Author Topic: lighting design?  (Read 6481 times)

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BlueRidgeSM

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lighting design?
« on: May 31, 2011, 11:43 am »
If this post needs to be moved, please do so, I wasn't exactly sure where to put it...

So in my quest to support myself full-time doing theatre (or at least derive a greater part of my income from theatre vs. my day job) I was emailing back and forth with a gentlemen in the next town over about his theatre project that he hopes to get off the ground this winter.  I have actually never met this person, but he was a connection from a few years ago and he emailed me on the off chance I'd be interested in his new project.  I am, and we started talking schedules, time committment, etc...

And then he says most of the work they could give me would be in lighting design.  And I had to reply back and say "um, sorry, I'm not an LD, I'm a stage manager."  I honestly don't know why he thought I did lighting?  But this is something I've run into before.  Sometimes I feel like I say "stage manager" to prospective employers and they hear "lighting designer" and then we waste a lot of time going back and forth until I realize the misconception and spell it out for them in black and white - I am not a lighting designer.  And interest drops off, and I don't hear from them again.  I think in my region stage managers are largely seen as a luxury, especially for smaller start-up theatres and theatre groups, but everyone needs a lighting designer.

So.... anyone ever worn the LD hat?  Is it worth my while to try and learn lighting design just to get more work, even when what I'd rather be doing is calling the show?  There are basically two or three LDs in my geographical area and I know all of them fairly well (one of them also directs and I have stage managed for him several times).  It should be pretty easy to ask one of them if I could assist with a hang/focus/etc and see if I can get some training that way.  But even if I "apprenticed" on a few shows I'm still not sure at what point I'd be comfortable being hired as a lighting designer. 

Thoughts/comments/advice?   :)

MusicTheatreSM

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2011, 06:54 pm »
I have worked as an LD on a few occasions. I actually did my senior project in college as an LD. (I was a tech design major with a stage management emphasis, so it worked) I enjoy working as an LD and programming the board. I find that it is a useful skill to have. What if your board op accidentally hits a button that messes with the whole light design/cue/scene/etc? Having that knowledge will allow you to be able to fix it.

I also work in Chicago, a huge chunk of stage managers here run their own light boards, not just call the show. I have done a few shows where I was hired to stage manage and LD for the same show. I am able to make much better money that way, but there is a plethora of stage managers and lighting designers in the city.

It's really up to you if you want to learn a new skill. I will do anything in theatre if it means that the only job I work. I feel that multiple skills make me a stronger SM. If you are able to make more money, go for it. Maybe they will realize they need a stage manager also. It happens. I was hired to run sound and ended up ASMing a show that desperately needed it and the SM ran the board instead.

These are just my personal experiences, I'm sure some of the more experienced SMs may have different opinions.

BlueRidgeSM

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #2 on: Jun 01, 2011, 02:50 pm »
I have run light boards on many occasions, both ones that are programmed and also one with just faders to push up and down (that was the show where I was the only person in the booth and ran the light board and then also sound and video from a laptop).  I know how to skip to a certain cue and also back up a cue, and turn the board off and on.  Where I start to get on shaky ground is the whole hang/focus/program the board part. 

Lighting design was offered as a course in my theatre program in college, but I didn't take it because they had drafting as a prereq and a) I hate math and b) I was double-majoring and not taking summer school, so everything had to count for credit and the drafting class wouldn't have counted for anything, I just had to take it before I could take lighting design.  So I didn't.

I did do a lighting design for a production of The Glass Menagerie when I was working outdoor theatre summer stock in 2004 or thereabouts.  We had our own black box and the cast and crew of the outdoor drama did their own shows throughout the summer, just for us.  I had heavy assistance from another technician who actually knew lighting design (he helped me hang, focus, program etc).  So I know the bones of the process but really would be lost without help.

I just think that in my region, LDs are more consistently paid vs. stage managers (I have pretty much stopped SMing for one theatre because they do not pay stage managers while they do pay directors, designers, etc), and the time committment is way shorter and therefore equals more work (assuming anyone would want to hire me).  I think I will think on this some more and then see if any of my LD friends would let me assist on their next project.... :)

missliz

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #3 on: Jun 01, 2011, 08:12 pm »
Yes, having basic lighting knowledge is a plus, especially if something goes wrong, but that doesn't mean lighting designer = stage manager. On more than one occasion I've told people I CAN do it, but nobody should HIRE me to do it.

I find more often that I'm asked to be the propmistress/proptart.

Post Merge: Jun 01, 2011, 08:14 pm
I also feel like if I decided pursue LD gigs while also SMing, that the SM gigs would dwindle.
« Last Edit: Jun 01, 2011, 08:14 pm by missliz »
I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least. -Ionesco

maximillionx

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #4 on: Jun 01, 2011, 10:32 pm »
Like many others, I have lighting experience, both design wise and board op-ing.  BUT, those experiences a LD does not make.  Although I've taken lighting classes, seen many plots and worked with plenty of lights, I wouldn't know where to start with a lighting design.

I've noticed in my interaction with lighting designers, they are some of the most dedicated designers.  I've worked with set designers who are costume designers, sound techs who are carpenters, but rarely lighting designers who are anything else.  They tend to have be very dedicated and behave in a manner different from other designers.  If you want to SM, I wouldn't suggest getting into a serious lighting design career.  If you want to do a community theatre design every now and again, that can't hurt, but I would avoid anything big.

BlueRidgeSM

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #5 on: Jun 02, 2011, 11:14 am »

I find more often that I'm asked to be the propmistress/proptart.

THIS.  I have learned the hard way to double-check my contract before signing and make sure props are not in it, and in cases where there has been no contract (i.e. I'm not getting paid to SM) I make sure they are aware that props are not in my job description.  If they do not have a props crew, or running crew is minimal, I am happy to preset and/or strike props before and after a show.  But I have also had way too many SM gigs turn into "oh, and can you do props too?" meaning finding/making all props, which I do not have time to do with a full time day job plus stage management.  But that's a case of where I am signed on to be the SM and they try to make props fall within my job description.  The LD thing is more like I am talking to a prospective employer and present myself as a SM and somehow they assume that means I can also do lighting design and then they want to hire me as an LD instead of a SM.

Of the three LDs who operate in my region, one has a day job at a coffee shop and also acts and directs in addition to lighting design, the second has a day job teaching theatre at the local college, and the third... I don't know what he does for a living, but I doubt it's solely design.  So basically no one in my geographical area that I know of is solely supporting themself as a lighting designer.  I am just thinking if I pick up more skills in this area it could help with the people who keep equating stage manager with lighting designer and then possibly help me land SM gigs with them in the future once they work with me as a designer.  Or something.

smccain

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #6 on: Jun 02, 2011, 02:31 pm »
For me, it comes down to simple marketing. While I have the experience needed to be a LD, I want to be seen as a stage manager. If I take non-stage management work, which I still enjoy, I will be seen as a [insert title here] to those people, rather than a stage manager. Although I am willing to do short-term non-stage management jobs, I make a point to spend the majority of my time stage managing and make it clear that is what I am best at.

There is a theatre company that I have done overhire work for, and now the only work they ever consider me for is overhire stagehand work. It's tough. The same goes for a theater company that only asks me to stage manage their non-paying work, because that's what I have done for them in the past. However, I am at a different point in my career now, and am no longer willing to work for free (there are exceptions).
Sean

BlueRidgeSM

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #7 on: Jun 03, 2011, 10:06 am »
I have pretty much stopped stage managing for one theatre in town because they do not pay stage managers and I am at the point where everyone else pays me to stage manage.  It is very hard to agree to a three month committment for free (two months of rehearsal plus a four week run) when I know that I could have a paid gig instead *and* while I would be working for free, the director and designers would be getting paid.  I am filling in with them this summer for a month in an assistant director capacity, but that's pretty much because I have a free month and am hoping to get my foot in the door as a director so I could keep working with them and get paid to do so. 

I did overhire work once for the big house in town that just does touring shows, and was never called again because while I worked the in, I wasn't available to do the out (like an 11 pm call) because I had to work the next morning at 8 am for my day job.  I know I am in a terrible location for wanting to do theatre full-time, and I guess it's just a constant struggle for me between needing a day job to pay the bills and wanting to do theatre (and there is a lot of great theatre here, it's just that none of it pays well enough to make a living).  How do you balance that, aside from just moving to NY or Chicago or somewhere that you can make a living as a SM and nothing else?  I was thinking I could just broaden my skillset but I see everyone's point about "once an LD, always an LD" for a particular theatre.  I dream of the day when a local theatre wants to hire me as a resident SM, but I'm not sure realistically that could ever happen.... sigh.

sievep

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #8 on: Jun 11, 2011, 03:36 am »
I have been the de-facto lighting designer on a few occasions.

Once because the LD that was hired was completely incompetent and the director and I knew that if we were going to make it through lighting sessions with an ounce of sanity I would be setting levels  . . .so although I didn't hang and focus, I made a list of channels and started calling out levels, first as more of a suggestion and then just took it over.  We lit the whole show in two sessions.  It would have taken days otherwise.  the LD didn't seem to mind as he couldn't possibly have cared less in the first place.

The other major one that comes to mind is an opera where a lighting designer simply was not hired, and I felt the production and the piece deserved more than "lights up/lights down".  Being as that production had nothing to lose by letting me dabble, they agreed and I went to town.  It was a credit for me and gave me the opportunity to learn, although it was trial by fire.  When I wasn't in rehearsal I was hanging, focusing, and I did my own lighting sessions and lit over the top of rehearsals.  Having almost no set at all, I'd like to think my design created acting areas and defined spaces a little bit more as well as popping color out when appropriate.  Better yet, I had no notes from the LD during tech except my own.  That production also toured, so I did the advance work on the next venue on what should have been my days off.  I hold no grudges . . .I learned a ton during that process.

Lastly, I did a festival of short plays in DC many years ago.  Again, just dabbling, but after you've heard LDs calling out levels for years, it isn't hard to figure out the basics, figure out what works and what doesn't, and keep the show moving forward. 

I am honest, though, and never promise more than I can deliver.
"This lovely light, it lights not me" - Orson Welles

Celeste_SM

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #9 on: Jun 12, 2011, 10:57 am »
I am not a lighting designer, and I always make that clear, but I also frequently stage manage for dance companies and dance schools who don't have the time/budget/inclination to hire a lighting designer. The venue provides an adquate house hang, and I work with their board op to set levels and cue the show, as well provide requests for any specials, gobos, or cyc light colors. I always warn them that I'm not a lighting designer, so by using me to 'design' their show, they get what they get, and in cases where they've moved to venues that do not provide a house lighting plot, I decline to take on any aspect of the lighting design.

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Re: lighting design?
« Reply #10 on: Aug 14, 2011, 09:12 pm »
I have run light boards on many occasions, both ones that are programmed and also one with just faders to push up and down (that was the show where I was the only person in the booth and ran the light board and then also sound and video from a laptop).  I know how to skip to a certain cue and also back up a cue, and turn the board off and on.  Where I start to get on shaky ground is the whole hang/focus/program the board part. 

Lighting design was offered as a course in my theatre program in college, but I didn't take it because they had drafting as a prereq and a) I hate math and b) I was double-majoring and not taking summer school, so everything had to count for credit and the drafting class wouldn't have counted for anything, I just had to take it before I could take lighting design.  So I didn't.

I did do a lighting design for a production of The Glass Menagerie when I was working outdoor theatre summer stock in 2004 or thereabouts.  We had our own black box and the cast and crew of the outdoor drama did their own shows throughout the summer, just for us.  I had heavy assistance from another technician who actually knew lighting design (he helped me hang, focus, program etc).  So I know the bones of the process but really would be lost without help.

I just think that in my region, LDs are more consistently paid vs. stage managers (I have pretty much stopped SMing for one theatre because they do not pay stage managers while they do pay directors, designers, etc), and the time committment is way shorter and therefore equals more work (assuming anyone would want to hire me).  I think I will think on this some more and then see if any of my LD friends would let me assist on their next project.... :)

I found the exact opposite. I am primarily an LD but have forayed into stage management because of more regular jobs and payment. At least around my parts no one seems to think about an LD until halfway through rehearsals which by that time I am booked for SM shows for the next 6 months. A lot of times people just assume that the house tech can make something work with the house plot.

  Although I think lighting design is a great field it takes a lot of work whereever you happen to be as it is a field where, unless you have visualization software, you cannot see your design and whether or not it works until it is too late to change it. I would say just pay attention to any plots you see as an SM and keep it in mind while watching the show so you can get an idea of how fixtures, colours, form, and movement contribute to a look. After a while try predicting from a plot or magic sheet the looks, once that gets comfortable I would say go for it!
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