Why Do Lighting Designers Love Lighting Theatre?

Magda's Death, Puccini's "La Rondine." Lighting Design by Jim Hutchison (USA829)
Magda's Death, Puccini's "La Rondine." Lighting Design by Jim Hutchison (USA829)

I have been spending so much time in travel limbo lately that I have had so much time to think – about anything, nothing, everything, the meaning of life, why Cheetos are so addictive, all of that jazz.  When I think back on all of the roads I have traveled in my life and career, I keep finding myself asking the same old three question:

“Holy cow, how the hell did I get myself back into lighting theatre again?!”

I always seem to keep coming back to theatre again.  It’s like an addiction or something.  I had an easier time quitting smoking than I have ever had not doing theatre.  Not that I want to quit, mind you, but you understand the analogy, I hope.  It’s my favorite place to be in the world – I’d rather see anything in a theatre rather than an arena, amphitheater, or what-have-you.  The theatre is a place that everything in the entertainment business emulates:  convention centers are like theatres with endless configurations; arenas are the same, and all of those mid-sized rock and roll venues like House of Blues and The Granada in Dallas are essentially in old theatres or shaped like theatres.

So what relevance does that have on this ramble?  Who knows.

I gotta believe that other readers in the JimOnLight.com Community have this crazy obsession with lighting theatre.  I mean, many of you make your livings doing theatre, and others are like me – I make my design living lighting corporate events and music, but I have a master’s in lighting design with a theatrical emphasis.  I do theatre whenever it comes my way, but I do the other work and consulting so I can support my theatre habit.  Freaking lighting designer theatre junkies, they’re all the same.

I feel like theatre as a form of art has shaped many of us into the designers that we are today.  When I was young I remember stumbling across a video of a concert style production of Jesus Christ Superstar.  120K PAR rig, some amazing performers and singers who blew the lid off of it, and some person who must have been working a manual preset board of some sort.  Amazing.  Since then, I have been hooked on this thing we call “theatrical” lighting design.  I see this in every work that I design – it is so important for me during the corporate events to get a solid feel of the experience the client wants to provide for the attendees, and a lighting designer can create that outstanding experience with light.  It’s theatre, after all!

What’s your story?  Why do you like lighting theatre?  Please leave a comment below, wouldja?  Share your story with everybody!

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  1. I have missed the theater desperately lately. I haven’t been able to work a production into my schedule for a long, long time. But when you are working for the stage with a director that gives you even a little free reign, the results are magic. I’ve always seen the theatrical lighting designer as the eyes of a production. After all, we go last. The set is built, the actors are blocked, the script has long since been frozen, now it is our decisions that drive how the audience visually understands the piece. I love that…more than anything.

  2. It’s the one true place where you get to innovate on a level of design supremacy rather than the budget. There’s no doubt about it, the more money there is the better in most of our minds. Yet within theater we always have to do more with less. One of the best lit of productions of Rent I’ve seem was with an entirely conventional rig. I saw another one with a small set of moving lights and it paled in comparsion. In the end the gear didn’t matter, the vision did. Theatre is the great judger. I’m not saying other lighting design fields are eaisier by any means but there just something special about the theatre when it comes down to it. Our wicked mistress, or manstress. Whichever you prefer.

  3. I feel you on that! Theres something about it. Even with the at times meager pay that you have to just accept with some smaller productions – it just ends up being worth it.

    I’ve found that lighting theatre and seeing the final productions makes me happy beyond belief. A cool thing about theatre especially is having your friends and particular loved ones see the show and seeing them after – is an awesome feeling. You helped them obtain that enjoyment – almost quite literally (we wouldn’t see anything if the lights we’re off!)

    Can’t get enough. Wish Theatre was more supported in places like LA. It’s pretty slim pickings – a lot of productions trying to pick up cheap LD’s – it just creates a bad trend and doesn’t help the other LD’s trying to earn their bread.

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