Lighting Console Programmer
The lighting designer typically hires the lighting console programmer (sometimes called the moving light programmer) as an assistant with the express purpose of programming the show during the rehearsal phase. While most lighting designers are proficient in programming, a specialist accelerates the process and frees the designer’s attention to focus on the stage, rather than the console’s screen.
When the programmer begins his or her work, the lighting is already in place according to the designer’s plot. This person will begin by configuring the console’s initial settings; this includes downloading necessary fixture profiles, building fixture and attribute pages, and defining any of the lighting designer’s preferences. Working directly with the designer, the two will step through each scene of the show to set focus positions, color, gobo pattern, and rotation of each lighting instrument. Those attributes are recorded as cues and given fade times. With intelligent fixtures (moving lights), the programmer and designer can control all of the instrument’s functionality from the console. Conventional lighting, like a Leko, requires a technician be at the fixture to adjust focus or replace gel colors during the programming phase. When the cues have been recorded to the designer’s satisfaction, the programmer will remain on hand to operate the console during initial rehearsals and make any changes the designer requests. During final dress rehearsals, the programmer may also train the permanent console operator and remain available until opening night.
Skills & Education
A college degree in theatrical production with an emphasis on lighting design is recommended. Some colleges and universities offer programs specifically designed to train students in programming, operating, and troubleshooting lighting consoles and intelligent fixtures for live show production. Courses in computer programming, electrical engineering, and advanced mathematics are immensely helpful. It is also necessary for a programmer to be proficient at troubleshooting dimmers, media servers, and other related lighting and show control systems. This career requires someone who is a perfectionist, detailed, organized, and able to follow direction exactly. Fast fingers are also useful.
What to Expect
A lighting console programmer may be a freelancer who frequently works with one or more of the same designers, or may be a full-time employee of a production services company like PRG or PSAV. This position is also eligible for membership in IATSE, the union that represents technicians and artists in theater, film, and television. To become a programmer, you must first learn the basics of theatrical lighting by gaining experience as a spotlight operator or lighting technician. From there, you may advance to the role of lighting console operator. Experience as a department supervisor is not necessary, though it’s useful. Not all operators aspire to become programmers, as these individuals typically don’t run a console for live performances but only participate in the pre-production process. Programmers tend to be the computer geeks of the lighting department, but with the advanced skill level comes a substantial pay increase.
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