Life behind the scenes of a theatre: Paddy's story

Meet Paddy, 22, from Edinburgh, and find out more about his life working behind the scenes on the Mamma Mia European theatre tour. Part of our Bitesize world of work series.

Paddy outside his workplace.
"I've been all over the world with my job and I love helping tell stories that bring people so much joy."

What is your job?

My job has two parts – first is carpentry which means I create new props and set pieces out of wood. I'm also responsible for automation which is how we move different elements on and off the stage. Even 20 years ago this was done physically with ropes but we now use computers.

I'm second (deputy) master carpenter and first (head of) automation.

Can you describe a typical day?

I start every show day with a full automation rig check. I make sure that every motor is moving as it should be and the control desk is responding to the actions I am asking it to do. I then inspect the flooring and every part of the set to make sure that nothing needs fixing or replacing.

Then we set up for the show – we assist the stage department by making sure that everyone has their props, and we ensure that the pneumatic trucks and the automation are in place and working. The show I'm working on is on tour around Europe so we've visited lots of cities and different venues which makes the job really exciting.

Automation is the science of moving a theatre set - Paddy makes things move that shouldn't move.

Do you use any skills you learnt at school in your job?

My every day skills are problem-solving, maths and carpentry. I actually struggled with Maths at first and it was only when I was in my last years of school that it clicked for me. I was diagnosed with autism and found I could fixate my brain on formulas and measurements like distance, speed, and time which has been really useful in my job.

Any job in automation will need good mental arithmetic skills and I can make quick calculations in my head.

Top tips

  • Seize every opportunity
  • Don’t let anyone say you can’t do anything. I've been knocked back because of my autism, because people weren't willing to assist me as a person – they just saw the 'label' and not me as a person. But you are more than a label – you are a strong person.

What to expect if you want to be a deputy master carpenter

Paddy’s job involves carpentry skills, which can be learnt in college and apprenticeship courses, but his experience working on live shows means he is a key member of the technical theatre staff. Depending on whether you work for a company or are freelance, the pay and working hours can vary, but expect to work during evenings and at weekends for live shows.

  • Technical theatre staff salary: Variable
  • Technical theatre staff working hours: Variable
  • Typical entry requirements: There is no set entry route to this job. You could start by doing a live event rigger or live event technician advanced apprenticeship. You'll usually need five GCSEs (or equivalent) at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and Maths, for an advanced apprenticeship. There are also professional courses in things like rigging, health and safety, lighting installation, working at heights, operating lifting equipment, and pyrotechnics (explosions, flares, and other special effects used in shows).

This information is a guide (sources: LMI for All, National Careers Service)

For careers advice in all parts of the UK visit: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

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