Here are some useful bits of information in hands bullet point form:
It’s all about experience – what you’ve seen and what you’ve done. See as much performance as possible and be inspired.
Consider all aspects of lighting design, this article concentrates on theatrical lighting (which includes opera, musicals, dance etc), but there are also concerts, television, architecture, shops, product launches etc.
Learn what everyone else on the production team does and how they do it. The production will be at it’s best if everyone contributes rather than contradicts, the lighting design should complement and enhance the production.
The traditional way to a career as a lighting designer is to work your way up through the electrical department of a theatre and then take on the occasional design, all the while gaining more experience. There is no reason why this experience shouldn’t start at school, college or your local amateur company.
Lighting design now forms a part of most drama schools technical/backstage theatre courses. These courses cover all aspects of backstage work and you can then specialise in the final year of the course. Check the college curriculum for more details and it can be helpful to ask the college to put you in touch with current and past students so you can get a students perspective on what the course has to offer.
It is now possible to train as a lighting designer on a specific course, at a drama college or university. These are often degree courses and last 2 or 3 years. However, don’t expect to walk out of the course and straight into the next big West End musical, you will still need to gain professional experience.
Discover, and attach yourself to, the next generation of set designers and directors. This can be easier if you are at college with them. Many directors and designers prefer to work with people they know and if they make it to the top they can take you with them.
The theatre and performance industry is about reputation. Everyone talks about and remembers a good production (small or large scale) and many successful lighting designers have made their name by being part of just one or two outstanding productions. It can work the other way too though!
Only those at the top of the profession can earn a living just from lighting design. Be prepared to supplement your income with other freelance work within the industry, for example fit-ups, followspot work, lighting desk operator. But you can use this as an opportunity to see other lighting designers at work.
Finally, try and meet other lighting designers and consider joining an association (ALD – Association of Lighting Designers or ABTT – Association of British Theatre Technicians). They can offer you valuable advice and help and then point you in the right direction.
Useful web sites
www.ald.org.uk – Association of Lighting Designers
www.stld.org.uk – Society of Television Lighting Directors
www.iald.org – International Association of Lighting Designers
www.theatredesign.org.uk – Society of British Theatre Designers
www.abtt.org.uk – Association of British Theatre Technicians