Lighting specialists are vital to theatre. Their work may involve design, operating lighting rigs, and looking after equipment.
What is the job like?
Depending on their size, theatres may employ:
- a lighting designer
- a theatre lighting technician or chief electrician
- a deputy chief electrician
- one or more staff electricians.
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.
Being a lighting technician
A lightboard operator, or 'LX operator' is also responsible for cues such as the house lights coming down and stage lights coming up.
Even lamps on stage are often controlled by the light board operator. The actor just pretends to turn it, by holding their hand on the switch until the light comes up. A lighting programmer programmes the lighting board for complex shows, which might include moving lights.
Follow-spots, or spotlights, may also need operating by a specific person who will follow cues throughout the show to change the colour and size of the light.
These jobs are sometimes done by one of the existing lighting team rather than being jobs in themselves, but it depends on the size of the show.
The chief (or production) electrician is the person responsible for all technical aspects of the design. As an electrician, you would work with the lighting designer to supervise the rigging of all lanterns in their required positions.
The lighting designer works more closely with the director and the set designer to create the right 'look' for the production, and the different moods of each scene.
The lighting designer may also work as a chief electrician, depending on how big the theatre company or theatre venue is.
Some lighting designers simply work their way up from technician roles into design work, while others have studied at drama school.
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 (these two roles are often combined), head carpenter, stage manager, make-up artist and sound supervisor.
How do I get into lighting work?
An understanding of how electronics work is important – so at school, your science skills should at least be satisfactory. For an understanding of how theatre works more generally, consider studying drama.
Experience of technical and backstage work is key, so try to gain as much of this as possible. Look for work experience opportunities in the technical department of a theatre as an electrician.
Some lighting designers simply work their way up from technician roles into design work. Others have studied at drama schools such as the Central School of Speech and Drama, who offer degrees in Theatre Practice which include the opportunity to study and specialise in lighting work.
There are also courses in technical stage management and BTEC certificates which are relevant to lighting work. Specialist courses are also often run by the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT).