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Things Lighting Designers Don’t Want To Hear

Theatre’s subjective.  You liked Death of a Salesman; she likes interpretive dance.  A lighting designer’s job is to create something that ideally pleases my sense of artistic excellent, the director’s desire for the actors to be stunningly, glowingly visible while conveying the time, place and emotion of the scene, and the need of the youthful audience members in row A and the granny on the upper circle row Z to have a good time.  Odds of all those boxes being ticked and everyone being equally happy all the time: low, but we try.  And keep on trying.

Therefore there are some things on this list which can be said correctly and can be good.  Most of them, however, are said in fear and uncertainty in the perpetual push-pull between subjective views of a show (and an LD is just as subjective as everyone else, let’s not kid ourselves) – but no matter the context, they will make a lighting designer’s ears twitch…

Everything that follows has been expressed to me in all sincerity at some point in my career.

  • No, we don’t have any spares…
  • I think we need more masking there.  I’m sorry – is that going to be in the way?
  • Ah, yes, someone knocked that lamp and forgot to tell you.
  • I think it’s looking great, except for the levels.
  • If we were to just push everything upstage by half a metre, would that affect you at all?
  • We’re adding more video.
  • I don’t want to tell you how to do your job…
  • Is 30cm enough space to put a row of fresnels in?
  • We still need the working light on.
  • I know I was stood on stage, but I saw a photo and as an actor I do feel my opinion on lighting is very important and I didn’t really like….
  • … and I’m sure you’re a great lighting designer, I haven’t see you work yet, but I did have some thoughts about what I want you to do….
  • We’ll look at it in tech.
  • Why can’t it get brighter than 100%?
  • What does a blackout look like?
  • Thing is, he can’t act in haze.
  • How about an overnight plotting session?
  • If I were you, I’d put the parcans behind and the fresnels in front. If you could do me a drawing on sketch up or something, that’d be great.
  • No. There isn’t any crew.
  • Hi, I’m your programmer. Well, mostly I do stage crew actually, but I’ve seen people use the desk several times.
  • We’ll look at it later.
  • Well obviously I wouldn’t have done what you’ve done with your rig. I don’t like the colours, I don’t like the fan you’ve done on the backlight, I don’t like the industrial feel you’ve given it, but you’re the lighting designer, I’m just the production electrician, so I guess it’s your call.
  • I couldn’t find any L200, but I found some colour that someone’s labelled ‘blue’…
  • We can pay £25 for the entire day for your LX crew, and also I’ll buy them a sandwich for lunch. Not supper, of course, just lunch.
  • Do it for the art, not the money.
  • We’ll look at it in the dress.
  • I know you haven’t been given a script, seen a model box, visited the venue or read the tech specs, but as part of this job interview if you could do me a 1000 word essay on what your vision for the play is, that’d be great.
  • This is [Insert name].  He’s going to talk you through what we want.  No, he’s never done lighting.  No, he’s never worked on an event.  No, he doesn’t know how to use the desk and has never designed anything in his life.  Yes, he’s going to tell you what to do during the gig.
  • Hi guys, so I know we open in five hours and haven’t teched yet, but before we do tech I just wanted to talk through actor notes…
  • We’ll look at it at the half.
  • Since it’s 11 p.m., the cast are going home now because they’ve worked really hard, but I think it’d be great if the tech team can just stick around to push on through…
  • There’s just something not… quite… but I’m not sure… if it’s… so maybe… you’re on that, right?
  • Thing is, there’s no cable left.
  • So first I did video design, and then I thought it was interesting to also do set, so I started doing that, and then I decided that I might as well do everything, so I do lighting design now too.  Do you have any of those lights that look a bit like a box and have a bulb in them?
  • Can’t you make it a darker blue AND more bright?
  • There’s a shadow on his face. Why’s there a shadow? I know that you can see him clearly, everything he does, but there’s still a shadow. I don’t care is shadows are sculptural and give a face contours and three-dimensionalness, and that if you are to have interesting angles and a sense of where light is coming from then shadows are inevitable, even if what we’re actually describing is basically the difference between a very bright bit and a slightly less bright bit on his skin – THERE’S STILL A SHADOW!
  • There’s a light not on over there. Shouldn’t that light be on?
  • Oh! You wanted it to dim?
  • We’ll look at it at 7.15. That gives us 15 minutes before the play opens to get it sorted.
  • Do you really need to be in the auditorium to work? Can’t we just leave the desk in the op box?
  • I’ve had an idea that will make your life easier! Let’s delete all the cues in act 2 and just leave the lights on.
  • But fire IS red.
  • I’m not sure I explained it clearly….
  • I don’t understand. If the actor stands right next to the wall underneath the steel deck, why is there a shadow behind him?
  • Can’t you just refocus something from the general cover to do it?
  • What’s this?  This is working light?  Ok – why don’t we just do the show in this?
  • Basically, I think it’s lights up… lights down… interval… lights up… lights down… bows. I don’t think we need anything clever.
  • I don’t know much about lighting. I know there’s two colours – blue and orange. And I like orange.
  • I just don’t understand why it doesn’t look the way I want it to.
  • Waiting on lights!
  • But rivers ARE blue.
  • … I can see you’re struggling…
  • I know it’s a solid steel oven that someone loaned us, but surely we get a light in it?
  • Instead of hiring that, why don’t you hire these disco lights…?
  • You’re being very difficult, aren’t you?
  • What we’re going to do, is we’re going to run sound off the lighting desk. That way we don’t need to pay for a sound designer!
  • When you say you want the cue at the end of the scene… do you mean on the last word, as they move to exit, or once they’ve exited?
  • Can’t I put the cue with sound? It’ll make it so much easier…
  • I didn’t realise you got girl lighting designers.
  • Thanks so much guys for pushing through to the end of tech. I know it’s been hard, but we always knew it was going to be a phenomenally busy sound-and-light-and-projection-and-automation-and-props-and-costume-and-stage-managment-show… and you actors have all worked so hard, just so hard, I really appreciate it, and tomorrow the tech team are going to be back in at 9 a.m. to make sure everything’s perfect for you. Now go home and get some rest and well done!

And then just once, just once in my entire career, I have heard this from a director:

“Hey, Cat, I’ve been thinking… the tech… I totally screwed you over, didn’t I?  I just didn’t stop to think, but you still did a really good job, so thank you.”

He remains one of the best, kindest and most talented directors I know, and I’d work with him again to the ends of the earth. Along with, in honest, most of the other directors who have uttered most of the words above.  It’s just a theatre thing; it doesn’t count in real life.