In 1961 the defined role of the Lighting designer in the UK was a newly recognised discipline. In order to share information and opinions on billing, fees, contracts and producers, half a dozen West End lighting designers met over regular lunches with fine wines and the Society of British Theatre Lighting Designers was formed. 54 years later we are still debating billing, fees, contracts and producers.
In order to strengthen the negotiating position in advance of joining the British Actors Equity union, who were undertake setting out minimum terms, conditions and fees for designers in UK theatre, the mid-1970s broadened out the membership to include set and costume designers and the name was amended to the Society of British Theatre Designers, which is still exists today. However it became evident that with more designers of physical items on stage, discussion about the less tangible role lighting played in design became much reduced, as UK theatre practice was less influenced by the more continental trend for scenographers overseeing the whole design aesthetic of a production.
Therefore in the early 1980's the Association of Lighting Designers was created, and once again the art and technology specific to how a stage was lit were at the forefront of its aims. By this time, the repertory theatre system in UK had adopted the role of resident lighting designer in each building, with only the largest organisations such as the national companies and commercial managements employing freelance lighting designers. After original proposals that the new association should be a trade union, the first executive set out aims that embraced negotiations through the established trade unions, but which allowed the ALD to develop as a friendly society - an open forum for the discussion and furtherance of lighting art and the appraisal of production techniques and equipment.
With the explosion of lighting design within the creative process in stage production of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and the proliferation of lighting elements in educational courses in many colleges and institutions, the Association of Lighting Designers has consolidated its role as the focus of lighting throughout Britain.
In 2015, the job of a LD is very different. They are predominantly freelance, moving freely from project to project between the genres of drama, musical, opera, dance, installations, concert touring, and working in venues that range from arenas and large capacity theatres through to small scale tours and fringe shows in rooms above pubs or site specific spaces that are hosting a production for the first time, and need all the infrastructure to be specified and installed in order to stage a performance.
Equipment, scale, complexity and increased expectation means that the LD is now at the heart of a creative team of directors, designers, choreographers and producers all of whom have their own input to the final staging and have demands that the LD must discuss, respond and design a solution for. For this to happen they often need a crew of programmers, assistants, associates and technicians and this all requires management and understanding to work to its best potential.
Nowadays the ALD aims to bring together all those involved in these important supporting roles to share their experiences, knowledge and guidance to their peers and future generations and help raise the professionalism and recognition of the art and creative input of the role of lighting design in live performance.
As technology improves and develops, it crosses to, from and between the theatre and opera houses, concert touring, architecture and live events, and we have found that our members are also moving between these disciplines. Whereas 25 years ago you were either a theatre, rock and roll, TV or architectural lighting designer, we now see our members working in more than one of these areas, often on consecutive projects. The modern LD can move between lighting a West End musical one month, to a concert tour the next month, and then crossing back to international opera soon after.
And with the worlds of lighting and video design now often crossing paths and in some cases merging, the ALD has added Video and Projection design to the portfolio of categories as part of its professional membership. Some of our members already work in both disciplines. Some have started in traditional stage lighting and have moved across to video and projection as their career, and the technology, has developed. There are many more who have come from a scenic design or art background, and the ALD ensures that lighting designers and projection designers create an understanding working relationship to successfully combine the two disciplines of manipulating the use of light in live performance.
For 30 years, we have brought together those who work or are interested in the creation of lighting for live performance. We have an investment in both the past and the future of lighting design and intend to record, shape and celebrate these however our practice, our industry, and our equipment changes.