Dimitry de Groot
Photo: Liza Kollau

Behind the scenes: a carpenter at work

28 June 2023

Texst: Meren Rutten

After a short intermission, the curtain opens to a breathtakingly beautiful new set. The stage has been utterly transformed in just 20 minutes. Dimitry de Groot, who works as a carpenter at DNO&B, and his colleagues in the Stagecraft department are responsible for the set changes. He gives us a behind-the-scenes look of what it is they do.

Dimitry de Groot has been with DNO&B for no less than 32 years. He once did a job for a set builder and that was it. He was sold. Starting out as an assistant, he worked his way up to become a carpenter, a role he still very much enjoys. Dimitry: ‘Theatre is very much stop and go. Our work is different every day and we team up with a wide variety of people. We always share the same goal though: creating something beautiful. You don’t do this job to earn yourself credits, you do it for the applause and for the glory of the performance. I love my job – that’s why I’m still here after all these years.’


The carpenters serve as a linchpin between the manager and the workers. ‘We make sure that everyone fulfils their potential, but also that people get enough rest, so that the work environment is safe for them. Because we do a lot of physical work, it’s important that we’re well-rested.’ As a carpenter, Dimitry also has a number of direct reports. ‘I head up a team of six, but this number can occasionally run up to around 20. We’re responsible for moving all set pieces, rotating the stage platforms, placing the instruments in the orchestra pit, and closing and opening the curtain. We’re a well-oiled team and that helps to let everything go off without a hitch.’

‘We’re a well-oiled team and that helps to let everything go off without a hitch’

Set and details

From preparing for a production to building a set, a day in the life of a carpenter is never the same. ‘I’m working on Maria Stuarda at the moment. The team and I built a rehearsal set in the main studio not too long ago. A rehearsal or working set is a simplified version of the final set design. It’s easy to disassemble and allows the cast to become familiar with the physical environment of the stage. It has the exact same measurements as the final set and lets the performers practise their movements, experience the sound and identify any issues.’ The rehearsal set also shows the carpenters what they can expect with the final set design. ‘After two to three weeks of rehearsals in the main studio, we’re ready to hit the stage. Just before that, all set pieces are transported from the production workshop to the theatre and we can start building the final set based on the specifications of the senior carpenter, the stage director and the set designer. The stage director is responsible for signing off on the set. They will tell us whether or not we’ve delivered what they had in mind.’

After the set has been completed, the production trifecta, i.e. the senior carpenter, the production manager and a work planner, will join the set designer, the stage director and sometimes even the conductor for a walk-through. They look at all the details and make a report of anything that does not meet their specifications. Dimitry: ‘My job is to make sure that we time any adjustments just right: they have to fit into the work and rehearsal schedules and they should be realistic.’



The production trifecta will produce drawings for the carpenter of what they expect the set to look like for each act. The carpenter and their team are in charge of the set changes between acts – all in the short span of the intermission. ‘When preparing for a production, I always look at how to coordinate set changes as efficiently as possible. You have to be creative and innovative, because we only have 20 minutes to move and put away set pieces.’ At DNO&B, the stagecraft team works in quadrants, which are designated sections at the right, left and back of the stage. These quadrants have the same measurements as the stage itself. ‘It’s much like a jigsaw puzzle. We rotate the sets to the different quadrants: after Act 1, its set is moved to the Act 3 quadrant and the set for Act 3 goes to the Act 2 quadrant. The Act 2 set is moved to the stage, and so on. This works really well, also in that everything is back in its rightful place once the performance has ended.’

As soon as the curtain falls, the behind-the-scenes show starts: the stage scenery needs to be changed. How does a relatively small team do it in just 20 minutes? ‘Most theatres use set pieces on wheels. We do as well, but we also use stage platforms and air cushions, much like a hovercraft.’ A compressor containing some 192,000 litres of compressed air pushes air into the cushions under the platform. ‘There’s about 8 bar coming through the compressor hose. Just to compare: a car tyre is typically inflated to a pressure of about 2 bar, a bike tyre takes around 1 bar. So the pressure on the platforms is huge.’ The stage can take five platforms of about 3 by 16 metres and every platform rests on 12 air cushions. ‘Every platform can be manoeuvred separately, which allows us to move the set pieces with military precision, even if they weigh a ton. The air cushions counterbalance the weight. When the platform with the right set is on the stage, we decompress the air cushions and make sure that the platform is level with the stage.’


World traveller

Because some of DNO&B’s performances are co-productions, the sets are shared by different theatres. Carpenters get to travel with the production, in the Netherlands and internationally: ‘I’ve travelled with ten containers of set pieces, just by myself or with the team. I’ve been all over the world. The US, Spain, Australia, you name it!’ A carpenter knows a set inside and out. That is why they get sent along to help build the set in another theatre. ‘I do the same thing there as I do at home. That makes me feel like a proud ambassador of DNO&B. I always try to make the set look its best – just like in our own theatre.’

‘I have been all over the world!’

Every theatre has its own way of working and the local people have their own customs and ideas. The carpenter works with the local team to recreate the production. ‘In the past, I’ve been assigned a team of 20 members who didn’t speak any English or another language I know. That was a bit of challenge.’ But somehow the teams always manage to create a stunning set. ‘We might not always speak the same language, but we theatre people invariably have the same mindset. We never fail to go all out to produce the most wonderful results!’