Chris Clarke, head of lighting

 2 August 2012

Chris studied lighting design. Now he makes sure the light shines favourably on West End musical Billy Elliot.

"Make yourself indispensable If people think they need you, you’ll get the work."


I’m from Lincolnshire. I now live in London.

What job do you do?

I work in stage lighting, often for musical theatre. 

What previous jobs have you had?

Most recently, head of lighting on Billy Elliot: the Musical.

I've worked on the stage crew at Peterborough Key Theatre. In London, my first technical job was at the Gielgud Theatre as a member of the stage crew while I was a student. I was an assistant lighting director with Chris Ellis Lighting and with the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

After that, I re-lit national tours of plays and musicals, including the Boy George musical, Taboo, and the Cole Porter musical High Society. I then became associate lighting designer on High Society in London and Manchester.

What qualifications do you have?

I have a degree in theatre lighting design from the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance

"I'm the one who knows how to make things work."

What do you do at work?

My job on a big musical involves looking after the lighting rig. On a revival production, I ensure that the show looks as good now as it did when the designers first put it together.

This means fixing all of the broken lights, making sure the lamps are all kicking out as much intensity as possible, and generally ensuring everything is working well for each show. These days it’s a lot of work, as the modern moving lights tend to fail quite often.

I also actually operate the lights for the show, taking turns with my electrician colleague. It's not the most exciting part of the job – until things go pear-shaped. Then you need to know what you’re doing! This doesn’t happen too often if the preparation is done correctly beforehand. 

What’s the best thing about your job?

The hours – there’s no early mornings! I also like the relaxed social atmosphere.

And the worst thing about the job?

There can be some egos in theatre. I’m not too keen on that.

How do I get into music?

My advice would be:

  1. Work hard
    Show that you care about the work.
  2. Get to know people
    It’s just as much about who you know as what you know.
  3. Make yourself indispensable
    If people think they need you, you’ll get the work.
  4. Master your technology
    If you can be the one that knows how to make everything work, you’ll never be out of work.
  5. Keep your cool under pressure
    It can be tough on a hard week, when you’re tired and hungry. But lighting designers need someone who’ll be calm and collected when the going gets tough.

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