Since Gordon Pearlman created the LS/8, the first theatrical computer lighting control console, which made its debut on Broadway in 1975 for Tharon Musser's lighting of A Chorus Line, lighting design has been digitally revolutionized, and it has never looked back—until now, that is. According to The Atlantic, Doug Reside, theatre curator of the New York Public Library, is seeking an answer to the question that lighting designers and theatre historians have been pondering since 1975: How does one preserve all these digital light shows after a production is completed?
No longer can one sift through sketches of lighting schemes or descriptions from stage records to understand the design, nor can photographs capture the dynamic style of this lighting. Reside and his team hope to devise a way to preserve historic theatre lighting design, as well as methods of visualizing said designs, from 3D modeling to immersive displays of virtual reality.
Preserving a lighting design for a particular production is not like preserving a painting or artifact—something concrete, its representation clear-cut.The Atlantic compares trying to capture the essence of "such an ephemeral art form" to that of preserving a video game. Do you collect the software and code of the game itself, or do you collect videos of people playing the game?
Digital archivists are still setting standards on how to preserve digital data, and lighting design proves especially difficult since it is not just the design that needs to be preserved but the effect of that design as audience members experienced it. “So much lighting design today is completely digitally created,” Reside told The Atlantic. “The aim of this project is to preserve not just the data but what did the data mean.”