Set Design & Construction

Props and Decoration
Structural Issues for Set Design
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Hand and Power Tools
Chemical Hazards
Storage of Materials
Lifting and Material Handling

Props and Decoration

Decorative materials such as curtains, draperies, streamers, fabrics, cotton batting, straw, hay, vines, leaves, stalks, tress and moss must be noncombustible or flame resistant or be rendered so with commercially available products.  Contact Performing Arts Services at Richardson Auditorium for information on how to obtain fire retardant treatments.  Certain types of decorative materials may be used only with the approval of the municipal fire official.  Contact the University Fire Marshal at [email protected] if you have any questions about the approved use of decorative materials.

Structural Issues for Set Design

Any set design which includes ladders, traps, scaffolds, rakes, rigging or other specialty devices must be approved by the Performing Arts Services at Richardson Auditorium.


Hamilton Murray Theater is the only student theater space that has fly space.  Some rigging guidelines include:

  • Anything attached to a flybar must have a safety cable attached as well.
  • Check that everything attached to a light, including barn doors, gel cases and safety cables, are secure before it is raised. 
  • Make sure the rope or cord is strong enough for what you are lifting and that the rope or cord is not frayed or damaged in any way. 
  • Warn people on the stage or grid before moving any rigged scenery or other objects. 
  • Maintain visual contact with a moving piece at all times.

Rigging should be inspected by the production crew before each use.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Personal protective equipment includes all types of equipment used to increase individual safety while performing potentially hazardous tasks.  This may include eye and face protection, head protection, foot protection, hand protection, respiratory protection, or any equipment used to protect against injury or illness.  For more information about PPE, please see Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Hand & Portable Power Tools

Crewmembers should use a power tool only after receiving proper training.  Stage managers should review the operation of the equipment, making sure to point out safety features and guards. Crewmembers should be familiar with the owner’s manual for the tool, and should know both the use and the limitations of all power tools.

Only trained crewmembers are permitted to use power tools such as mitre saws, table saws and drill presses. For more information on training, please see the Employee Learning Center.

For information about hand and power tools, see Hand & Portable Power Tools


Ladders are one of the most common tools of the theater trade. For information on ladders, please see Ladder Safety.

Chemical Hazards

Most chemical use in theater is limited to paints and stains. However, if you are using any new or non-routine product, contact EHS for assistance on proper use, PPE, spill and disposal procedures. For more information on chemical safety, please see Chemical Safety
In the event of a chemical spill, determine if you need to contact Public Safety or if you will be able to clean it up yourself by reviewing the following Spill Response Procedures.


Work areas can become congested while constructing the set and while rehearsals take place.  Clutter makes it difficult to move around and can be a fire hazard.  To prevent accumulation of materials, trash should be removed daily.

  • Place trash in proper receptacles, preferable in metal containers.
  • Clean up after each work session
  • Avoid accumulating scrap lumber and materials
  • Purchase materials as needed to avoid the need for additional storage
  • Store tools in the proper areas when not in use

Storage of Materials

The proper storage of materials in theater spaces is extremely important to the efficiency of the production and the safety of the cast, crew and audience.  The NJ Uniform Fire Code mandates certain storage requirements, such as:

  • Flammable and combustible liquids must be stored in approved flammable storage cabinets.
  • If the building has sprinklers, materials must be a minimum of 18 inches below sprinkler heads
  • Materials in any building must be a minimum of 24 inches below the ceiling
  • Materials must never obstruct an exit from the building
  • Stored materials must be a minimum of three feet in all directions from unit heaters, duct furnaces and flues
  • Smoking is prohibited in all places of assembly and in spaces where combustible materials are stored or handled.

Lifting and Material Handling

Moving and transporting set pieces can be some of the most significant hazards during set construction. The following tips are recommended to avoid injury while moving and lifting objects:

  • Ensure you have adequate help to lift heavy or awkward items
  • Plan your route before lifting. Ensure pieces will fit through doorways, openings on vehicles before attempting any lifting.
  • Use hand trucks or carts whenever possible to reduce lifting
  • Strap or secure items that may fall during transport. "If it can fall down, lay it down."

For more information about lifting and material handling, please see Strain & Sprain Prevention.


Kelly States
Assistant Director