Lighting Design Concept Statements

StageGuy5145

Member
Joined
Jan 17, 2016
Location
United States
Hello all,

I have a question about concept statements for lighting. Do all designers do them? I study this at the undergrad level and we are required to do so. We are told that our concept statement should be on almost every piece of paper we produce.

Before going to school for this, my process would be reading the script at least 2-3 times, writing down the Time of Day, Location, Mood, etc. for each scene and go from there. Do visual research where necessary to get some inspiration as well. And talk with the director, my fellow designers, etc.

Perhaps what I’ve been doing is all wrong because I have never done concept statements for lighting up until now. I certainly make sure what I’m doing reflects the mood, tells the audience where we are, and attempts to convey the deeper underlying theme of the piece. And I also try to make sure that I do not just do things because I like blue light and it’s pretty. We are told this is what the concept statement is supposed to prevent. To me, that’s just something you should not be doing already.

Curious to hear your thoughts and opnions on the subject.

Thanks!
 

RonHebbard

Well-Known Member
Premium Member
Joined
Jun 12, 2004
Location
Waterdown, ON, CA
Hello all,

I have a question about concept statements for lighting. Do all designers do them? I study this at the undergrad level and we are required to do so. We are told that our concept statement should be on almost every piece of paper we produce.

Before going to school for this, my process would be reading the script at least 2-3 times, writing down the Time of Day, Location, Mood, etc. for each scene and go from there. Do visual research where necessary to get some inspiration as well. And talk with the director, my fellow designers, etc.

Perhaps what I’ve been doing is all wrong because I have never done concept statements for lighting up until now. I certainly make sure what I’m doing reflects the mood, tells the audience where we are, and attempts to convey the deeper underlying theme of the piece. And I also try to make sure that I do not just do things because I like blue light and it’s pretty. We are told this is what the concept statement is supposed to prevent. To me, that’s just something you should not be doing already.

Curious to hear your thoughts and opnions on the subject.

Thanks!
@StageGuy5145 To me, this reads / sounds like: Those who can, do; those who can't, teach. Your teacher / prof' has tenure, she/he's comfy and coasting. I'm sure others, some who teach in universities, others in high schools, will be posting shortly.
Toodleoo!
Ron (long retired do'er / NEVER a teacher) Hebbard
 

MRW Lights

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 4, 2017
Location
NYC
Yes and / No. I similarly studied that same way and thought it wasn't real world practice. Here's my experience...

No - I can't recall having a director ask me for a concept statement after school. I have had directors send me their ideas which we have then had discussion around as a team and individually. I find that helps more when prepping shows remotely when the team isn't available for in person meetings, though technology has also helped eliminate that in recent years.

Yes- I've actually continued a similar process for myself even though I may be the only one who sees it. The parts that help at least. In school I often found myself only working on 1/2 projects at full speed at a time. Now I might work 4,6+ projects all in full swing. So having notes/ideas and even little story boards help me to keep focused and in real time with my projects without reinventing them every time. If I'm having trouble expressing an idea these can be a great resource to share with a Director and say... this is what I'm thinking and they say great! or sometimes they say that's not how I see it. In which case I can explore different options and pivot on paper before we ever get to the stage.

Summary: School is school... take it all in and when you're done keep what works and continue to flex it, shape it and mold it in order to do your job to the best of your ability. Keep up the good work and good luck!
 

ACTSTech

Active Member
Joined
Nov 13, 2019
Location
USA
Concept: Make the production enjoyable for the audience, because if they cannot see or hear, they will not come and there will be no production.

If your professor or whomever thinks that as a “techie” I am going to take the time to read your flowery concepts verbalized, they are sadly mistaken. On load-ins, we have 4-5 hours to accomplish what we can before lunch. The LD or SD on the show is usually telling us where things go. If they have a concept, that’s their job to implement it, not the “grunts on the ground.” The audience probably wouldn’t read it if it was in the playbill. So my question is who is the statement for?

Also consider this: how many times have shows been assembled, then in a rehearsal, the director says, “Could we change...” or “I’m not sure I like...” The show we were in the middle of running had two night scenes, and in the first tech, the director, who approved everything prior to the tech in a cue-to-cue rehearsal, said both were too dark. It happens, you adjust.

Your script study sounds like plenty. If you need to put something on paper for your professor or yourself, do so, but personally I think it’s unnecessary.
 

John Palmer

Active Member
Joined
Apr 28, 2014
Location
Cerritos, CA
The best work that I have done in my career has been the result of having written down my concept. It works like a road map. If I get stuck at any point in drafting or cuing, I can go back to the concept and use it as a true/false validation test. Is what I am doing supporting the communication of my concept to the audience?
My concepts are 1 paragraph. I use a worksheet to distill the information/research that I do (similar to the work that you do) down to the ONE paragraph. The research is good for defending the concept both from your scrutiny and the director's. I use visual resources like painting and photographs as well. As was pointed out above, when you come back to a project weeks later, it is good to be able to pick-up your work.
Discussions of concept with directors often reveal the lack of concept on their part.
As for your professor's requirement about the concept being on all paperwork, do what the prof wants to pass your classes. After that, do what works for you.
 

sk8rsdad

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Premium Member
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Location
Ottawa
While I have never done a concept statement I can see the value of one, especially in an academic setting. Presumably, the goal is to validate that the lighting design aligns with the needs of the production. In my world that is a conversation with the director and others on the production team about the overall impression we're trying to make on an audience.
 

MNicolai

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Sarasota, FL
I've done them a few times, but certainly not all the time. Usually they never saw the light of day to anyone but myself. The gist is to have something that anchors your design elements into the overall design of the show. The reality is that the director sets the tone of that much more than any individual designer -- the designers bring ideas to the table for the director to sign off on. Once you get out of academia, I would say reference/research images are a more useful anchor than concept statements, at least for lighting. A few lightly annotated slides of research images/sketches/photos in a Powerpoint deck speaks volumes more than paragraphs of text.

I'm inclined to say that concept statements may be more useful for scenery and costume design, where there can be more subliminal messaging through the physical elements on stage like certain actors get costumed a specific way because of their class or their role. That's the kind of thing that through a production design process may need more clarity of purpose written down somewhere so a good idea doesn't end up in the weeds. Could probably say the same thing about lighting though -- all depends on the show and how much complexity or deliberation you're putting into it.

In all reality, academic design is about showing your work. Professional design is about doing the research and then executing on it -- if a concept statement helps your process or your communication with other designers, great, if not, find a better process that works for you. I think in most circumstances though any presentation of your work to directors and other designers will be verbal.

Nonetheless -- it will be a professional responsibility of yours to 1) Sell the work, 2) Do the work, 3) Present the work, and 4) Convince everyone else that the work you did is good and relevant. That is a skill that needs to be honed and concept statements help serve that purpose. The worst myth to permeate the world of design is the idea that good design sells itself. That's malarkey -- good design is not always obvious, and if you don't have a process of research and concept development in place, whether formal or informal, your designs will frequently end up being "obvious" in a bad way. You will also need to be prepared to defend and debate your good ideas on the merits. If you are unprepared to do so, you'll just end up debating on emotion which is highly unproductive. The process of writing them down forces you to think those ideas through more clearly so that when the time comes to defend your ideas, you don't end up talking yourself in circles.

This is a pretty good presentation that summarizes my thoughts on the matters. Albeit unrelated to theater, very relevant to any process of design.

 
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Lynnchesque

Active Member
Joined
Feb 28, 2019
Location
Fresno, CA
I think my concept statement would typically read: "The show will be as lit as the budget allows; if the director wanted it to be pretty they should have brought it up in the production meeting we never had. Now, do you want to finish Q2Q tonight or not?"

This reminds me of Fine Arts instructors having us write artist statements- the flowery pretentious block of text under your name that explains that, yes in fact, making paintings with your own hair is a deep exploration of the artists individuality and the nature of being.

But anyway I agree with all above. The key lesson is to be designing with a core concept in mind, for many good reasons.
 

Crisp image

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Jun 18, 2017
Location
Eastern Victoria Australia
From this trainers eyes. If I am assessing anyone I will need evidence that is without doubt going to prove you know what you are doing. It should be so any person other than your assessor can pick up the evidence and say "yes that meet the requirement"
There are lots of things we do autonomously and don't think twice about. But when being assessed you need to articulate all the steps.
Lets try this. I would like you to make a cup of tea.
Steps are boil the kettle, put the teabag in a cup, when the kettle is boiled pour the water into the cup, add milk and sugar to taste.
But if we really look at it. Fill the kettle with water, plug it in, turn it on, get a cup from storage, put teabag in it, when water is boiled pour into the cup, draw the tea for the required time, remove teabag and dispose, add milk and sugar to taste and don't forget to stir to mix.
Can you see what I mean. This prof could be using the concept statement to ensure you are really getting it right and it is part of the overall assessment proof.
Like others have said, do what is required to pass the course and then figure out if you need to use it. Your current process sounds good to me and that is what I do when lighting a show. Conversations with the stake holders is key IMO.
Regards

Geoff
 
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theatricalmatt

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May 25, 2013
Location
New England
I usually write a few notes for my own purposes during the development stage of a production. As someone before me said, it's often helpful to externalize your thought process.

I've found it helpful in two regards: If I had to sub out and have someone fill in for me, it might get them up to speed a little quicker (especially with more abstract work such as dance or concert work). Secondly, if I return to a work after a period of time (like re-mounting a piece), it helps me remind myself just what I was thinking at the time. Occasionally I'll include snippets from the director or choreographer.

But generally these notes are for my own purposes, and I don't expect to share them with others.
 

zeymgoss

Member
Joined
Mar 31, 2014
Location
right here
Love all the dismissive and pithy comments from people who are still in school themselves or not designers.

Fact is: professionally, no one cares about a concept statement. No one cares that your concept is that of a dying candle, which symbolizes blah blah blah blah blah. But you're not in school to just do things, you're there to learn how to do things, and there is a teacher who's job it is to make sure you understand that. It's the lighting equivalent of showing your work on a math problem. "I want the show to look nice" is a terrible concept, as it "I want the show to come in under budget," because neither of those convey a damn thing about what you actually plan to do - what colors you are using, what moments you are emphasizing, what mood you're going for.

Having to copy a concept statement on every piece of paperwork is an exercise in keeping you focused to your initial concept. Yeah, things change, but once the show is designed, that concept should be the same. Maybe the director wants to add things here and there, and having a solid concept will inform how you can make those adjustments. Staying true to your concept means all of your work throughout a production will have a unified vision. Maybe you saw something really amazing in another production that you'd like to try out here, but if it doesn't fit your concept of a dying candle blah blah blah blah blah, it's probably not the right time to do it.

I know professors who also require their students to have a design concept first thing in the process. Read the script, maybe meet with the director, prepare a concept, and then have that first design meeting. Maybe the concept doesn't fit the rest of the show and needs to be revised, but it should be the thing that guides everything else you do. These same professors also don't like their students to "present" their design concepts, they're not supposed to be public (although certainly not private), just kind of a set of parameters that guide the rest of the design.

How many times has someone else just winged it on a design, and watching the thing later, it was obvious they had no idea what they were doing? Maybe every scene looks fine on its own, but it's all a disjointed mess? I know I've seen plenty of that, and been guilty of it myself.