Richard Pilbrow: 1933-2023

Richard Pilbrow (1933-2023) was one of the most influential figures in the entertainment lighting and theatre consulting field in both the US and the UK, as a supplier of lighting equipment, a producer, designer for stage and screen, and consultant for theatre design and planning.... and grandfather! 

Born on April 28, 1933 in London, England, Pilbrow attended Cranbrook School in Kent, and Central School of Speech and Drama in 1953-55. In1957, Pilbrow founded Theatre Projects with Bryan Kendall in London, as an upstart lighting design and rental company. It grew into an international theatre consutling firm with projects around the globe.

"Our friend and founder, passed away the evening of December 6, 2023. Richard was a vital force in the theatre—a celebrated Broadway and West End lighting designer, a pathfinder in the theatrical consulting profession, and an innovator in countless other corners of the industry. He lived a life committed to expansive thinking and supporting others, co-founding multiple professional membership organizations and serving as mentor to consultants and designers across the globe. And his books on lighting and on his career in consultancy have become standard reads for fledgling creatives and industry professionals alike." 

We join many in mourning Richard at this time. His influence across our industry, within our company, and at an individual level was deeply felt, and his energy and compassion will be missed. Richard created and embodied the spirit of Theatre Projects—demonstrating values like inclusion, innovation, community-centric thinking, kindness—and directed the company’s course, time and again, as our industry and our scope of services changed. Even after Richard’s retirement, he stayed close with team members and remained a committed advocate for the arts; our work will forever benefit from his passion." - Theatre Projects

“I grew up with Richard’s book as my teacher when figuring out lighting, then with his name and his remarkable career as an inspiration as I tried to figure out a career of my own. Finally getting to meet him, and actually to work with him, for a demo of new lighting technology for a trade show, was a defining moment and despite the high expectations, he exceeded them. It has been such a thrill to get to work with him on his latest book over the last few years, though I am so, so sad that he won’t now get the chance to hold the finished version. It is giddying just to think about all of the things he packed in to his life. Imagine how exciting actually living that life must have been.” - Rob Halliday, lighting designer

"Richard truly was one of a kind, someone who only saw solutions and opportunities. While others can speak more eloquently about his brilliance at design and theatre consulting, his embrace of technological innovations, his importance as author, producer and mentor, what I am most reminded of when I think about this wonderful, inspirational man is his true enthusiasm for all the people who make up our world. His instigation of countless associations, including the ALPD, is a legacy from which we all benefit. He was always excited to see how we would develop and what we all could achieve singly and together as a profession. We can best honour him by working together to improve our industry and create magic in performance. I will miss him!" - Rick Fisher, lighitng designer.

"Dear friend, to me and to many people throughout the worldwide theater community, Richard Pilbrow passed away last night at his home in Connecticut surrounded by family and enveloped in love. There will be much written about him in the coming days, for now I can say that I loved his spirit and joy for life. He was a major inspiration for thinking that I could dare to write a book. In the last three years I was lucky to talk with him every week. He was a wise, funny, and loving friend who helped me and others weather the pandemic with grace and empathy and humor. He maintained an incredibly wide curiosity for everything and crafted an amazing career in light. I am one among countless friends who will miss him so very much." - Clifton Taylor, lighting designer.

“Richard Pilbrow was a courageous innovator, a fearless pioneer who shaped, in so many ways, the several industries we all work in today, and a dear friend. And so often he signed emails “Love, Richard” — and he meant it.” Jules Lauve, theatre consultant

In 1982, Richard received an award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) for "his many years contribution to the art of lighting, as designer, entrepreneur and consultant in both England and America," and a Distinguished Life Time Achievement Award from the USITT in 1999. In 2000 he also received from the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT) their annual Technician of the Year. He served as Director-at-Large on the USITT Board from 2000-2003 and again from 2003-2006, and was elected a Fellow of the Institute in 2001 for “His truly astounding contribution to the theatre and the work of the Institute." Pilbrow has also lectured and written articles extensively, giving master classes on Stage Lighting and Theatre Design at the VII Festival Iberoamericano de Teatro de Bogata 2000 in Columbia and in Prague for PQ2007.

Richard was a co-founder of the Association of British Theatre Technicians (ABTT), the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD), the Society of Theatre Consultants (STC), the Association of Lighting Designers (ALD), and the Theatre Projects Trust — LAMDA Stage Management and Technical Theatre Course. He is the Honorary Chairman of Light Relief the UK Registered Charity to support those in need in the entertainment lighting profession

As a theatrical producer, Richard’s long partnership with Hal Prince included being the West End producer of such great Broadway hits as: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, Fiddler on the Roof (introducing Topol), Cabaret (with Judy Dench), Company, and A Little Night Music (with Jean Simmons.

He was a pioneer of bringing British regional theatre into London’s West End with such productions as Ian McKellen’s first starring roles in London of Edward II and Richard II from Prospect Productions, and John Napier’s first West End design for A Ruling Class..

He was producer of the 1974 feature film Swallows and Amazons, and the TV series: All You Need is Love—the Story of Popular Music, and with the BBC for TV, Swallows and Amazons Forever.

Tony Walton first brought Pilbrow to the USA to be the projection consultant for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (lighting by Jean Rosenthal), followed by Golden Boy (lighting by Tharon Musser). Director and designer colleagues include: Tony Walton, Peter Coe, Harold Prince, Boris Aronson, Derek Goldby, Desmond Healey, Michael Blakemore, Robin Wagner, Sir Peter Hall, Gerald Scarfe, Stan Wojewodski, Chris Barracca, Tommy Tune, Eugene Lee, James Naughton, Julie Andrews, Kevin Mackenzie, Warren Carlisle, Charlotte Moore, and Tony Walton again (very often!).

Published in 1970, reprinted in 1979, 1991 and 1993, his book, Stage Lighting, with the forward by Lord Olivier, became a standard text in Great Britain, the United States and even China.

A new book, Stage Lighting Design, The Art, The Craft, The Life, with forward by Hal Prince, was published in 1997 revised in soft-cover in 2000, and reprinted 2002 and 2008. The book received a Theatre Crafts International "Lighting Product of the Year" Award for 1998.

In 2003 Mr. Pilbrow co-authored (with Patricia MacKay) The Walt Disney Concert Hall — The Backstage Story.

In 2006 he was a contributing author on auditorium design for Hugh Hardy’s book Performing Arts Faciltiies published by Wiley and Sons.

His newest book, A Sense of Theatre, a Kickstarter project, is about the creation and history of the National Theatre in London. 

Richard’s parents were Marjorie and Gordon Pilbrow. Gordon was British Sabre Fencing Champion between 1934 and 1948 — and a member of the British Olympic Team in Berlin and London. Richard's first wife, Viki Brinton, was a partner in the early days of Theatre Projects. Their children are Abigail, a potter (grandchildren Ez, Diggory, and Louie) and Fred, an architect in London (grandchildren Solomon and Otto). In 1974 he married lighting designer Molly (née Friedel). They have a daughter Daisy, who works as an Agile Coach for Spotify in Stockholm, Sweden.