“Lighting design community
I am participating in a project that will simulate a community based theater project. By interviewing and discussing light design, I am hoping to compile stories of lighting designers in to a series of monologues that will aim to entertain and educate others about the art of light design. Most people who attend theater, as opposed to those who create it, know very little about the technical aspects of it. And rather than try to compound all the technical fields into one project, I’d rather focus on the one I’ve participated in myself.”
Once attended a week long lecture series at ISU by Jennifer Tipton. If you contact the theater if not library you might be able to access any if recorded or written down lecture notes. Otherwise in introductions and prefaces to various books, the author/famous designer will often share with the audience some of their experiences. Such experiences when cited can be very much of use. Mention in your lecture notes on the design experience tips and thoughts by Jean Rosenthal out of her “The Magic of Light” book
, and cite her lighting design theory in all forms of presentation including and especially the movie “West Side Story” and all the audience while they might not have noted the lighting will instantly take a connection to it. Someone says the movie West Side Story and while they might not have thought about it’s lighting design, they do have instant memories.
Otherwise, the best way I think to inform is perhaps supplemented by multi-media and demonstration, in addition to any interesting notes you find from other designers. Take the example of that beam angle
chart common to most books. Just a single face
when lit by single and double lighting instruments in each photo in the series. Pretty woman, starts on stage
or in better yet large slide presented to the audience with a common table lamp on stage
. She moves about the table lamp on the floor and still gets the same crappy lighting to her. You than in the live, by film or slide turn off the table lamp and go thru
a simplified for attention span series of photos showing different looks or effects. Than you add some color to show the drama and mixing. KISS, keep it simple stupid for the demo of one person lit at first but perhaps end with a short light show of the possible.
Than go into the history or how your career became a field with something romantic or Victorian in typical lighting for the age as example. Run thru
a series perhaps of say harsh foot
lights that wash
out the face
and in general provide bad lighting, to sketches by Craig and Appia on their design intent. Read Robert Edmond Jones, Craig and Appia for where the design theory started. Go to the Basic McCandless
concept and show it as a base
. Than build
on it for effect
perhaps ending with a slide or video clip of some current
Broadway musical followed by a clip from a rock show. Finally end with perhaps a photo of a scene lit in one
way as it shows some intent, than another simple scene that’s the same lit with different intent.
If you do your intro
to the lecture, you should be able to take care of the concept & history in say 15 minutes, than have time for the rest of your presentation. Lots of books available on design over the years would be useful in citing difference in style over the ages.
For style of how to present your thesis, you might get books by Reid and Pilbrow. Reid’s book
“Lighting the Stage
” might be especially useful in presentation style. I believe there is also a new book
called something like “Designers on Design” that has much your same thesis. Otherwise reading into TCI/Theater Crafts, Ligiting Dimensions, American Theater, PLSN and other sources in past issues over the years and especially when designer interviews were major features, you can get lots of incite into known designers.
By answering some of the following questions, I am hoping I can gain
some insight into the quirks and oddities of working in light design.
1. What’s your name? Brian Shipinski
2. How long have you been involved with lights/theatre
? Lights 20 years, theater 24 years.
3. How did you get involved with theatre
? Sister was doing it and it was advised that I look into it for something to do given I could sling
a hammer at home well.
4. How did you learn light design? School? School and books. While minoring in lighting design was of more interest than costume design following my set/design production degree was primary, the reality of lighting design did not click until it had to be done for a show.
5. What’s your usual method of design? Habits? Traditions? Location to work? Programs you use to design? Programs, I have Auto Cadd and Vectorworks
, but no time to tinker with re-learning them. When I was in college, we had Auto Cadd Release
12 available but you had to go to the IT part of the school to get trained in it. My own computer had “Generic Cadd” and while it was useful for drafting, at the time there was not a feasible ready to use way of doing theater design. Instead it’s always been hand
drafting - normally in ink my preferred medium. No time while in a show to tinker with the Cadd, even if it would save time later.
Method, read script three times and only on the last time start taking notes. Talk with the director about his or her concept, than re-read the script again and refine notes as to the production’s intent and the script needs. Lighting design is normally much more simple than set design in that you don’t have to provide a feel for the set and style it’s presented in physically, only match design to intent and sculpt with the inventory, fixtures, channels and dimmers available. The light is more like sculpting than painting as separate concepts but similar. The first has you shape and mold the image
intended, the other has the intent in relation to it’s setting. Takes a lot less work in design and background to do a lighting design. More a you and your vision
thing for inspiration than that of a accurate portrait or some sense of it type of design intent based upon imagery rather than selectivity in what’s shown and how it’s shown. Both are very much alike, but the lighting intent is more what’s revealed and how it’s sculped in revealing it than set design is commonly. Hard difference to separate in that both have much the same design elements, still mostly one is based off something you intend to make reference to, the other is in conveying an image
of a thought on it. This after general location, time of day etc
are covered. Set still is more a reference to the world the play
occupies, lighting than becomes more a statement of the feelings intended to express
by the world revealed. Both while intertwined might in some way be different in this way to some extent.
Traditionally, I would study as above the script, talk with the director and designers and watch some rehearsals. Lots of rehearsals for lighting. The more the better to gain
incite onto the emphasis intended and very important also the blocking
. Without the blocking
, you are lost as a designer. This given some other very important goals such as visibility time of day etc
As a set designer and at times as a lighting designer
, I started research into the play
, the times, art of the period, author’s intent, etc
and just followed it where ever it took me. I would trust that while I came up with ideas, none were finalized until I became so absorbed into the research that I eventually had a dream about the play
. At that point
all research stopped and I started sketching what I saw in the dream. I might read an entire book
on structural steel design if that’s where my research took me, than move onto something else on a different line
, perhaps also read the script again, but after the dream of what I see, I sketched the looks I and the director as per directive wished for. If it did not quite match up with other parts of the design, rehearsal or director’s intent, we would discuss this new concept and at times I re-adjusted that vision
to more fit the show. Craig would not adjust his vision
for the reality of the show. I tried this once in having vision
for a different theater space and fitting vision
into it, it did not work. Each theater and space requires a unique design for it. Someone else’s concept or one you wish to try might fit into the picture but even at that it needs to become the concept for that production and not attempt to recapture something that worked elsewhere.
Traditions, while not working on a show, I might study other designers designs and often get ideas from them, while designing a show, I will not look at what someone else has done. If before hand
I saw something, that image
will remain. Since each show is different, seeing what someone else had for a solution simply does not matter. As a designer, and given a script there will be certain similarities or stuff as a given by the script. After that, you can’t capture someone else’s image
, nor should you own thoughts on the imagery as an artist try to copy someone else’s intent. When I design a show, it’s tradition to start with a blank page
. Design as I wish than once the sketches are done, work on converting it to reality of fixture
, dimmers etc
. First the image
, than worry about how to pull it off.
Location to work. First is the design studio with research library, computer and drafting table. Than is the design meeting, and finally the rehearsal. I will sketch often the blocking
of scenes while in rehearsal to help later in figuring out what the focus area is for cuing and intent but this is rough sketch and often following the show study for design intent. The more rehearsals you attend, the better the feel for the presentation you will have. Not perfect especially if in a class room, and much will change but still important to attend as much as possible. Dimmer channel
to patch, fixture
location by plot
. follow design. Don’t worry about such things, that’s later and only paperwork.
Once I have the design and it’s realized in a plot
, on the spot I can normally do a rough scene by scene cue fixture dimmer
setting to match the image
I’m attempting. That’s good enough to start the rehearsals with that are under lighting. After that, it’s just a question of refining the cues to make intent and rough cues a reality. And often a change of them to match the final blocking
. Still once the image
is there and realized, it’s just a question of dialing it in for production as opposed to what was on sketch.
6. What was your first experience as a light designer like? First professional experience?
While early in school, a friend of mine asked me to take over for her as light board operator for a show she was doing at a store front theater. I later was asked back by the writer/director to design his next show. Not a hard thing in the small store front theater world, normally it’s harder to find someone to fit the bill than to do the show. So I did this set design for a original flawed text and production of a not very good show only slightly of worth. I also failed the production as a designer in the bad show in that while for the small room it was in, I took proportion and scale into account, and had what was probably one of my better set designs, the audience after the show more frequent than not walked onto the stage
and took a close look at the scenery - especially the painted brick. It would seem that my failing was that the set outstripped the presentation and they were more interested in the set than the show while supposed to be watching the show.
None the less, at some point
probably a week before the show, company the lighting designer
assumed to be doing the lights turned out not intending to do so. We were stuck thus with a set, actors and costumes but no lights. It was later decided that since I had or was in advanced lighting classes in school, and nobody else in the theater company was going to step up, I needed to at least throw
some light on the subject. They did not expect much, just light the scenes some and call
it a day given the set, street clothes and blocking
was about done and all that was left was making it visible on the six scene - one channel
light board available.
My major problem in school while in lighting class was somehow linking design theory with making it reality. Sure I could mechanically reproduce from a magazine photo what direction the light was from, and even plot
out with light fixtures and gel
how to re-produce it, but I was missing somehow that next step in the difference between live intent with design and reality. I could design for moments in a photo or some basic scene, but if the actors crossed out of their light, I was lost in them no longer following my intent.
So I did my best in the 9'-1" ceiling with a mixture of 150w PAR
38, 3" Fresnel
56 and some 3.5Q5 fixtures taken from the main stage
. I also found 28 pinspot fixtures and in the only real inspiration, intended to as extra fixtures make a rainbow with them across the 14' wide stage
at it’s end. Hmm, pinspot, about a 3x5 degree beam. Given about a 14' throw distance
, it was problematic but it worked to some extent once frosted the heck out of.
(Long story TBA later about the pinspot rainbow implementation.)
Anyway, the lighting for the show as the first one realized was okay at best given it functioned but both the play
did not inspire me to light it, nor was I good at lighting yet. Play
was about a guy attempting to start a lawn mower and his life falling apart around him as wife and friends walk by and relate their difficulties about him and their relationships. Not much to light there given a bright sunny day.
7. What is the funniest experience you’ve had as a designer? Don’t remember beyond the concept that what I design often is thrown out initially but later is what we end up with. Constant what the director thinks than the reality and back to what I think type concepts.
An actor that would do his best to avoid the light. Flooded the heck out of a small stage
so he could not escape
his light no matter how much he tried. And tried he did. Quite the challenge to find a place for him during rehearsals to wander about in finding a dark part of the stage
. Quite the challenge for me in staying one step ahead of him.
8. Can you think of any really great/adventurous story you like sharing? Same with funny experiences, the intent is to do work without any un-known’s good or bad. Great is when nothing of interest happens. Adventure for a designer as something physical and not theory should be prevented if at all possible. Lighting design is in part the actor finding his light. Had this one act where there were two actors in a sort of office. One was about young, the other older. As the story came about, there was some question or sense that the older character was Hitler in hiding. The Protagonist of course was in the means of figuring this out as the audience was, and the director would not allow any yes or no answer as to was or was he not Hitler. Small light plot
and fairly small stage
. Only had one fixture
to spotlight this Hitler character. By chance and a bit
of focus, somehow at least to me it seemed that I caught the exact beam angle
most movies light Hitler from. This and the actor was darned good, plus the colors on stage
were just right. This one beam of light the actor could find anywhere on stage
was not otherwise noticed on stage
, other than when this actor stepped into it and during his monolog. As I brought up the intensity
of this special as opposed to the rest of the set’s lighting which left him in question as a more normal person, thru
it became more suspect his background. This granted that the actor was doing a great job and the lighting only assisted him. In the end, it was a magical design I doubt I could re-create.
Otherwise for Shadowy Waters, there was this trashed club light we replaced colored lenses with gobos on, than added a 8x9 lens
train to the front of. Above the audience, it was as if the rolling and spinning of the light moved in three dimensions with the music in a perfect moment of the play
. That area when there is a distinct pause and the audience can become distracted as the actors are by the song of the spirits. Over the heads of the audience really was some form of ghostly apparition. Again, done once, can’t be repeated.
This for me is the adventure and art of design, if only a few select moments when all is perfect in the world you in visioned.
9. What are your goals for your career? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? I retired for the most part from doing production work. My intent is to some day get back into design, but having burned myself out sufficiently on design and construction of set and lights where I don’t accept un-safe gear, or set design and by necessity construction most often, it’s easy to burn oneself out. Occasionally perhaps once a year now I’ll do a design but they are very stressing and often since those willing or wanting my design are less developed, it’s very stressful in just getting that design realized. While I intend to get back to design, and probably will do some community theater in the future, I await retirement in giving myself back to the design with production requirements in making what you wish also constructed. Can’t stay 26 and staying up three days straight for ever. I had to make a break.
Until than, I found a job where I get to tinker with gear and buy stuff for the entertainment industry for a living. Don’t do much design proper these days, but there is elements of even fixture
construction that is design and experiment sufficient for my itch. Given I’m also a tech person, that tinkering with stuff and more having stuff brought to me and doing what ever takes my interest in the day well outweighs the “hurry up and wait” normal to doing productions, much less is barley sufficient in having some small design element
to the production.
I’m doing some community theater work now and am a ME for a large lighting company where as opposed to designing the stage
, I design and construct the fixtures other shows use. In the community theater, eventually I might make more magic some day but for now am still in retirement or post burned out from design and production on a 24/7 schedule. 35 Years from now I hope to retire from where I currently work as a ME. In that time if I design a few shows at work or at the local theater, that’s sufficient. Made Jesus appear on stage
once. How could he not the haze
was so thick you could cut it with a knife, but the black light, follow spot and other lighting also helped by way of design - plus another great actor.
10. What’s your favorite part of the process? Favorite part of the process is as stated those if only even a few moments when a realized design I had seen as vision
, become a shared vision
to the audience. That as a lighting designer
especially is all important in the end. For set design, it’s less reflected in some very few and brief moments of absolute as per a light design, instead it’s more a broad vision
that works with the production and makes it’s statement in working. All very dependant upon matching design to production - talent for scene or brief moment when all is right and correct in the world on stage
as viewed by an audience.
11. What’s the part you hate about light design? If there is anything… I despise others that don’t care sufficiently. Last theater show I did properly, they had a old Vision
light board that constantly crashed with it’s corrupted memory and out of something like 36 channels, 28 were currently working and they would not guarantee all would for the production either at very least. I added to this with my own gear. The theater gear I was to design with was in all ways was shot and 90% of the time once dropped from the grid
needed at least a minimum amount of service call
to it if not major work control cable to fixture
and all parts between. Here I am hired and paid to design and install the theater’s lights to my design, and the only way possible to do so was to give total service call
to all their gear so it was up to minimum safety
standards at very least and dependable, than supplement it with my own gear both bought out of the stipend and personal inventory. Place had scrollers in storage but not ever used them because it would be too much work or too complex for them. Didn’t have time either but had I them in my theater I will have made the time.
What I really hate be it doing a show of quality for those not able to do such a show, or in those reported to do such a show but not giving a crap about their gear is in doing shows where I come in with intent but have to get distracted in making what I need to design function first, than continue with design. On that show, I spent perhaps 25% of my time on the show design - simple show or not and not very inspired, still, I had to hire someone to help install it once the gear was safe. This in addition to stuff I bought made me loose money and a lot of time for a show I in making it function, never got even near full attention to it’s design. No matter if or if not my design intent will have been sufficient (not very good show), I wasted my time instead on making the gear and light board work, rather than refining my design.
I hate that by the time I finally had my design done and installed, it did not match the show either in blocking
or in production lack of script or talent. I hate that opening night, I was running the light board with the operator of it taking notes on cue
changes. Hate that the limited vision
I saw for certain elements were completely lost in production and that I failed in adjusting for them or in having time to create new elements that would work. Hate that I was made to seem a fool by the director in seeing the crap design I did, no matter if the gear was safe, it did not function for the show - even if crappy show and I will never be asked back. And most especially hate that here I put a lot of out of pocket money into my art above what was paid, did my best and in the end all the work neither served the show, nor was of any use to the theater that thought safe fixtures and stable dimmers minor detail. This being probably the #2 most recognizable store front theater in Chicago, a place I could take over easily in qualified as TD - real TD, I’m banned to design in now.
12. Did you have any mentors/heroes? McCandless
, Jean Rosenthal, Craig and most especially Caspar Neher. Mentors for design, sure my teachers from college and designs I have seen in production. After that and lots of books, it’s more been for lights at least something that is more a personal design for me that others while I learn from and inspire only form a basis but don’t attempted to be reproduced. To a limited sense, Margrait Nelson in Chicago as designer has had some role
in some images on the mind I helped to focus thus can reference to for ideas, but for design what I design is more what I see than based upon what other people have done.’
Teachers help refine your work and teach in general, Craig, and Rosenthal inspire concepts, and McCandless
provides the basic concept to base
from. After that, it’s image
and design for me and I don’t really look at work of others for lighting design.
13. What advice would you give to a future designer? Read as much as possible on all subjects possible. Constantly read and more important retain in study from Brecht to architectural lighting standards and illuminance levels. Read the GE catalog in knowing differences between lamps, and read the manual
for the fixture
or drafting program you intend. Study by doing in both light board operation and hanging fixtures others design. Do you want to be the actor changing the light bulb
with ten standing around saying “I can do that” or more important, the IA crew having three to change that lamp - “gotta problem with that?” Or do you instead wish to study the why of this specific lamp as opposed to others and study as you hang for others, it’s effect
on the stage
. Coolest thing in the world is not the person on the light board, it’s the person helping to focus the lights and not even the one doing it. Instead it’s possibly the one holding the ladder that gets to study the difference a little touch to the shutter
will have on stage
as different to what’s above it in view. Person above the ladder has one view of the focus, that person on stage
has another view of it as separate from doing so, instead time to really look at the change as opposed to attempting to hang on for dear life. That’s the experience end of study under others. Don’t be thinking about lunch or ambition to be the one on the light board as if an actor thinking “I could do better”, instead study what’s done and learn the how to make it reality. Lean the difference between the beam of a 6x9 and 6x12 at 15' so it’s as a memorized beam spread in your memory while you design. You don’t need photomerics if you already have worked with the fixture
sufficient to have a mental picture of it’s look and throw
Back in college, we compiled photomorgues of photos out of magazines. We were supposed to study the art and the implementation of the photo’s lighting, than keep it for a reference guide in images. Fairly useless in most cases, but there were some photos or drawings from magazines that did inspire. If you get but one concept and inspiration out of a hundred of them, and from them also know how to re-produce this image
, such work is paid off.
There is must do stuff such as drafting, ability to sketch artistically, mechanical knowledge of control and fixtures or wiring that you need to know. Lots of organization and paperwork necessary, but first comes the art based upon experience and study to hone and make better the library of visions you can have. The more you see, the larger the ability to pull up inspiration. How many people when I say "Blue Boy" instantly pull up an image
of a famous painting, much less have some sense of what it really looks like in how it's revealed by way of light and shadow? No, you don't have to study or have certain traits, instead you need to study everything from the effects of shadow of light on a brick wall morning noon and night dependant upon the season to paintings and even in watching "Meet the Press" note some elements of at least style. Not persay draw up a plot
once you understand how to do so from a image
, instead recognize more a style that can be reproduced where you need. Images on the mind is like money. The more you have in savings, the easier life.
Learn as much tech and detail as you can. There is a huge difference between a Fresnel
lamped with a DWN as opposed to BTL, yet you will still find them in the field. In a focus, the designer in getting what they wish must be intimate with the fixtures they use, otherwise running the barrel
one way as opposed to another won’t either be seen nor noted to be better in another direction. The wrong lens
train or choice of one over another and especially in choice of gel
, comes only with experience.
Try not to over design, over cue
or over color your other than most important or most fantasy type of images. One is often tempted to bring down all but where the action is than have to bring ti back to normal as it were, get really bold in saturation, or have a really tight design that does not allow for actor mistakes where they are now in the dark. Such mistakes on the designer’s part cause fatigue often with the audience. Instead hold back one step so you can go one more where appropriate or cover
for what doesn’t quite fit into your picture for the concept. Amber shift
is also a ***** when over saturated. Spill
your magic right away and you have nothing left also later on. Moderation is the key yes, at some points you do want to bring down the rest of the stage
or saturate an image
, just otherwise do it one or two steps by way of design less than you think you should. Same with cues, not every important thing to note needs a cue
. Time delays are great as with subtle changes, but they also take a lot of control. If the general production does not allow for this, the subtile control you wish for will all be a question of timing and how it works night to night. Often this timing will have been better left out. Lighting is to light, convey etc
. first, than supplement and support. Support is also important, the lights should not overshadow the action or actors. If this means a wash
is best so that those seen can be heard, it might mean a less flashy design by you but a better overall production. Talent stepping into or especially doing their lines within shadow unless designed to be this is a bad thing.
14. Is there anything you’d really like to share or add? Good luck, but in some sense, are you trying to make general audience clap as per some Renaissance artist’s set design might get a curtain call
of it’s own as spectacle - function or not with the production itself as it often did nor, or are you trying to make people realize that which if all is well with the play
, those of the audience should not see in it standing out as it’s own art? To a certain extent, they might hopefully even at a mall stop to look at the lighting fixtures as they provide light on a display, or give thought to “I’m going to get me some of them halogen
lamps” type theory as if track
lights will solve all evils, but I hope it’s less to impress rather than make this element
as one of them become recognized but not stand out. A book
by Bova “The Beauty of Light” is a excellent text for making “civilians” recognize the effect
of light in all forms without making it stand out. Highly recommend you read this book
if attempting to lecture others on light in making it beyond spectacle to impress above the collaboration.
Lots of study and practice. Study into all from TV to magazines to classics and painting. All that is visual has a light source that is useful by way of association with for the audience to relate to is useful to study. What effects does a grainy photo have upon the viewer. Should you wish to convey a similar image
, mastering both fixture
and design will allow for this. Create a visual memory by way of production experience for how to and what to use to do this. Test options for concept after this.
15. If you were to perform a monologue of your life onstage, how would the lighting look?
Above with examples, as for me, I might change looks with each paragraph or intent. Some really basic changes in say color, some changes to what's overtly bad lighting, and some that's great lighting.
On the other hand
, given I'm a tech person and stay to the shadows, perhaps just some light so I'm seen - especially my eyes as one key recognized as important, and what happens on the monitor
or upstage is part of the class in changing.