Lighting specialists are vital to theatre. Their work may involve design, operating lighting rigs, and looking after equipment.
What is the job like?
Lighting is influenced by a wide range of factors, including the script, the director’s requirements, set design, costumes, make-up, budget and the available equipment.
The lighting designer works closely with the director and the set designer to create the right 'look' for the production, and the different moods for each scene.
Lighting technicians programme and operate lighting from a light board (console) during performances.
As a lighting designer, you would normally read the script for the show, and discuss requirements with the director and set designer. You would then attend production meetings with the director and other heads of department, such as the set designer, costume designer and stage manager.
The chief (or production) electrician is the person responsible for all technical aspects of the design. They may assisted by a deputy chief electrician.
Lighting technicians programme and operate lighting from a light board (console) during performances. For complex shows programming the light board may be the job of a lighting programmer. Followspot operators move and change the colour and size of spotlights throughout a production.
Electricians work on rigging of lights, maintenance of electrical systems and rewiring.
How do I get into lighting work?
An understanding of how electronics work is important – so at school, you will need an aptitude for science subjects. IT, art and design and design and technology may also be useful.
For an understanding of how theatre works more generally, consider studying drama. At college it may be possible to study a BTEC Level 3 Certificate in Production Arts.
To work as a theatre electrician you could take a course or apprenticeship in electrical installation and move into theatre work at a later stage.
Intermediate and Advanced Apprenticeships in technical theatre: lighting, sound and stage are sometimes available. An Electrotechnical Advanced Apprenticeship would also be relevant for a role as a theatre electrician.
Help out at school/college productions and get involved in local amateur theatre.
Experience of technical and backstage work is key, so try to gain as much of this as possible. Help out at school/college productions and get involved in local amateur theatre.
Some lighting designers simply work their way up from technician roles into design work. Others have studied specialist foundation or degree courses in areas such as:
- production lighting
- theatre lighting design
- lighting design and technology.
There are also more general degree courses that combine study of lighting with other areas, such as sound and stage management. Titles include theatre design, technical theatre, theatre production and stage management.
The Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) runs specialist courses for theatre electricians.
What can I earn?
You may start on around £15-20,000 rising to £30-35,000 with experience. Those in senior positions may earn £40,000+.