Lighting Console Operator

In live entertainment production, the role of the lighting console operator is to implement the design created through collaboration between the artistic director, lighting designer, and stage manager. Each look—a precisely timed cue—creates an atmosphere to enhance the emotion for both the performer and the audience.  

More than just making the performer visible on stage, the console operator communicates to the audience the transition from drama to levity, death to celebration. Think of the lighting as a living member of the cast, with the operator actively playing a role in the performance. A bass drum hit just isn’t the same without a strobe hit behind it. A somber ballad just doesn’t translate with a hot pink-and-yellow palette.


Duties

The lighting console operator is responsible for triggering every lighting cue for a performance. The lighting designer plots and programs each cue, the stage manager calls them, and the operator executes them. To maintain the integrity of the design, the operator must constantly inspect, repair, and maintain each instrument and piece of electrical equipment to stave off the possibility of mid-show malfunction. This can include automated intelligent fixtures, conventional lighting instruments, miles of power and data cable, and power distribution modules. 

Skills & Education

A formal education in live production lighting is not required, though a thorough understanding of electricity, color, electrical engineering, and mechanics is crucial. Schools that grant degrees in theatrical production often offer a program in technical design which can give a general understanding of fundamental technical and aesthetic principles and a working knowledge of the equipment associated with theatrical lighting. Courses in electrical engineering can give you the skills necessary to troubleshoot and repair automated lighting fixtures. Classes in drafting and computer technology can aid your ability to create and read lighting plots. Most important, specialized training in the use and programming of lighting consoles, fixtures, and media servers is imperative. Like consumer electronics, the technology is constantly evolving. Staying on top of the latest innovation is key to landing a gig.

What to Expect

The lighting department always has the most gear to maintain, and the lighting crew is first to arrive and last to leave. Expect long hours. Patience and the ability to work well under pressure is a plus. A good lighting console operator has an encyclopedic knowledge of every spec on every piece of equipment in his or her show. You must be tech-savvy, solve problems quickly and calmly, and deliver miracles on an impossible deadline.  The job requires a lot of heavy lifting, working at heights and with high voltage. Training under a lighting designer can give you the experience you need to start making your way up from apprentice to technician, and eventually console operator.

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