Female Stagehand: Equality….But Not Really.
By Iky Tai
Working for the entertainment rigging company enables me to listen to many interesting and inspirational stories from stagehands and theatre technicians. Their first-hand experiences usually show that the industry should have done more to create a safer and better working atmosphere that encourages all enthusiastic people to enter the industry.
This is a story by a behind-the-scenes female stagehand, working in a male-dominated industry.
Working in the stage production industry is challenging and tough as there is a fair amount of lifting and heavy & dirty physical work involved. When the audience is fascinated by the stage, set & props and glamorous performers, there are many hardworking men and women who labour backstage and in the hall to make it happen.
Many may think a great deal of physical work is the deterrent to this career for women. However, this industry isn’t only about strength because skills are equally important in the live event production. I’ve seen muscular crew guys who don’t know how to stack a flight case or get something up a ramp properly. In my opinion, the lack of safety equipment is the biggest frustration for female crew members. As a stagehand, I have to lift heavy equipment, climb and rig hot lamps in a high-stress, no-sleep environment, the same as male technicians. During performing strenuous tasks that require all of our attention, we need good protection, especially a pair of rigger gloves to look after our hands.
But I feel like I can never be protected at work as much as my male colleagues who can easily find the right size gear.
I’m a 5’2” tall woman who has tiny hands that men’s safety gloves, even their XS size, can never suit me. One time, I almost got injured because my gloves were loose and the heavy hot lamp was about to slip from my hands. Without the right size ones, many female riggers/stagehands do the same thing as me – pulling the gloves over hands again and again throughout the day. Imagine it’s a long-working-hour job up to 16 hours per day! This basic gear is crucial to the safety and health of every single person working on the production. The less worried we are at work, the safer and more comfortable the performance will be for everyone involved.
In the 21st century, it seems gender equality at the workplace is achieved but it actually isn’t the case.
The frustration of working in a male-dominated industry isn’t only about safety, that of course matters the most, but also in the fact that I can’t shine, express myself as a woman and be confident at work. Today, it’s still difficult to find right female snug fit work pants, leaving us with the only choice of baggy saggy work trousers. I hope the industry can listen to my voice that also represents other women in this sector and allocate more budget to the backstage to improve our work where work-wear and personal protective equipment are often not available or not provided in women’s sizing. The impractical equipment will only limit some enthusiastic women from entering the industry. Without these hard-working and skillful women, there won’t be perfect theatre performances.