Helping The Lighting Programmers Of The Future / by Rob Halliday

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Rob has recently completed his autumn season as a visiting tutor at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, something that has become a regular feature of his autumn over the last few years.

In these appearances, Rob works with students on the College’s Creative Lighting Control course to help them improve both their console programming and their understanding of the way shows are put on stage. The aim is not to improve their ability on any specific lighting console, though of course that happens naturally as part of the sessions. Rather, it is to put them under the kind of pressure lighting programmers encounter in the real world, in a more controlled environment - in the same way that aircraft pilots get to practice in a simulator before being let loose with real passengers.

“This came from a realisation that both I and the course leader Rachel Nicholson had come to, that however well people think they are teaching themselves a console in a room with WYSIWYG and the manual, they subliminally set themselves exercises they already know the answer to, and so come to think they know everything about the desk,” Rob explains. “The problem is, the first time they sit next to a lighting designer who asks them to do something different, they get stuck. That moment in a theatre at the start of tech is not a good moment to get stuck!”

Instead, Rob “plays the role of grumpy lighting designer,” as he describes it, to groups of just two or three students at a time. The exercise uses a real show he has lit in the past - Tommy from the Royal Academy of Music in 2011 - modelled in WYSIWYG. Students have to patch the rig and set-up their showfile just as they would in the real world. Then work starts on lighting the busy opening number of the show - a three-minute, thirty-plus cue sequence including all manner of movement and chases. At first there are pauses and discussions as problems are encountered, but the aim is to get to a speed where you could keep up with a real rehearsal with real performers and a real, impatient director, learning along the ways such niceties as not just plunging the stage into darkness. “The result is that I’ve now lit this sequence more times than any other set of cues I’ve ever done,” Rob notes. “But it’s also fascinating each time to see what trips people up and, through that, to help with their deep understanding of both the way consoles and theatre technical rehearsals function. I think the result is that they go out into the real world better prepared - and certainly the success of some of the people who’ve come out of the course to become highly successful lighting programmers seems to back that up.”

Rose Bruford’s Creative Lighting Control course: [link]