THE DO'S AND DON'T OF
LIGHTING YOUR OWN SHOW
Since November I’ve been the Technical Director and Lighting Designer for upwards of 15 different movement-based productions. These shows have ranged from a dance concert setup, to installations, to dance works with seating on the stage and everything in between. As you can imagine, the lighting needs of these different set ups vary greatly, not even mentioning the addition of projection and sound. I was able to look at these situations not only as a technician, but also as a choreographer. In most cases, this helped me a great deal, however this also made it even more frustrating when I was faced with unrealistic expectations and poor communication of ideas. So to wrap up my busy-season, I’ve pulled together a “do & don’t” list for dance-makers when working with technicians and preparing for a performance.
DO: Know your venue
Unless you’re renting the Joyce, chances are that you’re going to run into some sort of limitations at your venue, be it a lack of wings, limited number of projectors, or fire safety rules. Make sure to get a solid idea of what your venue is capable of before hand by either having a detailed visit or a conversation with your technical contact at the space. If you show up to a technical rehearsal expecting 5 sharp shafts of light that aren’t already in the grid and only have 45 minutes to tech and run your entire piece, you’re going to end up empty-handed. Make sure to send an email about the needs ahead of time; enough time, will allow you to prepare an idea that can fit into your time frame.
DON’T: Skimp on your tech time
This one is a bit tricky because money can be tight and it can be difficult to afford that extra hour of tech. However, the amount of times I’ve had choreographers show up asking for three separate works to tech in 3 hours, all with elaborate projection and lighting needs. More often than not choreographers book out 3 hours of tech for what needs 6 hours. This leads to disappointed choreographers, frustrated and flustered technicians, and sometimes even an altercation. All of this can be avoided if you are realistic about your tech time and leave extra time for error.
DO: Know what you’re asking for
So you have a large projection you’d like going across the entire back cyc coming from 3 different projectors. Awesome. I bet you saw it somewhere and it looked amazing. However, did you do your research to find out what it takes to create this? If the answer is no, you’ve just put yourself, your work, and your technician in a tough spot. These sorts of things require special computer programs, specifically hung and focused projectors, and more special equipment. Your venue may not have the equipment, you may have not allotted the time, and you’re making a huge assumption that your technician is an advanced projectionist who is well versed in this. Know what you are asking of your venue and technician. Just because you have seen something done somewhere does not mean you understand everything that goes on to make it happen. Do your research.
DON’T: Hear what you want to hear
When the head of the technical department says something isn’t possible, that doesn’t mean to lie to your assigned technician and say that you were told it was possible, leaving them in an absolute panic. No means no. Period. When you are told you cannot store a set piece overnight, it does not mean to not communicate it to the stage manager because you don’t want it to be true. Accept your limitations and make them work. Trying to bypass them will only complicate things, frustrate everyone involved, and give you a bad reputation at that venue.
DO: Think about your lighting before tech
When you have an idea of what you are looking for visually or what you are interested in creating mood-wise, you have created a significantly easier process and likely a better final product. You don’t need to “speak tech” as some say. All you really need to be able to articulate is when you want changes, pacing, and a few mood, color, or setting examples. Some great directions I’ve received include “I want it to be the color of a “black light”, “The piece is very introspective, so I’d like the lighting to match that sort of mood”, or “The concept behind this work is that it takes place in a doctor's office”. You don’t need to have a wealth of tech knowledge to be able to articulate these things, so take the time before meeting with your tech person to make sure you can explain things.
By. Jana Prager