Setting the Stage in Theatre Production

The lights dim, the curtain rises and the orchestra starts to play at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse. Two hours later, the audience responds with a standing ovation — another production that seemed to run flawlessly. Every aspect from costumes, to lights, to moving the set – How do they do it? The audience can’t see it, but backstage there are talented artists working in Theatre Production who bring the stage to life.

At Point Park University, students gain hands-on experience in the B.F.A. in Theatre Production program and have a choice of three different majors with outstanding opportunities:

  • Technical Design/Management
  • Stage-Management
  • Design

Interested in theatre production? We’ve created a guide to the different majors and shared some of the opportunities Point Park students have experienced.

Technical Theatre

What is technical theatre? According to Aaron Bollinger, head of technical theatre at Point Park University, “The first is craftsmanship – learning such crafts as costume construction, sound engineering, master electrician, carpentry and welding. Those are types of crafts that students learn. The next step in the process is the technical management of those areas. Finally, technical design is taking these aspects of the craftsmanship – the tools and the equations – and making the process extremely efficient.”

The Responsibility:  There are many different aspects to technical direction, such as learning how to manage crews, budgets and your time.

The Challenge:  “It’s taking a dream that a designer has and making it a reality,” says Bollinger.


In 2013 Patrick Cassidy directed the Conservatory Theatre Company’s production of Oklahoma!. Theatre Production student Garrett Kerr served as the stage manager for this production. At Point Park, students can expect to be assigned as an assistant stage-manager as early as their first semester, sophomores and up are eligible to stage-manage one of the shows produced by the conservatory’s four companies.

The Responsibility: The primary function as the stage manager is to be the communication hub between all parties involved in the production — the director, designers, choreographer, technical director, etc. — and maintain an efficient and lively environment in the rehearsal room.

The Challenge: “The stage manager is the director’s right and left arm because he or she runs the show,” Cassidy said. “The director leaves after opening night and the stage manager runs the show to keep it in tact.”


Students interested in design have their choice of focusing on scenic, lighting, costume, sound, or a combination. Here are some exciting student opportunities:

Scene Design
Scene Design at Point Park

John Forton, a senior majoring in technical theatre and design, gained hands-on experience creating the complex set of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

The Responsibility: “When beginning to technically design a show, the first thing I need to do is get the designs from the designer, and then I decide the best way to construct it.”

The Challenge: “I get to bring the designer’s vision to the stage to make their art become a reality.”

Wig/Hair and Makeup Designerintothewoods1

When Point Park’s Theatre Department was preparing for their production of Into the Woods they turned to Theatre Production (Design) student Courtney Dilla. Her role in the production was as the designer of the wigs/hair, makeup and special effects prosthetics for the witch and the wolf characters.

The Responsibility: “Picking out hair and makeup color schemes, styling wigs, sculpting prosthetics and teaching actors how to do their hair and makeup.”

The Challenge: “Every aspect of the work I did for Into the Woods was a challenge, but that’s part of the learning experience.”

Costume Design

Costume Design at Point Park

Costume Design Photo by Martha Rial

The ability to see your creation come to life on stage is extraordinarily fulfilling. Kelsey Bower and Patrick Geraci had this experience when they helped to design the costumes for the musical Chess.

The Responsibility: According to Theatre faculty member Cathleen Crocker-Perry, effective costume designers have “an open mind, willingness to learn and never stop asking questions.”

The Challenge: Bringing a costume “together piece by piece and to troubleshoot together, and with the dancers, for what is needed to be modified to make the dance flow.”

Blood Effects


Photo by Chris Squier

Theatre Production students learned how to make fake blood and wounds at a special effects and blood workshop led by Steve Tolin. During the workshop, students learned about the artistic and innovative work of a special effects designer.

The Responsibility: “My job is to create special props and effects. I get to plug into other people’s creative endeavors at the spot where they need attention for a special challenge and it’s great.”

The Challenge: Innovation

Lighting DesignLighting Design at Point Park

Joshua Challen Ice has held various roles in theatre production, including light board operator, spotlight operator, assistant to the light designer and master electrician.  He decided to attend Point Park when he learned of the apprenticeship program – he is part of the Playhouse electrics crew. In 2015 he was assigned to be the Lighting Designer of Our Lady of 121st Street at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

The Responsibility: “As lighting designer, it is my job to portray the mood captured in the text into an atmosphere that the actors can play with. From a technical aspect, I choose the positioning, color and intensity for each light; creating the overall vision by adjusting those attributes.”

The Challenge: “The design process, for me, is a huge series of decisions. Such choices affect future options and outcomes. Many of the problems I was faced with, other lighting designers have been faced with before.”

Check out Point Park University’s Theatre Production Majors

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