How to get into Set Carpentry? Our Graduate Gareth Edwards tells his story…
FdA Graduate Gareth Edwards talks about the ups and downs of life as a Set Carpenter on the Jay Z tour and tells us about his new venture, LoveTunes Ltd.
When LS-Live got the job to do the stage set for the Jay Z tour they needed to recruit a Set Carpenter and luckily for me they looked to the Backstage Academy graduates to find someone, in other words, they picked me! So off I went to do the seven-week UK and European leg of the tour.
Gareth on the set of the Jay Z show during production rehearsals at the LS-Live Studio where Backstage Academy is based
Before taking the FdA Live Events Production course I was a builder, which was a poorly paid role, with poor conditions and everything was done at your own expense – I would sometimes sleep in the back of the van! But as a Set Carpenter on the Jay Z tour we were paid well, they looked after you, the hotels were four star and the Beat The Street tour buses were luxury! You had a per day allowance, catering was amazing and we had food and drink on the tour bus. So when it came to the hard graft, it was ok as the rewards were brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always like that on tour!
I had always wanted to be a touring Set Carpenter and had the idea in my head that they would be world-renowned Carpenters, but when I started doing it I realised that my building background put me in good stead. The Head Carpenter had a background in kitchen fitting and he was even surprised I could use tools! The role is more about directing local crew to build and put stuff together. If the Head Carpenter saw you carrying stuff he would shout at you because you’re not supposed to risk being injured as you have a pivotal role on the tour.
The role is more about knowing the job inside and out, and you as a person, than being hands on. You have to be able to get on with lots of different types of people, despite the language barriers, and you meet all sorts of characters. The FdA course prepares you for those real life situations and helps you stand out from the crowd.
At the end of the London O2 Arena load out at 2am we had nearly finished packing the van but we realised the gear didn’t fit into the crates we had been sent properly and there wasn’t enough room in the van. As I had made a connection with the Production Manager, Bobby Schneider, he called me over and asked me how to solve it. I said we needed to empty the truck and re-pack it using the method I had devised previously, so it was then my responsibility to tell the guys what to do. The hardest thing for me was getting the most out of the stagehands without intervening myself.
We came across another logistical challenge on the very last load out on the tour. Having done three back-to-back shows, some equipment was being sent back to LS-Live and the rest of it was going onto containers to the US. We wanted to load our stuff onto the containers and go to a party, (as a Set Carpenter you’re normally the first to start and the last to leave), but the two containers for the ferry didn’t fit. We should have finished at 1am, but we had to pack and re-pack it twice, so we finished at 6am!
At the end of the day you have to do what needs to be done, and we were enjoying being there, and had more and more respect for Bobby. He said he would have me on any tour coming to the UK, shook my hand and thanked me for all my hard work. I never got to speak to Jay Z as he literally flies in and out. If I hadn’t done the degree I wouldn’t have got the opportunity to go out with Jay Z so it’s a route to market.
The Jay Z show (photo: Livepix)
If you want to get into being a Set Carpenter, I would recommend getting experience as local crew in your nearest arena to get used to shows coming in and out and working with different stages and sets. I would volunteer at the local theatre and help putting on shows, building stages and scenery. You need to understand how precious the structures are. Help out small local bands, volunteer to go out on the road with them to help get their stuff on stage and network as much as possible.
During the course and since graduating I’ve also toured with John Barryman and Disney, stage managed festivals, put on my own events, been Stage Manager and Sound Engineer at the Atkinson Theatre in Southport, worked on Lytham Proms and Junction 16 in Crewe with Status Quo and John Newman. I also produced my own fashion show with my wife; we turned our spare bedroom into an office/recording studio building on the skills I learned on the degree course.
I’ve also production managed full festivals like the 10,000 capacity Hoghton Towers in Preston, where I did everything from working out the budgets, booking artists, designing production, doing site plans, planning security, getting bars and catering in, doing the production schedule down to the Tesco shopping and looking at the colour of the confetti on the table! I got this opportunity through Cuffe & Taylor who I originally did a work placement with during the course. Cuffe & Taylor is a business built up by two young guys, they have really let me develop there and always reward me, so I always feel loyal to them regardless of what I do and where I go. But the credit always starts with Backstage Academy, they helped me develop and learn.
I’ve recently set up LoveTunes Ltd with fellow graduates Tom Richter and Harry Heathfield, along with my wife Ella. It’s a record label, music development agency and event production company in one. My role is to manage the artists by developing and producing the music, getting the songs to market and managing distribution. We take the artists to labels and also set up as a label ourselves so the idea is that we will sell music through ourselves then one of the bigger labels will take it off us and hopefully buy into us. Tom does the production, so staging, lighting and sound, Harry does the accounts, insurance, H&S and IT, whilst Ella has a law degree so does the legal side and contracts. It’s going well so far, we’ve signed up one band and had lots of enquiries including Kitty from X Factor.
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