The following timeline offers information for anyone designing lights for a production. There may be specific requirements for your space; for example, you may be required to submit design plans to Kat Nakaji if you are working in the Loeb. Consult with your producers if you have questions.
Make sure that you have the technical knowledge necessary to light design.
First, read the play and take notes on possible lighting cues. If lighting a musical, listen to the music. Try to capture all initial lighting ideas as they occur to you. Then talk to the director about what they are envisioning and have a discussion about initial design ideas for the show. To this meeting, bring as much visual research (usually pictures off google images) as possible to better communicate what you are picturing. The director should do the same. This will leave you in a good place to make decisions about the general aesthetic of the show you will be lighting.
As the show takes shape, the director will continue to send you information about any special lighting requests. Be sure to ask any questions these requests may raise. Continue to discuss design ideas throughout the rehearsal process at both production meetings and one-on-one discussions with the director. If possible, sit in on rehearsals to give yourself ideas.
Towards the end of the rehearsal process, there will be a designer run. It is very important to attend as this run will be a first chance to see the staging of the play in its entirety. Use this run to get an idea of how the show should feel and gather ideas for lighting looks or even specific cues. Try to think about color (gel) or pattern (templates/gobos) and how they might be used in the show.
After designer run but before load-in, meet with the director, stage manager, and sound designer at paper tech to go through the show and discuss what specific cues need to happen when. Have an idea of what cues you want in the show and what they will look like. You should also have a preliminary selection of color swatches to show the director with a flashlight.
If ordering or renting anything, be sure to have the order placed as early as possible to avoid problems.
Obtain a groundplan of the set.
Come up with a list of lighting areas necessary to the show, such as Downstage Center or Upstage Right Center Platform. Then list any special areas that may need to be lit more specifically. Lastly, list any other special effects you may need to create, such as lightning or sunlight.
Make a list of lighting systems you will need to hang, such as front light, top light, side light, back light, foot lights, or any specials. Descriptions of common systems are below.
Plot your lighting systems and create a cut list of what color gels you want in what lights. Come up with a plan of action for load-in.
Hang all of the lights.
Cable all of the lights. Depending on the location of the lights, it may be necessary to drop cable down to them from the grid. Be sure to note which light goes with which dimmer.
Patch lights to channels on the lightboard. It is most useful to organize the channels as much as possible by grouping the lights that make up a system on adjacent channels. This will make making adjustments in cues much easier later.
Focus all of the lights and drop color.
Experiment with different looks on the lightboard to get ideas before cue to cue. Create submasters of general looks you expect to build off of frequently in the show. If there is time, do a dry tech (cue-to-cue without actors) with the director. Essentially, try to do as much as you can before cue-to-cue to make the process go by faster.
Walk through the show from pre-show to end to set every cue for the show. This has been known to be long and stressful, but doesn’t need to be!
Watch runs and take notes of things to fix. The director will do the same. Continue to make changes (but let the director know!) until you are satisfied. Once the show is open, take a deep breath and enjoy your accomplishment as a lighting designer!
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