Moon Lighting

January 18, 2011

By Charles Dabezies, stuff Assistant Lighting Designer on A Moon for the Misbegotten

The lighting of a play is an often-overlooked element of design that is more complicated than most people might think. As an aspiring lighting designer, people often ask me what it is that lighting designers do. Lighting designers meticulously change the lighting over the arc of a show. It’s not just a matter of lights up, lights down. In the case of A Moon for the Misbegotten the lights will change over 60 times, while a big musical may have over 300 lighting changes.

Set and Lights for A Moon for the Misbegotten

There’s a lot of information that goes into creating the lighting for a show. As Assistant Lighting Designer (ALD) to Lighting Designer Thom Weaver, one of my primary responsibilities is to help keep track of all of the lighting data. Thom Weaver’s design for A Moon for the Misbegotten on the relatively small Arcadia Stage includes over 200 lights. Each of these lights has many different parameters: Dimmer, Channel, Color, Purpose, Position, Unit Number, Template, and the list goes on. Managing this much information is a complicated task that boils down to one thing: paperwork. Without accurate and up-to-date information the lighting grinds to a halt.

In order to keep track of everything we use two pieces of specialized industry software. The first is sort of like a customized and enhanced Excel spreadsheet called Lightwright. The second program we use is called Vectorworks Spotlight, a CAD program that allows us to make precise technical drawings, like an architect’s blueprints. With these two
programs we can create and manage the immense amount of paperwork necessary to accurately record the lighting of the show: Channel Hookups, Instrument Schedules, Light Plots, Gobo Schedules, Color Schedules, Cheat Sheets, Magic Sheets, and the like. However, I’m lucky: it wasn’t long ago that all of this information was recorded with a pencil and not a laptop.

Assisting an established lighting designer is a part of the professional progression for young designers. Working with Thom Weaver has been a really rewarding experience. In exchange for my help and the obligatory coffee runs (actually, it’s a Grande Earl Gray tea from the Starbucks on 3rd Street), I get the chance to work with professionals and learn from their experience. It is a great opportunity to see Thom’s design process in the
theatre, and to hear the conversations the entire creative team is having about the show. I will take the techniques and approaches I have learned from Thom, and the entire team behind A Moon for the Misbegotten, back to Pittsburgh with me, where I study theatre design at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

I have been working with the Arden Theatre Company during academic breaks for the last three years in various capacities. The training I’ve had at the Arden has enabled me to synthesize real world experience and my classroom training. I’ve been able to develop concrete skill sets. My time here, and my work on A Moon for the Misbegotten, has been invaluable to my personal and professional growth.

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