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Lighting Design

The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs BT Stu

The lighting designer is responsible for designing and setting up the lighting rig, as well as designing and creating all the lighting states for the show and formulating this into a cue list. They should work closely with the director, set designer, costume designer and the rest of the design team, creating detailed script-based plans as well as technical drawings to make sure their design will fit effectively with the production. They are also usually expected to organise any hires that may be necessary.

As well as the creative aspects of the lighting design, the designer is ultimately responsible for the actual rigging, cabling, focusing and other technical work that takes place in the theatre to implement their design. On a very small production the designer may do all this work themselves, however on a large production they may never have to touch a lantern themselves, instead having a large department they can call upon to focus upon the considerable technicalities rigging a large set of lights produces, freeing the designer up to think only of the creative and overall scheduling aspects.

A lighting designer of a large production may choose to have an associate lighting designer and assistant lighting designers. An associate tends to be an experienced designer who can provide an alternate source of experience and ideas for the show’s designer to work with. They understand the designer’s preferences and working methods and are permitted to speak creatively in the absence of the designer (though any large or irreversible decisions should of course be checked!) An assistant will sometimes work creatively but mostly helps the designer to implement their creation technically, helping to rig the lights in the theatre during the get in, maintain and draw paperwork showing how the system should be built, or programming and operating the lighting desk during the show. They should be invited to work through the design process with the designer, attending runs and paper techs, such that they understand the show, can help the designer with tasks and so that the assistant gains experience of what the designer does and can later go on to design shows themselves


The designer on a large scale show might also choose to have a programmer to operate and program the lighting desk. During the plot and tech they program the desk as requested by the lighting designer, freeing the designer to think about the creative side of the design and collaborate with other departments, while the programmer can think about the practicalities of translating a set of cues into the desk, which can often be quite complex if there are many effects, complex cue sequences, moving lights or other intelligent fixtures. They must have a deep knowledge of the desk they are using in order to be helpful, and free or inexpensive training courses are run by all the major desk manufacturers.

Followspot op
Candide OP MT17 - Issy Newell (2).jpg

A followspot operator manually moves a special spotlight which can be coloured, zoomed and dimmed by a person sitting next to the light, to enable the light to be much more flexible than a typical light that stays in one focus and colour throughout the show. Typically this is used to follow an actor around the stage keeping them lit, either as a very stereotypical hard edged bright white spotlight or as a more subtle highlight Having a person operating the followspot can much more easily follow an actor moving around the stage than any preprogrammed sequence on a motorised moving light. In Oxford these are typically only used for large musicals however outside of Oxford they can be found in the lighting of all types of theatre.

The lighting operator (‘LX Op’) is the person who sits behind the lighting desk during a performance and actually operates it for the show, which on a modern computerised lighting desk is often little more than pressing “Go” on cues at the appropriate moments, either by following a marked up script or by listening to a DSM (Deputy Stage Manager). This is generally an extremely basic job, which can be a good opportunity for a beginner to experience a backstage environment.

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