future. She believes shop requires physical labor and sometimes she gets back problems from not lifting things the right way.

“Theatre and film are two of my favorite things in life,” said Carson who can see herself working in a shop in the future.  Follina is tossing the idea around, but for now he enjoys working in the shop.

Other things that can be learned in shop are strategies for problem solving and when the going gets tough to keep pushing forward. Workers constantly encourage each other to think outside the box and try things they have never done before. Learning and growing from each other is what creates the work environment. Sometimes it hardly feels like work. Students should consider shop if they want to learn a new craft and are able to say yes to taking on different projects.