"If you can weld, you'll always get a job in the theater." Those words introduced Lizzy Hallas to her current career. A theater major at Normandale Community College, Hallas had asked about in-demand theater skills during backstage tours at the Guthrie and Penumbra theaters.

"I looked into welding. It's a one-year certificate at MCTC [Minneapolis Community and Technical College] and reasonably priced," she said.

On her first day at MCTC, "I didn't really know what to expect. I found myself in a dungeon of a place -- all cinder blocks. The instructor was amazing -- he laid it all out, told us what was expected of us. It was honestly just very easy to get into."

Before the school year ended, Hallas interviewed at Johnson Screens, a company that makes precision screens and filters. She started work the week after she graduated. "We make a lot of different things," Hallas said. "Everything is small diameter stuff. The lead guy will tell me what he wants from me. I get everything set up, I give it a try. If it isn't working, I can ask any of the men working around me.

"Getting your foot in the door with welding is a great thing. You've got time and money, job security, so you can figure out what else you want to do."

For Hallas, that includes performing in a Minnesota Fringe production, Broken Memories, that runs August 5-12 at the Gremlin Theater. "It's about bullying, being a teenager and driving through the pain and the angst of high school and coming out of it," she said.

What's it like to be a woman in welding?

I absolutely love it -- it's great. All the men are very nice and easygoing, very easy to talk to. It's a lot less stressful than working in retail. You can see everything you're doing.

What about manufacturing's reputation as "dirty, dark and dangerous"?

It's never really dark or dangerous. Dirty -- yes, it can be dirty. But it's very well lit. Safety is the first thing, the most important thing. If it's not, that's not a place you want to work for. There are always people looking out for you, making sure you don't lose a finger doing something stupid. It's a very caring field, actually. Everybody really cares about each other.

Can you earn a living wage with a one-year welding certificate?

You can definitely live very comfortably just doing a 40-hour workweek, then you've got weekends to do whatever you want. Starting salaries are $13 to $20 an hour. Most places do 5 percent increases yearly or bi-yearly, then all depends on how good you are and what you do. Experience pays.

Are there any challenges for you as a woman in welding?

It's not hard to do, in all honesty. If you can read a pattern, you can read a blueprint. One of my favorite things is when I go out on the town. I put on a nice dress, makeup and earrings. People ask me what I do and I say, "I'm a welder." Their jaws drop.

Is welding a career you'd recommend?

I say, "Do it -- do it now. The market's great." We're always going to need welders. Most of the welders nowadays are baby boomers -- they'll be retiring shortly, [so] there's going to be even more opportunity. We need welders to come in and keep the American dream alive.