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Oxford University Theatre Technicians and Designers

Lighting Guide

Role Descriptions:

 

Lighting Designer

The Lighting Designer is the head of the Lighting department, and responsible for the design and implementation of the lighting of the show, working particularly closely with the director and set designer, as well as the other technical designers, to create the world of the show. They must decide how the lighting will look for each scene and create a list of cues they wish to have, as well as diagrams of which lights they wish to be rigged, what colour they should be etc. in order to implement this. They must ensure that actors are visible and well lit as a first task (unless of course the show concept says otherwise!) and also must light the set sympathetically.

As well as the creative aspects of the lighting design, the Designer is ultimately responsible for the actual rigging, cabling, focusing and other technical work that takes place in the theatre to implement their design. On a very small production the Designer may do all this work themselves, however on a large production they may never have to touch a lantern themselves, instead having a large department they can call upon to focus upon the considerable technicalities rigging a large set of lights produces, freeing the Designer up to think only of the creative and overall scheduling aspects. This is certainly an ideal however and reality is normally somewhere between the two! The Lighting Designer is also responsible for making sure the department is within budget - a small production needing only some gel will not spend much, a large musical with many moving lights, LED lights and other technological wizardry may spend much more.

 

Associate Lighting Designer

Normally found in only larger productions, the Associate is normally a designer in their own right, whom the Lighting Designer has worked closely with previously and trusts. They often provide an alternate source of experience and ideas for the Designer to work with. They understand the designer’s preferences and working methods and are permitted to speak creatively in the absence of the designer (though any large or irreversible decisions should of course be checked!)

 

Assistant Lighting Designer

A slightly different role, the Assistant sometimes work creatively but instead helps the Designer to implement their creation technically, helping to rig the lights in the theatre during the get in, maintain and draw paperwork showing how the system should be built, or programing and operating the lighting desk during the show. On the other hand some Designer’s do prefer that their Assistant takes a larger role in creative decisions. They should however regardless be invited to work through the design process with the Designer, attending runs and paper techs, such that they understand the show, can help the Designer with tasks and so that the Assistant gains experience of what the Designer does and can later go on to design shows themselves.

 

Production Electrician

The Production Electrician is in charge of the technical implementation of the designer’s vision. They create patch plans, cabling plans, ensure the power supplies are balanced and correctly loaded (especially important in temporary setups), make sure that any flown bars or trusses are within their weight limits, supervise the creation of any custom electrics or electronics needed for the design, but most importantly make sure the implementation of the design is safe. In Oxford this role is rare, as in the Playhouse most of these tasks are taken by the Playhouse’s Chief Electrician, and in the smaller theatres much of this work is often done by the designer themselves. However, having a separate production electrician, particularly on larger shows, is a great aid to keeping the creative design and technical implementation separate. In the wider theatrical community outside Oxford a production electrician is a virtual necessity, and on large West End shows they may have many assistants.    

 

Programmer

The Programmer is a specialist in operating and programming the lighting desk that is being used to run the performance. During the plot and tech they program the desk as requested by the lighting designer, freeing the designer to think about the creative side of the design and collaborate with other departments, while the programmer can think about the practicalities of translating a set of cues into the desk, which can often be quite complex if there are many effects, complex cue sequences, moving lights or other intelligent fixtures. They must have a deep knowledge of the desk they are using in order to be helpful, and free or inexpensive training courses are run by all the major desk manufacturers.     

 

Followspot Operator/Spotlight Operator

A followspot is a special spotlight that can be manually moved, coloured, zoomed and dimmed by a person sitting next to the light, to enable the light to be much more flexible than a typical light that stays in one focus and colour throughout the show. Typically this is used to follow an actor around the stage keeping them lit, either as a very stereotypical hard edged bright white spotlight or as a more subtle highlight, and the person operating the followspot can much more easily follow an actor moving around the stage than any preprogrammed sequence on a motorised moving light. In Oxford these are typically only used for large musicals however outside of Oxford they can be found in the lighting of all types of theatre.

 

Lighting Board Operator (LX Op)

The LX Op (Operator) is the person who sits behind the lighting desk during a performance and actually operates it for the show, which on a modern computerised lighting desk is often little more than pressing “Go” on cues at the appropriate moments, either by following a marked up script or by listening to a DSM (Deputy Stage Manager). This role may be taken by any of the lighting team for each performance (for example if the tech process has been very rushed the designer may choose to operate the first performance so they can make changes on the fly). However, it should be given some thought, as the role instantly becomes more complex if things go wrong during a performance - the operator must know how to skip cues, go back, or improvise if scene changes go wrong, actors skip cues, or there is a failure of equipment such as a key light failing during the middle of the show.

 

Resources

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