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Lighting Design Simplified: Reading the Script

So, last week, I started my epic depiction of a lighting designer’s process with a basic introduction of the goals that a good lighting design should satisfy. Now we’re going to start in with how I proceed from Point A – the script – and end up at Point B – the finished lighting design.

And I would like to stress that this is how *I* proceed…usually. Every production is different and every designer is different. Other designers may go about this process differently, sometimes very differently. I go about it differently on some shows. This is not intended as an ironclad list of steps that I believe must be followed, but as an introduction to the craft intended for those who have little or no idea of how it’s done.

As I said in the introduction, I’ll be using a production of An Enemy of the People (by Henrik Ibsen, as adapted by Arthur Miller) that I recently worked on as an example. Reading the play isn’t necessary; I’ll be filling in necessary details as I go. So let’s go.

Allons-y!
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Lighting Design Simplified: An Introduction

Last week, I wrote about the difficulty of explaining theatrical lighting design to someone who has no background in theatre. Long story short, it’s hard to the point of being almost pointless. But, even as I was writing that post, I wanted to try. Maybe it was just a perverse desire to prove myself wrong. Maybe it was the desire to have my work understood. Maybe I just wanted to see if anyone would be interested in listening to me blather on about my work.

Probably, though, it’s because I can’t help but blather on about lighting design. When I go to see plays, I always try to get there early, not just so I won’t be holding up the show, but so that I can crane my head at the ceiling for 15 minutes and see what’s hung there. My fiance should frankly be canonized for all the times ze’s listened to me go on and on about this stuff.

As I said before, this is the type of thing that needs five words or five thousand, and seeing as I’m already a few hundred in, it looks like it’s going to be five thousand. In the interest of making this as readable as possible, I’m going to try to break it up into multiple posts, each post depicting a step in the process that takes me from when I first read the script, to when the show opens and I get to sleep again. And, so that I’m not simply speaking in abstract terms, I’ll be using a production of An Enemy of the People I recently worked on as an example.
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You Do *What* Now?

Since I got my bachelor’s, I’ve been working fairly consistently as a theatrical lighting designer. Seeing as I’ve had a number of other day jobs and supplemental jobs in this time (some of which I wasn’t too happy to have), “theatrical lighting designer” was what I usually described my profession as. With anyone who didn’t have experience in the theatre, this inevitably led to the question, “So…what does that mean?”

I have come up with an answer to this over the years:

“Have you ever seen a play?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“You know how you can see the actors?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s what I do.”

Bad jokes aside, it’s hard to explain what a lighting designer does. Basically, if someone doesn’t have enough theatre knowledge to know what an LD does, then they likely don’t have the knowledge I need to touch on to explain it. Even worse is trying to explain how I do what I do. That’s a hard question even coming from other theatre folks.
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