How to Build Portable Stage Decks

Written by j.e. myers
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Portable stage units are a necessity for any theatre organisation that wants to go on tour or compete in educational theatre competitions and festivals. While there are sophisticated and expensive portable stage platforms available for rental or purchase, most smaller theatre organisations cannot afford them. Stock stage platforms often do not meet production needs either. The alternative is to build your own portable touring platforms, adapting traditional platform construction techniques.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 3/4-inch plywood sheets
  • 1-foot by 6-foot dimensional lumber
  • 1-foot by 3-foot dimensional lumber
  • Wood screws
  • Power drill and 3/8-inch bit
  • 2-inch x 3/8-inch carriage bolts
  • 3/8-inch washers
  • 3/8-inch wing nuts
  • C or spring clamps
  • Wood glue
  • Brads or finish nails
  • Canvas
  • Velcro
  • Small hammer
  • Phillips head screw driver

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  1. 1

    Determine your time budget for stage assembly. Knowing the time allowed for assembly is important to platform assembly logistics.

  2. 2

    Construct stage platforms. Use only ¾-inch plywood for the tops. Use one-by-six lumber instead of two-by-fours for the frames. This will reduce weight. Flip the platforms undersides up.

  3. 3

    Cut traditional platform legs using one-by-three lumber. Sandwich two one-by-three legs together to form a thicker leg; this leg will still be lighter than a two-by-four. Apply wood glue between the layers.

  4. 4

    Place the legs in the six traditional corner and middle locations. Clamp the legs to the frames temporarily. Drill two 3/8-inch holes through the leg and the frame. Offset them.

  5. 5

    Insert a 2-inch-by-3/8-inch carriage bolts through each hole. Slip a 3/8-inch washer on each bolt and twist on a 3/8-inch wing nut. Remove the clamps. Turn the platform right side up.

  6. 6

    Make cross bracing from long one-by-three boards. Attach them to the legs using very strong spring clamps or C-clamps. You may need as many as 10 clamps per platform.

  7. 7

    Label the platforms from stage right to stage left in numerical order after assembling the entire set on stage. Label the platforms on the underside with a number. Label the legs that "belong" to this platform with the same number and an alphabet letter.

  8. 8

    Assign two stagehands to each platform. Provide each with a small hammer and a Phillips head screwdriver. Instruct them to remove the cross bracings. Ask them turn the platform over and remove the wing nuts. Have them place the tip of the screwdriver against the end of the protruding bolt. Tap the bolt out of the drill hole without cutting or marring the bolt threads. Set the cross bracings and the legs aside.

  9. 9

    Make canvas bags with a heavy-duty Velcro flap closure. Staple this bag to the underside of each platform, flap closure "up."

  10. 10

    Instruct each stagehand "team" to gather all the hardware, the clamps, the two hammers and the two screwdrivers, and place them in the bag. Seal the flap closed.

  11. 11

    Gather the legs into separate piles and bind them together with long Velcro cable ties so that the labels are visible. Bundle the cross bracings with Velcro cable ties.

  12. 12

    Practice timed assembly. Have the two-man teams carry platforms into position on the stage. Turn it over. Install the legs. Turn the platform up on the legs. Install the cross bracing. Reverse the process for disassembly. Forty trained stagehands can assemble a set composed of as many as twenty platforms in less than three minutes.

Tips and warnings

  • Be sure to keep all the hardware in the "on-board" bags to prevent it from being misplaced.
  • Use clamps to tie several platforms together for greater stability.

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