# I want to be a lighting designer

#### Techiegirly

##### Member
I have been a general stage tech for the past 10 years now. I'm ready to dive right on into just one aspect of theatre and move up the ladder. Of the last 8 employers I've handed my resume to I have been singled out to be their electrician. At first I was let down because I had been focusing my skills as a carpenter and scenic painter, heck I spent 3 summers doing summer stock focusing these skills but once I got put on gigs as elects. constantly one after another I just got used to it and like it better.

Any way, long story short...I am wondering what I need to know, become most familiar with to be a lighting designer? Any books or web sites you can recommend? I already have a working knowledge of hang, focus, how to change a lamp, own a c-wrench, memorized a few gel colors, I know how to do all of the basic things like for instance I run the light board for a long time running show at a childrens theatre. I want to know what it takes to be a designer.

Thanks!

#### Van

##### CBMod
CB Mods
Do a search here on CB for recomended reading, or Books. There have been several extensive threads dealing with "good books" for Youngins to read. It also never hurts to ask questions when you're on a job. Use you instincts as to the best time to ask the questions, but I bet if you start to chat up a few designers they'll share with you a few pointers that will help you better understand why you're pointing those lights where you are pointing them, and why you're hanging them where you are hanging them.

#### Techiegirly

##### Member
Asking questions and chatting up LD's is defiantly something I've learned to do. I'm pretty shy when it comes to asking questionsI always think my questions are stupid.

#### meghan

##### Member
I have that problem to. I usually think of a question to ask or i don't understand something perfectly and I would never ask anything about it because I would feel dumb.

#### ship

##### Senior Team Emeritus
Tough to do, three main ways I can think of for doing it, but also remember for every one of you each year there is literally hundreds of other "want to be a designer" types - I was one once also, and I do so still, just not as the primary focus of my career. Good to chase the dream but be realistic in balancing the wait for making it one's career and living verses what one would like to do but is not realistic in paying the bills now or perhaps even with sticking with it the few years it will take.

Often done the route of assisting someone else for a long time and taking over their projects, than getting their projects time is not available for. PLSN - Nook the LD frequently over the last year has also had a few articles on this becoming a designer concept.

Highly recommended is the book by James L. Moody, "The Business of Theatrical Design" ISBN: 1-58115-248-5. Not about design persay like Payne's "Scenographic Imagination" book ISBN: 0-8093-1850-4 - no matter what type of design, more into what you need to know about keeping your taxes straight and paying the bills. This and perhaps some business classes in college are also perhaps necessary to take if you wish to becoeme a designer. Believe me, them non-deducted taxes add up at the end of the year - this even if you lost money on the show wait until you owe still more to the government. Very important book.

Me... Started out to become either "A world famous designer" or "the grumpy old man of the theater." The former mostly as ambition - nothing I like more than sitting at my drafting table. That's also what it really does say on my resume for career ambitions. While early after college I got some pay gigs for LD or Set Designer at times after my name got out there - word of mouth and work done, most often such jobs were linked with me also constructing or hanging what was designed without or with limited help. Certainly not what a "proper" designer would be doing and what takes even more time still for the pay.

Still, that's what is often going to be expected early on as your name gets out there and what level of pay + engaugement you are asked to do work for is within what you are doing. Expect the extra time necessary and even at times even more time still to troubleshoot and fix stuff just to make your artistic intent function.

That's a free lance type of world. Another possibility is to go the working for type of thing where you work for a company, it has designers, you assist them and in time if helpful to them, you become their assistant, than after that a designer on your own. Possible, take time and effort.

After that is the ellusive pro-deisgner assistant type of way. Often best to find such a deal by way of a college program that helps you with contacts with pro-designers needing a assistant. With time you would have your own projects and be able to become a designer under your own name.

Never made this career ambition myself. Over time, I went designer to carpenter to lighting tech to now more flying a desk than anything else. Still design stuff, not what I imagined. Often you will find that between now and 10 years from now your career will also change - happens to most people. Be ready for it in having more than one field of study - not just to have a fall back, but to broaden your horizons as a designer.

After that, as said, very difficult to make it to a career in designer - that one out of a hundred person that knew the right people or was remembered by them, was in the right place and time in being available, all stars lined up etc. didn't have personality clashes that hurt you later etc. Lots of stuff just standing in the way of becoming a theater tech person as opposed to office pogie, this much less LD or designer in general.

Go for it if you can, set the world on fire, but remember that everyone of preceeding generations has also had that ambition. Be realistic in the attempt. Set your goals, cover your bases, set up your game plan, and if after time it is not realistic, have that fall back or at least time in the future where you switch to another method of making the attempt. Nothing says that in becoming a designer, for a few years you cannot work say the free lance store front theater market a few years, than switch roles and apply to a famous designer to become their assistant, or get a job at a lighting or production company in a normal position and work your way up to designer as a change in method for becoming one. It's an option.

More than anything else is to keep your relations with everyone you meet good, your quality the best you can and have hope. Can be done - every year there is some new designers that can make a career out of it but it is much similar to becoming an actor for a living. Good luck, but what a ride in the mean time working out for you or not.

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#### Logos

##### Well-Known Member
Meghan and Techiegirly. I don't know about others but if you ask me a question so that I understand that you genuinely want to know and are not playing games I will always answer the question in as much detail as I have time for.
There are no stupid questions there can however be stupid times for a question and you need to learn that.
Asking while we are in the middle of a long complicated hang and focus can be wrong. Asking over a cup of tea or a cool sherbert during a break can be right.
You won't learn if you don't ask.

#### jonhirsh

##### Active Member
Asking over a cup of tea or a cool sherbert during a break can be right.

You Aussies know how to do breaks right Sherbert lol nice. All we get is a cup of sludge (Coffee) and a Brick (some form of stale bread like product).
JH

#### Logos

##### Well-Known Member
We have a lot of really nice brands of sherbert. But it must be drunk icecold.

"Its unpleasantly like being drunk.

Fight Leukemia

#### jmabray

##### Active Member
When I teach console training, i usually start out by saying:

There is only one stupid question. It's the one you don't ask.

If you are trying to learn something that usually comes across in the way you ask the question, and usually no one will stop you from asking the question.

So go for it. Ask the question. The worst thing that can happen is someone tells you, "no" and you are no worse off than you were before.

#### icewolf08

##### CBMod
CB Mods
How much design work have you done in the past? Do you have enough to put together a portfolio? If you do, then you have a pretty good starting point. What you probably want to do is start talking to small local theatres, community theatres even, and see if you can design for them, as you build up a portfolio then you can send it larger and larger theatres. Also, if you hit it off with a particular director, stay in touch with them, and see if they have other opportunities they can toss your way.

One thing to bear in mind through the process is that you have to be willing to go where the work is. You have to be careful about waiting for the "right" job to come along, and you will probably find yourself traveling a lot. The designers that design for my theatre are doing on the order of 20 shows a year, they spend about two weeks at each theatre and then move on.

As for the education part of getting there, as was said, there are many great books available, start your library. The biggest thing though is to pay as much attention to what the LDs you work with are doing, and ask a lot of questions. I personally don't really have any aspirations to be a designer, but I could create a design if I wanted to. I watch and ask questions, and after looking at enough plots and designs you start to get a feeling for what works and what doesn't. Most designers are happy to answer questions, and I bet you will find that many of them do things like visit schools and give master classes and things like that, so they are used to teaching.

#### Grog12

##### CBMod
CB Mods
As a brief hijack...am I on the only one who everytime he reads the title of this thread get songs from the Producers stuck in his head?

#### Van

##### CBMod
CB Mods
As a brief hijack...am I on the only one who everytime he reads the title of this thread get songs from the Producers stuck in his head?

I don't know about " The Producers", I get "We are Santas Elves" from "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". Maybe it the season but all I can think of is Hermie the Elf saying, " I want to be a dentist."

#### Pie4Weebl

##### Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
hey ship, as far as the "ellusive ALD pro a pro" role goes, how much does that exist in the concert world, most of the grads out of my program in lighting take that route and I don't know if there is anything like that in the concert world or if I will have to take the wash mud off cable route.

#### derekleffew

##### Resident Curmudgeon
Senior Team
Pie4Weebl, you asked ship, but I'll answer, having observed the concert industry for quite some time. It will be interesting to compare/contrast my answers with his.

Concert LDs generally don't use assistants in the same way that theatre LDs do, if at all. Concert LDs depend much more on their programmers, if they are not Designer/Programmer. The best route, but certainly not the only one, and not nearly as simple or direct as I will make it sound is:
1)Get a job in a touring lighting shop slinging cable, teching moving lights, whatever. Work hard, but let your supervisors know you aspire to something higher.
2)Learn how to program the consoles they use, via offline programs or the actual consoles on your own time. This will pay off later, much later.
3)Get on a tour as a lighting guy, any position. Live/sleep on the bus, take showers sporadically, eat bad food, don't do drugs, work hard, learn more than you ever thought possible. Be under immense pressure to get the show up in 6 hours so the locals don't go into meal penalty. Suck up to the House Electrician so you get motor power within 15 minutes, as opposed to 4 hours later. Demand, in the nicest way, that forklift operators don't drive over your cables.
4)Work your way up to "Crew Chief." This may/probably will take several tours. Learning the skill of "people management" is more important at this point than knowing which gobo is on which wheel of a VL3000, (unless you're the ML tech) or how to pixel-map the CMY fixtures to the media server on a Maxxyz (unless you're the programmer).
5)There will come a time when they'll need someone from the crew to run lights and call spots for the opening act. You'll be given little if any extra pay, no time to program, you'll only be allowed to use a small part of the rig. Do your best.
6)If you're lucky, someone (the opening band's management, the main act's LD, a production manager), will notice your work and ask you to program a small tour, with a more experienced designer.
7)If that designer likes your work, he will ask you to program another larger tour with him and act as Lighting Director when he leaves. This may well be the pinnacle of your career. Enjoy it. As a matter of fact, stopping/pausing anywhere along the progression is possible, as is leaving the business entirely. You HAVE been thinking of what other fields might work for you, haven't you?
8)Most likely you'll never get to the level of Steve Cohen or Roy Bennett or Willie Williams or Peter Morse, where you're so busy that you can't tour with the show, but design it and leave it in someone else's hands, but it is possible, just not probable.

Be nice to everyone, keep a good positive attitude. The mantra "it's who you know, not what you know" rings true, and to a lesser extent "it's not who you know, it's who you blow." Every person you work has the ability to possibly make or break your future. It's a small community and people talk about others all the time. I recently met FTF a member of ControlBooth, and we discussed at length how the techs we remembered from shows were either the really good ones, or the really bad ones. Try not to fall into the latter category.

In many ways, I think it's easier to become a theatre LD than a concert LD. There's certainly more work available in the theatre in this country, but it doesn't pay as well as the touring industry. YMMV.

Continue to read Nook Schoenfeld's excellent articles on the last page of PLSN. Read The Business of Theatrical Design, James L. Moody. Allworth Press, 2002.

Hope this helps. Looking forward to reading ship's response. (ship--feel free to agree or refute anything I've said.)

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#### muvment

##### Active Member
I want to be a ninja.

#### gafftaper

##### Senior Team
Senior Team
Fight Leukemia
You want to be a theater lighting designer there are two routes:

1) Go to school and get a degree in it.
2) Work your butt off for free and work your way up from the inside. Read every book you can find... used books on Amazon! Get in at multiple community theaters if possible volunteering. Do everything lighting you can. Ask the LD questions, eventually you'll get a chance to do the big job yourself.

Either way works. Either way requires that you actually have talent and that you get a few lucky breaks. Either way the key is to meet lots of people and impress them with your work and your fabulous personality. Make as many theater friends as possible and you'll find doors open for you. Screw up or get a reputation of being a jerk and you'll never work again. Getting a degree is not the magic golden ticket that it can be in other fields. There are MANY pros out there without a degree.

Asking over a cup of tea or a cool sherbert during a break can be right. You won't learn if you don't ask.

I'm with AVKid... apparently my babel fish isn't working properly. Around here sherbert is served frozen like ice cream. You would never drink sherbert.

EDIT: Well this and this are interesting apparently we have very different definitions of Sherbert/Sherbet.

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#### Logos

##### Well-Known Member
You will have course read the entire Wikipedia article and will by now have realised the sherbert of which I speak is an amber fluid mildly carbonated with a slightly frothy white head.
Best drunk ice cold in Aus, although I acknowledge that you cold climate folks have variations best drunk at cellar temperature.

As Oscar Wilde once remarked about England and the US.

"Two cultures divided by a common language."

I add Australia as a third player in this universal game of syntax.

#### ship

##### Senior Team Emeritus
In many ways, I think it's easier to become a theatre LD than a concert LD. There's certainly more work available in the theatre in this country, but it doesn't pay as well as the touring industry. YMMV.
Continue to read Nook Schoenfeld's excellent articles on the last page of PLSN. Read The Business of Theatrical Design, James L. Moody. Allworth Press, 2002.
Hope this helps. Looking forward to reading ship's response. (ship--feel free to agree or refute anything I've said.)

Nope, totally agree and much more elegantly put than I did. Some swing room if really good as a programer to become the chosen and requested assistant who eventually becomes a designer in their own right often in filling in the blanks or even if on tour taking over for the designer on tour once the production design is done, or if having been the crew chief for various shows so long that you become their designer. Gotta be smart, studied and talented, plus get along with folks in not stepping on toes. There seems not much left of the concept of finding some band before they make it big and as their tech person making it big by sticking with them. Happens but just as much as that, with time the designer without sufficient experience and the band that keeps getting bigger have to part ways. Such designers I have seen that made their way with a band are often rougher to work with because their base of experience is often less. This even if in a design sense they know the band really well, they don't know how to do band production as the scale gets larger sufficiently.

Also a note that theater designers while similar in study, often don't make good entertainment lighting designers. Almost two seperate fields even if cross training is necessary in ways that are difficult to explain or perhaps into the pre-planning and not changing it at the last minute way. Lack of notice is for the theater - time during production week something that can be worked around. Last minute changes or added elements to the production are often really hard to do in the entertainment / rock type lighting. Means either people are jumping thru hoops to get the changes done and the show still out the door - very important in keeping to \$ schedule, or people once in the rehearsal hall are shopping for stuff not at their home location and often shipping stuff overnight from across the country to get the change done on time. Much different than adding a few fixtues while in the home theater or adding something while still at the home theater. Prior planning as a LD for the touring industry is very important and it comes with experience, less see it and tweak the plot a bit during the focus. Tweaking for a tour means perhaps moving a few things about during prep week, tweaking for a theater is a bit more free in doing so and having time given a home location it is done in.

My thoughts at least. Not that I have any interest in that rock and roll stuff as a LD.

#### Lightingguy32

##### Active Member
As a brief hijack...am I on the only one who everytime he reads the title of this thread get songs from the Producers stuck in his head?
Of course every single time I see this thread the song "I want to be a producer" breaks out in my head. With that aside, designing takes a lot of time to learn. A lot, first off, spend lots of time being an assistant and you will learn some trades and become englightened (no pun intended). If you want to be a board op/ programmer it is excellent advice to go off and find Offline Editors and learn the board via using your own computer and the software. I know that one year I didn't know express syntax, but a month after digging out a version of Expression Offline, I had learned everything there is to know about syntax about the expression series that I thought I needed to know and I still refer back periodically to insure I don't forget those skills.