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UK LDs Get Good Props

LD Rick Fisher, chair of the UK Association of Lighting Designers (ALD) reports that Charles Spencer of the UK Telegraph attended a forum for critics and offered some nice support of lighting deisgners:

"During my time as a student, I worked as a notably inefficient stage manager on several shows at Oxford. The whole technical aspect of it scared me senseless, and I always steered well clear of the physics and maths boffins in dodgy tank-tops who were in charge of the lighting and talked a language I couldn't understand as they rigged the lamps and crouched over their battered dimmer boards.

Stage lighting has remained a mystery ever since, but last week I attended a truly illuminating seminar given by four of Britain's leading lighting designers, among them Rick Fisher, who lit the musical Billy Elliot, and Neil Austin, who works regularly at the Donmar Warehouse.

The lighting men's passion for their work was infectious. Normally when reviewing, I consider the play itself, the direction, the acting and the set. There is rarely space to mention the lighting. But the experts persuasively maintained that lighting is the glue that holds a production together, facilitating the flow from scene to scene, instantly establishing the dramatic focus, and often establishing the mood without us being consciously aware of the fact.

Their work often has to be done on the hoof, particularly in opera and ballet, where the turnaround of productions is so fast, and there have been no end of technical innovations since my time.

The effect I always like best is when the spotlights cut through a haze of oil and water droplets to create sculptural shafts of light on stage, though apparently opera singers often complain that it is bad for their voices – despite research indicating the very reverse is true. The minuscule quantities of oil actually lubricate their throats.

After the talk I headed off to the Donmar to see Calderon's Life is a Dream, for which Austin had designed the lighting. The set is minimal – little more than a black wall decorated with gold leaf and a throne. What creates the play's disconcerting atmosphere is the lighting.

These backroom boffins who paint with light are the unsung heroes of British theatre – and unless they are on a small percentage of a big hit like Billy Elliot, the money is lousy, too."

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