The capacity of lighting technology to visually captivate an audience has advanced tremendously over the past two decades. Automated instruments are becoming more sophisticated, wireless dimmers have unshackled the designer, and behind all of this innovation are the lighting technicians who meticulously place and care for millions of dollars’ worth of totally awesome toys.
There is no standard operating procedure in this occupation; each gig is a different beast, so lighting technicians must be flexible. Essentially, lighting technicians are responsible for all lighting instruments, accessories, control consoles, and power distribution. This department is also responsible for all data and power cable that is not used for audio. At a resident show, the technicians are primarily concerned with the operation, maintenance, and repair of equipment. On touring productions, the lighting crew is also tasked with loading in gear to the venue, building and hanging the rig, and striking the equipment upon load-out. A designated lighting console operator runs the board during the show, and the crew works under the supervision of the master electrician or lighting supervisor.
Skills & Education
The technician must be proficient in the operation, maintenance, and repair of lighting instruments, including conventional and intelligent (capable of movement) fixtures. Also crucial is an understanding of color theory and electricity, as well as soldering. Training in working at heights, with high voltage, and climbing safety equipment is necessary. A college education is not uniformly required, though many employers prefer an individual with a bachelor’s degree in theatrical design or live production. Though the trade can be learned over many years of on-the-job training, a formal education is the most comprehensive preparation for this career and will significantly speed up your advancement.
What to Expect
You have to be part geek, part mad scientist, and part engineer to cultivate a lasting career in entertainment lighting. If your favorite color is Lee 181 and you resemble a teenage Twi-hard when you see the latest instrument from Vari-Lite, you might be a lighting tech. This job requires passion; without it, you will crawl into a corner and cry. The hours are long, the gear is heavy, and no matter how many miles of feeder cable you’ve coiled today, there’s always more. On the upside, you are one of those mysterious and attractive beings in black backstage at the coolest concerts and shows. Little compares to a career in the entertainment industry—despite the backbreaking work, the satisfaction of seeing the finished product is worth the struggle. If theater is your calling, opportunities exist with regional theaters, on Broadway, or with touring productions. Likewise, music lovers can find gigs on concert tours and local event venues. Theme parks, cruise ships, and gear rental companies also have a demand for trained lighting technicians.
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