Behind the Scenes With Cal Performances’ Head Carpenter

Kevin Riggall explains what goes into the many sets and setups you see on stage.
September 15, 2022

With a season this varied, every day on stage is different.

Interview of Kevin Riggall, Cal Performances’ Head Carpenter. Interviewing, video filming and editing by Tiffany Valvo, Cal Performances’ Social Media and Digital Content Specialist.

Do you ever wonder how the sets change out between show to show, or even how the sets move around during a performance? How pianos come in and out for various performances? In this video, Cal Performances’ Head Carpenter, Kevin Riggall, shares (and demonstrates!) what our stage crew does to prepare for each performance, and provides some fun context on his own background as well!

Transcript

Kevin Riggall:
My name is Kevin Riggall and I’m the Head Carpenter from the production team at Cal Performances.

My primary responsibilities are to prepare for any show that we have in this building and in the Playhouse, at Hertz Hall, or in any of our other theaters—anything related to the carpentry, scenic properties, elements of a show.

Tiffany Valvo:
I guess this is pretty involved because we have such a variety of things happening at Cal Performances, right? So, like, every day is pretty different?

Kevin Riggall:
Every day is absolutely different. No two shows are the same. Even if we may have two recitals back to back, they’re not both gonna be the same thing. So something is always going to be changing, whether it’s we have a piano for one and then we have four chairs and a quartet the next day, so all of that—the pianos are gonna go away and we’re gonna bring out chairs and music stands and relight everything for that next show.

Tiffany Valvo:
So, do pianists bring their own pianos?

Kevin Riggall:
Nope. We have three grand pianos in-house that we use. We have a primary piano, our newest piano that we use for most classical-type recitals; and then we have two other pianos, one that’s more kind of tailored towards jazz shows, and then a third piano for smaller student groups, anyone who might not need anything super fancy.

Tiffany Valvo:
Okay, so, Kevin, tell us a little bit about yourself before you ended up here at Cal Performances.

Kevin Riggall:
I have been doing theater for about 15 years. I started doing theater in middle school. I moved into the technical side of theater in high school.

I went to the University of Northern Colorado where I got my degree, my Bachelor of Arts in Technical Direction. I then went out and toured for about eight years with a whole number of different Broadway tours, and then I came here in 2019—2018, and I’ve been here for just under four years now.

Tiffany Valvo:
Wow. So what do you learn when you’re doing a degree like that?

Kevin Riggall:
Anything and everything to the theater world, technically. I had to take classes in lighting and sound and costume design, costume technology, scenic construction, computer-aided drafting. And then just all the practical running shows that we would do at our university.

Tiffany Valvo:
So, this is a two-part question. What’s the most exciting part of your job, and what’s the most challenging part of your job?

Kevin Riggall:
The variety. Having different shows come in every week, it’s a lot of fun because we get to see and experience so many different things. But, at the same time, because of that variety, that means we have to change things so often that it can be, it can become a little—it can become a little tiresome to constantly move the same things back and forth.

But that’s the industry we live in and that’s why we do what we do, because the arts is—we wouldn’t enjoy life without the arts.

Tiffany Valvo:
Can you talk about that a little more? Why do you like working in the Performing Arts? What feels rewarding about it?

Kevin Riggall:
The arts—theater, music, Broadway, dance, all of those things, they allow someone to escape reality for an hour, two hours, whatever it is. They come, they watch some other world, and they can forget about life, and some of those, some of those experiences can be uplifting and super fun; others can be a little more serious and thought-invoking, but, either way, take someone out of their daily life for a few hours, which can be extremely refreshing to those people who don’t get to do that very often.

Tiffany Valvo:
Totally. It makes all the chair-moving worth it, right?

Kevin Riggall:
We are standing at the fly rail system of Zellerbach Hall. And what this whole system of ropes allows us to do is to hang any drops, any lighting, any overhead equipment that a show might come in with.

And how this is set up is it’s a single purchase counterweight system. So, when we bring a pipe into the ground to hang something, we have to add an equal amount of weight to one of these carriages so that the system is in balance. And once we take something out to a position over the performers’ heads, it stays in place because gravity works that way.

Tiffany Valvo:
That is so fun. Okay, can you show us how it works?

Kevin Riggall:
Sure. Let me find something again that’s not going to move something.

Tiffany Valvo:
So fun. And I assume that it’s pretty complicated actually to learn how to run these things?

Kevin Riggall:
Yes, it is. This is one of the most dangerous things we do in the building because we’re moving sometimes very heavy things over performers, over technicians’ heads, that if people aren’t paying attention, it’s the easiest way to get hit by something in the theater.

Tiffany Valvo:
Kevin, we are going to do a rapid fire question round. Are you ready? Okay.

The first question is: What performance are you most looking forward to in the 22/23 season?

Kevin Riggall:
Everyone’s favorite at Zellerbach, Alvin Ailey.

Tiffany Valvo:
Amazing. Why do you love them?

Kevin Riggall:
Because their crew is great to work with and their shows are always gorgeous.

Tiffany Valvo:
Totally agree. Okay, hometown?

Kevin Riggall:
Lone Tree, Colorado.

Tiffany Valvo:
Favorite food?

Kevin Riggall:
Spaghetti.

Tiffany Valvo:
Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?

Kevin Riggall:
Watch a movie.

Tiffany Valvo:
Do you have a favorite movie?

Kevin Riggall:
Harry Potter series.

Tiffany Valvo:
Oh, good, good. Favorite place in the Bay Area?

Kevin Riggall:
Jack London Square.

Tiffany Valvo:
Nice. Dogs or cats?

Kevin Riggall:
Cats.

Tiffany Valvo:
Favorite color?

Kevin Riggall:
Dark red.

Tiffany Valvo:
Cookie or cake?

Kevin Riggall:
Depends on, the depends on the cookie, but cookies.

Tiffany Valvo:
Okay, great. And the toughest one is last: Music, dance, or theater?

Kevin Riggall:
Musical theater.

Tiffany Valvo:
Perfect. Thanks, Kevin! We had so much fun!

Kevin Riggall:
You’re very welcome. It was fun to do this.

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