An associate lighting designer

 4 May 2014

Dan Large's career in lighting has seen him travel the world, working with famous actors and directors. He illuminates his career journey and gives top tips for working in the lighting industry.

"I wish I'd known about all the other jobs in lighting besides being the lighting designer: there is a whole industry out there."

Dan Large is a freelance lighting technician, programmer and lighting designer. Working principally in theatre, in the last few years he has branched out into lighting and video for music, special events and museum installations. 

"Most of my work involves the facilitation of a lighting design for a production or season. I work as a freelancer, so I'm not tied to any particular venue, although there are some venues I work more regularly at."  

A lighting design contract

"I am usually asked by the lighting designer or production manager to be involved and then I'm contracted by the producers of the particular production. This is sometimes for a few days or a few weeks, depending on the situation. 

University gave me contact with practitioners of my own generation – people I still lean on today.

"My role varies slightly with each production. For example, if I am contracted as the production electrician, I will work with the lighting designer to specify equipment that he or she needs to achieve their artistic goal in preparation. 

"In the theatre I work with a team of people, install the equipment and ensure that all production needs are satisfied. The majority of my work is in the commercial theatre sector."  

Working on The Bridge Project

Dan was brought on board as an associate lighting designer for The Bridge Project, a series of productions that spanned four years and was a collaboration between the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and The Old Vic Theatre in London. 

"The project started in the BAM Harvey Theatre in 2009 with two productions  The Cherry Orchard and A Winter's Tale – directed by Sam Mendes. I was responsible for recreating the lighting designer's work on a short tour across a number of countries. 

"The next project took the form of As You Like It and The Tempest and a slightly longer tour, finally finishing with Richard III." 

Getting started in lighting design

Dan started out by working at a local theatre, which gave him experience of a wide range of productions from small bands to touring musicals. 

I work on all sorts of productions in weird and wonderful venues and no one tells me when to take a holiday.  

He also took part in as many amateur dramatics production as possible, developing a taste for lighting design. His next step was to work at the Royal Court Theatre covering a light board operator position, which he followed with a BA in Theatre Practice at the Central School of Speech and Drama.

"I would recommend the drama school or university route, but it isn't for everyone. I think most importantly it gave me contact with practitioners of my own generation – people I still lean on today." 

Touring internationally

"Touring internationally is similar to touring in the UK, except you might be dealing with local equipment due to the cost of air freight, and potentially a language barrier. 

"The logistics, however, can be troublesome. I would say the key skills are patience, the ability to listen and be aware of your surroundings. 

"The most important skill of all is to still have a smile on your face and be sociable after a long flight followed by a long day at work."

Working in different venues

"The first thing I do in a new venue (aside from panicking that the drawing I've sent is for the wrong theatre) is try to establish who is in charge of lighting and stage.

While this kind of work might be loads of fun, it is for hardworking and committed people.

"Often it seems that the person that I communicate with over email for weeks is not the person on the ground.

"The next thing I do is get a plan out and do some pointing at different bits of the building. This might be through an interpreter to start with, but more often than not we can make do: lights are lights."  

Being a freelance lighting designer

"Being a freelancer is excellent. I work on all sorts of productions and projects in weird and wonderful venues and no one tells me when to take a holiday.  

"When I was just starting out I took on anything that paid money or sounded interesting, which didn't necessarily lead to an easily understandable career path. As the years went by, I started to understand my particular area of usefulness and enjoyment, and can now pick and choose my work a little more carefully. 

"I've also started a business called Povey and Large Practicals with a colleague, which deals with set electrics and practicals – an area I feel I can make a difference in."

Top tips for working in lighting 

1. Take any opportunity to work on a production 

The more exposure you have to the performance environment and the preparation of it, the better. Make contacts. 

2. Make the most of the resources out there

The Association of Lighting Designers (ALD) is an excellent starting point for new members of the industry to talk to more established professionals and get sound advice. 

I wish I'd known about all the other jobs in lighting besides being the lighting designer: there is a whole industry out there, from sales and manufacture of equipment right through to the nitty gritty of unloading trucks of gear at in the middle of the night.

3. Work hard and be inquisitive

I'm not too big on the 'pursue your dreams' kind of career advice. Be prepared to work hard and not complain about it. Ask questions about things you don't understand. Be under no illusion that, while this kind of work might be loads of fun, it is for hardworking and committed people. 

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