Meet our Members Series: Lighting Technician

For our fifth ‘Meet the Members’ interview, we have a chat with one of our highly skilled but seldom seen members, our talented Lighting Technician, Max Richardson. We are treated to a journey through the surprising variety of tasks his role within local theatre entails, both for Huntingdon Drama Club and other companies and groups, as well as learning a little about the man himself…

So what exactly do you do – both for our Drama Club and with other organisations?
I wear 4 hats in am-dram, which in most professional environments would be accomplished by a team:
Lighting Designer:Start by reading the script and highlighting what the scene is and anything that can indicate the time of day or where they are. Next, I will talk to the Director – some have clear opinions and have a fully formed idea, some develop ideas during the rehearsal process and some prefer the lighting designer to visualise the end product. With directors that develop ideas over time, it is sometimes an challenge that they will realise they want an effect that needed to be considered much earlier, such as the almost cliche moment during the tech when the director announces “…and that’s when the smoke comes in”, not having talked about the possibly of it prior, and this has to be worked out fast!Once I have established what the director wants I watch at least two full rehearsals of the show; seeing the rehearsals in the correct order for the running of the show generally helps; from this I decide how to divide up the space, when the lights will change and the position of any special lighting effects such as a bonfire, a lantern, a sunset etc. This also gives understanding the feel of the show, while keeping in mind issues of visibility, safety and the capability of the venue.
Rigging and Wiring Technician (the Get-in/Setup): Before the get-in I have written all my plans down so that when the company get the equipment into the venue we can work quickly with fewer mistakes. My main goals are to construct the lighting rig, run the correct wires to the correct lights and making sure all things being rigged at height are safely attached, get the lighting power distributor working, put the right coloured gel (whilst checking all the lamps in the generic lighting are working), give any smart lights addresses, get the lighting desk running, then fix what ever is not working then finally position and angle the lights so they are the same as the plan I drew up in the rehearsals.
Lighting Control Programming: There are two types of lighting control – analogue and digital. Analogue is straightforward and the ‘programming‘ is affectively note-taking, but is very limiting on the number of lights you can control, plus most of the lighting controllers with this capability are archaic.Digital lighting control comes in many flavours and require specific knowledge for each kind, but share many principles, meaning if you put in the time to learn a particular desk or software, other forms of lighting control will be familiar, but still require some study to understand. With Digital lighting control it is possible to create memories or scenes (which is specific lights at specific percentage levels), and with a couple of button presses they can be recalled. If the get-in has gone smoothly and I’ve not spent too much time fixing problems I will program these be ready for the tech rehearsal. Another nifty ability with Digital lighting control is the ability to make a cue list or sequence – this is many memories or scenes that play in a specific order activated by the go button. Aspects of the cue list or sequence generally get tweaked after the tech and need re-recording, and any notes about the timing of the lighting changes need to be updated and written into my script and the Stage Manager or Deputy Stage Manager’s Script.
Operating the Lighting Control and Live Problem Solving: Before each performance I turn on the lighting power distributor, check that all the lights turn on and are focused on the stage correctly and that the lighting control works as it should. Then I enter pre show stage until the show starts – if there is a Deputy Stage Manager I will maintain contact with them during the show and they will tell me when the lighting changes happen, as they happen, otherwise I will watch the show and follow my script and activate the lighting changes based on my notes. If there is something not working before or during a show I have to decide if I have time to fix it with out disrupting the show, or wait until the interval or after the show.

Wow… no wonder you’re busy! Thanks for sharing all the hard work that you put into local theatre! What are the biggest challenges as a Lighting Technician?
HDC in the last few years have staged performances in alternative spaces such as the performance of The Thrill of Love in All Saint’s Church. Sally Fuller, the Lighting Designer was stumped as how to rig a top spot light with nothing to attach over the area it was required, so over an afternoon I engineered an ultra-lightweight solution made from some cable, some scrap metal (a beer can!) and a small low voltage lamp! See photo below…
More recently for the performance of Cathy, Rae Goodwin staged the show in a thrust shape (audience on three sides) on the Commemoration Hall floor instead of the stage which creates a multitude of issues with the installed rig, so this required supplemental tripod lighting stands for adequate coverage.

Tell us a random fact about you – or about your role – that we might not know!
I currently work as a full-time theatre technician for Oundle School’s Stahl Theatre.

How much time does it take to set up lights for a production?
It can vary based on the complexity of the set up but generally 2 to 3 days!

How did you learn your lighting skills?
I studied at Peterborough Regional College on the Technical Production arts course in 2008, but I have also volunteered for many am-dram shows in Huntingdon and Cambridgeshire since then.

What would you say to someone who would like to learn about being a Lighting Technician, but has no experience of it?
Showing an interest and asking questions is the best way, I’m always interested in talking and teaching my lighting skills!

Which production’s lighting were you most proud of and why?
Rather than being particularly proud of any particular show, I find my pleasure in specific lighting scenes or changes that are particularly beautiful:
Oberon’s magic affect in Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare at The George, Night time at a stranger’s apartment for Cathy, Huntingdon Drama Club, The forest glade in Shakespearean, Shakespeare At The George, Lightning in a dimly lit theatre, for Bunch of Amateurs, Huntingdon Drama Club Sunset to sun rise before the battle, Richard the Third, Shakespeare at The George, The top spot for Thrill of Love, Huntingdon Drama Club
etc. 

Starter or dessert?
Both, but if I was pushed to decide, two starters.

Cats or dogs?
This little kitten called Beatrice, who goes by Bea:

Describe your perfect day:
A day that is equally relaxing and productive, perhaps a Friday.