How to be a Lighting Designer.

How to be a Lighting Designer

Below are some suggestions and advice on how to go about being a lighting designer. Life is obviously not quite that simple, but hopefully it will give you some idea of the various options and choices you can make. This is a fairly personal view and obviously every lighting designer will have their own take on the best way into the profession.

Firstly, you don’t really need a qualification to be a lighting designer, experience is what really counts and you may have already started gaining that from amateur or school productions. You can add to that by getting involved with local youth theatre groups or other amateur companies, it’s all about being able to show a commitment and enthusiasm.

There are a few ways into theatre. You can pester every theatre company you can find until they give you a job, it might be sweeping the stage or being the follow spot operator for panto but it’s a way in and then you can gradually work your way up. It’s slow and you only gain a limited amount of experience at a time, but it works for some people.

Alternatively you can continue with your studies through A levels and onto university – studying whatever interests you, but also getting involved with any drama or musical or dance groups that are going on. Many universities do drama courses, but they tend to be fairly general and I’m not aware of any that do a specific Lighting Design course. However, many universities have good resources and you will make a lot of contacts – plus you come out of it with a qualification, so if you decide that theatre, or lighting design specifically, is not for you then you have something to fall back on.

Another form of further education is training at drama school, they generally take on students from about 18 years, though they may consider someone younger. The courses cover all aspects of backstage theatre and most last three years, but you will come out of it with good contacts and a good chance of getting work. There is one course that offers a degree in Lighting Design and it is at Rose Bruford. Drama schools offer a good training in how to put on a production and you will get plenty of opportunities to put what you learn into practice in a working theatre environment.

Not many lighting designers have come into the business as lighting designers, generally they have moved on from theatre electricians where they gain the knowledge and understanding of the practical side of lighting design. It is also very difficult to earn a living solely as a lighting designer, there are probably only a handful in this country who can claim to do so, most of us supplement our income with other technical work. But, times are changing and it is now possible to train as a lighting designer which means that if you have the contacts and some experience you can make a career (and a living) as a lighting designer without working through the industry as we had to in the past.

Don’t forget there are other parts of the entertainment industry that use lighting designers – television, film, music, corporate presentations, industry launches, architecture, theme parks, museums, retail . . . . . . and what you need to do is find your niche and go for it.

However, first off it is important to keep studying. If you are still at school or college a few extra GCSE’s and A levels wont do you any harm.

Finally please feel free to get in touch if you need any more help. I can be reached at office@ald.org.uk

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