Illuminati Creative Technology, Colchester UK

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Lighting Design - the process

The process of design with light:

The process begins long before rehearsals and starts with an initial reading of the script in which I try to read purely for pleasure, putting from my mind any considerations of lighting or staging so I can come to the first chat with the Director and the Designer with no pre-conceived ideas. Sometimes this chat can be quite lively, but the Director's view is - and has to be - the overriding one, although a good director will listen with respect to your own views and ideas. After some agreements have been made concerning the style and aims of the production I retire to a quiet cafe and read. Again I read th script for pleasure, ruthlessly discarding all the pictures that form unbidden to my mind. I then read it a second time and a third. By this time pictures have forced themselves into my mind whether I like it or not. They present a style, a feel, an emotion, a colour palette, a sense of time and purpose. At this point, there is little point in drawing anything technical, but I draw up a style sheet (example here) which I circulate as widely as necessary for comments and approval, so that we are all literally singing from the same hymn sheet and there are no"Oh no thats not what I wanted at all" comments and tears before bedtime. An initial list of lghting cues can be evolved at this point.

Then follows visits to rehearsals, especially the first read through and some blocking sessions. Francis Reid told me once that the number and frequency of vists to rehearsals are more important than their actual length - . He also said that too much apparatus stifles design .I leave you to judge on both those pronouncements.

Then I visit the theatre or look at the plan and make sure I know where all the possible positions for rigging lights are - checking with the production manager or equivalent that these are in fact available, not reserved for flown pieces, masking etc. I also check what equipment and hire budget is available. Armed with this I settle down at rehearsals with a sketchbook a script and a wide selection of pencils, drinking water, chocolate and anything else I need to make me feel at home in that incredible environment, the hothouse of the rehearsal room - my natural habitat!

And then I use what I see to form pictures. "Keyframes" which set specific moments, turning points, which have to be marked, pinned into place by light, a reinforcement, restatement, or if you prefer a vindication of their place, location, time, context, thoughts, feelings emotions. Then I take a digital photo and do a sketch, either in the script itself or in the sketchbook, which simply indicates colour, texture, intensity and direction of light, whch I gradually transform into pieces of equipment on the plan. I add to this luminaire by luminaire, the remainder of the rig, based on the simple need to show location, time of day, time of year, overall feel and anything else that the production requires, any special effects, projections, gobos etc. I always add a couple of GYOOT's ( get yourself out of trouble lights) FOH, on the No1 spot bar and possibly as backlights as well. The process of completing the finished plan then becomes surprisingly easy. It goes without saying that you show all your sketches to the designer and director, and your rig plan to the Chief Electrician as often as possible, It should be possible to do a blind plot of intensities and moving light home positions at this point. Get the finished plan and intensity plot to the riggers as soon as possible.

Let me say this. Please take note. Lighting Design is not - ever! - ever!! a function of the apparatus required to produce the light. The choice of such apparatus is of course crucial: but only to the extent that it is the correct equipment required to produce the vision that you already have.

If I had four pence for every student who has got over enthusiastic about the hardware to the detriment of the design vision I would have, oh, twelve pence at least! But I do come across LD's who will routinely rig large numbers of lights, on a strangely familar standard rig, double cover warm and cool, plus lots of GYOOT's and just focus them in every possble way - or even by specifying huge numbers of moving lights on shaped trusses which make very pretty patterns and rely on sheer weight of resources to create something that might be halfway acceptable. This is certainly not my way!

Electrician !
Give us light on our stage
How can we disclose
We playwrights and actors
Images to the world in semi-darkness ?
The sleepy twilight sends to sleep.
Yet we need our watchers wide awake.
Indeed we need them vigilant.
Let them dream in brightness.
The little bit
Of night that's wanted now and then
Our lamps and moons can indicate.
And we with our acting too can keep
The times of day apart.
The Elizabethan wrote us
Verses on a heath at evening
Which no lights will ever reach
Nor even the heath itself embrace.
Therefore flood full on
What we have made with work
That the watcher may see
The indignant peasant
Sit down upon the soil of Tavastland
As though it were her own.

B Brecht