- Careers in Stage Lighting
- The ALD Lumiere Scheme
There are a range of jobs that will suit all abilities and skillsets. Equipment, scale, complexity and increased expectation means that lighting live performance at whichever scale it takes place often needs a team of programmers, assistants, associates and technicians to help and support a lighting designer to work to their best potential. Let’s have a look at some of the top jobs...
Lighting Designer (LD)
As the name suggests, the Lighting Designer is responsible for the lighting design, that means the configuration of lighting equipment and the creation of lighting states (cues). On a large show, the LD may also be responsible for putting together the team of people who realise the lighting design - production electrician, programmer, specialist technicians, follow spot operators etc. On smaller shows however the LD is often expected to do lots of things like rigging the equipment and programming cues into the lighting desk.
LDs don't just find work in theatre. Live concert touring (what some still call Rock 'n' Roll), events and spectaculars (such as opening ceremonies for example) commercial product launches and conferences all make use of designed lighting – and so provide work for lighting designers and all the people who work with them.
Generally LDs need to have creative vision and a ‘craft knowledge’ of how the lighting equipment they use works. After all they will be asked to come up with ideas in light, the rig plan that will make it possible to make those ideas real, to focus all the instruments, create all the cue states and communicate the way they should be played back each show, and stay reasonably sane. To do this work consistently well requires knowledge, talent and experience. To do it well at scale requires great organisational skills, and probably great selling skills too – someone has to be persuaded to spend a lot of money before any LD gets a big rig to play with. There is no single place to learn all these skills!
Production Electrician and Touring Chief LX
Generally these are the people in charge of setting up and maintaining the lighting rig and all the associated equipment. They work on the larger shows, theatre of all kinds, concert touring and all the rest. They usually work very closely with the lighting designer, and on largest productions may lead a big team. Often they look after the show for the LD, who may not come to every performance or date of the tour.
These men and women lead teams who build shows in a single venue, or for a tour. Touring a lighting rig means designing the system, so that it can quickly be packed away in trucks, move, and set up somewhere new, sometimes every day. The touring staff stay with the show. On some productions they may travel all over the world, though on a busy tour the tour staff may not get to see much more than the inside of a lot of clubs, theatres, arenas or stadiums.
Most Production Electricians have at least some formal training. Many started their working lives as theatre technicians. Many touring chiefs started working at a lighting hire company before moving on to be touring lighting technician, and gradually gaining the skills to be in charge.
Programmers (as distinct from operators) are usually only required on larger shows, and like the Production Electrician and Touring Chief LX they will work closely with the LD. It's is largely the programmer's job to make the lighting rig do what it needs to do so that the LD’s ideas can be brought to life. Programmers need to have good computer skills, a logical approach, and a good eye – so they can see the stage in the same way the LD does. Most programmers start as lighting technicians, then become show operators gradually developing the skills of programming.
Lighting Designers, Production Electricians, Touring Chiefs and Programmers are almost always freelance practitioners, running themselves as an independent business. This can be a lonely and stressful thing to do – which is where the support of an organisation such as the ALD can really count.
Theatre or Venue Chief LX and Head of Lighting
These job titles can describe a number of different levels of responsibility. In some cases, the Chief LX is little more than the head maintenance person, looking after the infrastructure of a building and having very little to do with actual shows. However in many more cases these are the men and women who really make it worth working in a particular venue – for the visiting LD and for the crew. They will usually have held a number of positions on the way to these responsible jobs – perhaps in the same or different theatres or perhaps “on the road” – touring.
In the largest theatres and opera houses the Head of Lighting will be a very senior role, responsible for the quality of lighting on one or more stages and perhaps on the companies touring productions too, working with international lighting designers, and ensuring their in-house and hired equipment is the best it can be.
This kind of responsibility is not really found in concert venues, as most visiting acts will come with their own lighting team.
The Chief LX of a theatre with a long running high tech show such as a West End musical may work for the production or the theatre. Either way, she or he will need to work out how to keep all the moving lights and video equipment working properly for every show – which is no small task.
Like all the other top jobs mentioned here – being a successful Chief LX or Head of Lighting requires a great deal of knowledge, and lots of experience.