The role of the theatre lighting designer (or LD) within theatre is to work with the theatre director, set designer, and costume designer to create an overall ‘look’ for the show in response to the text, but bearing in mind issues of visibility, safety and cost.
Some eminent lighting designers working in the US today are: Howell Binkley, Peggy Eisenhauer, Jules Fisher, Paul Gallo, Donald Holder, Allen Lee Hughes, Brian Mac Devitt, John McKernon, Jennifer Tipton.
Pioneers in the industry include: Tharon Musser, Jean Rosenthal
The LD is usually an outside freelance specialist hired early in the production process, but there are many theatre companies whose lighting chief is also responsible for most or all of the lighting designs. The LD will read the script carefully and make notes on changes in place and time between scenes – such changes are often done just with lighting – and will have meetings with the Director, Designer and production manager during the pre-production period to discuss ideas for the show and establish budget and scheduling details. The LD will also attend several later rehearsals to observe the way the actors are being directed to use the stage area (‘blocking’) during different scenes, and will receive updates from the stage manager on any changes that occur. The LD will also make sure that he or she has an accurate plan of the theatre’s lighting positions and a list of their equipment. The LD often takes into account the show’s mood and director’s vision in creating a lighting plan.
All this information is vital for the preparation of an accurate lighting plan and lighting plot.
The plan is a scale drawing of the theatre’s stage and auditorium lighting positions with the show’s lanterns marked on it. Next to each lantern will be information for any gel, gobo, animation wheel or other accessory that needs to go with it, and its channel number. Professional LDs usually use special computer-aided design packages to create accurate and easily read plans that can be swiftly updated as necessary. The LD will discuss the plan with the show’s production manager and the theatre’s lighting chief to make sure there are no unforeseen problems with the plan before the latter places a hire order for any specified extra equipment.
The lighting plot is a list of the lighting states that the LD intends to use for each scene during the show. Ideally, a pre-production lighting plot will have levels specified for every lantern and up and down times for each lighting state, or cue, but it is accepted that there will usually be many changes during the technical rehearsal of the show.
During fit-up and technical rehearsals
The lighting designer is responsible, in conjunction with the theatre’s Master Electrician, for directing the theatre’s electrics crew in the realization of his or her designs during the technical rehearsals. The LD usually sits at a temporary desk somewhere in the auditorium where they have a good view of the stage and talks to the lighting board operator/programmer over a headset. The LD will direct the focusing (pointing, shaping and sizing of the light beams) and gelling of each lantern before recording a version of the lighting plot. At an arranged time the actors arrive and the play is worked through in chronological order, with occasional stops to correct sound, lighting, entrances etc. The lighting designer will work constantly with the board operator to refine the lighting states as the technical rehearsal continues, but because the focus of a “tech” or “cue-to-cue” rehearsal is the production’s technical aspects, the LD may require the actors to pause (“hold”) frequently. Nevertheless, any errors of focusing or changes to the lighting plan are corrected only when the actors take a break.
Once the show is open to the public the lighting designer will stay and watch several performances of the show, making notes each night and making desired changes the next day. However they can only make changes during the preview process of the show; once it officially opens the lighting designer can no longer make changes to it.
NB: There are different protocols between European technical theatre and American technical theater.
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