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Theatre Lighting Technicians

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Lighting technicians usually consist of those theatre workers who are responsible, modest people that happen to have a death wish. They not only deal with electricity on a regular basis, but also suspend themselves variously at heights that would kill the average actor:

  • On catwalks, otherwise known as 'grids'
  • In cherry pickers
  • By ropes

In addition, particularly at school theatres, the instruments, circuits and patch panels are older than the building's foundations, and seem to have lost their grounding wires in a strange epidemic which only attacks those wires which the techie has to work with at least three times a day.

The tools1 of the lighting technician trade are:

  • The crescent wrench
  • A Mini-Maglite2
  • Some kind of knife3
  • Optional leather gloves

There is a lighting hierarchy among theatre workers as with other groups. Actually, there are two...

  • The illusional hierarchy
  • The actual hierarchy

The illusional hierarchy goes like this:

  • Director
  • Lighting designer
  • Master electrician
  • Electricians, or 'grunts'
  • Interns, or 'peons'

The director is supposed to have the final say over all design elements in a production, but there are plenty of ways to get around this, as any lighting designer or master electrician worth their crescent wrench and Maglite knows. Next down the line is the lighting designer, who is responsible for creating a design that is compatable with the overall production design concept. The lighting designer makes up the light plot, which is a map of sorts, telling the grunts where to put which type of instrument, and what colour lighting to use. They also have to come up with the hook-up sheet, a summary of how many of what type of instrument will be needed. There may also be an assistant lighting designer who does whatever the lighting designer tells him or her to. Next is the master electrician, who has to get all the instruments needed, and supervises the grunts in hanging and focusing the instruments. The master electrician also records which circuits are being used by which instruments, and this information is added to the plot. The worker bees at the bottom are the electricians. They crawl about on the grid, sit in a cherry picker and suspend themselves from insane heights to hang and focus the instruments where the lighting designer tells them to.

In the real hierarchy, however, the master electrician and lighting designer run the (electrical) show, because in most cases, the director doesn't know a 6x9 from a 2x4. If the lighting designer and master electrician are friendly, than the 'light hang' ought to be a smooth, invigorating experience. If they are not friendly, however, it will be the most hellish three days of your life.

Lighting technicians are usually adept carpenters as well. This tradition began because most lighting techies started out as scenic workers, but gravitated to light as the industry got more and more exciting. Once established, however, it became a matter of survival - it's a good idea to fix anything on the set that got damaged by objects falling from the grid before the scenic designer and master carpenter get back on Monday.

1By which you can tell the seriousness of any electrician.2 Often with composite parts from other Maglites, acquired from fellow lighting technicians, so that you get a multi-colour effect.3Usually a Leatherman tool or some sort of impressive/intimidating-looking pocket knife.

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