Here at the Stage Lighting Store we employ many talented people. Some have talents in web design, some in salesmanship and some in things that have nothing to do with theatre, like shipping. We do however welcome and encourage folks with theatrical knowledge to join us because I do find it interesting that it seems easier to train the other parts of the job but theatrical knowledge is not something so easily taught. I believe this is simply because it is something that comes with experience. The actual act of putting on a production teaches you so much more than talking about it.
I bring this up because very recently an actress that is with us over the summer has asked me to teach her a little about stage lighting as she wants to learn some about the “other” side of the business. I, of course, love sharing my opinions and anyone who wants to hear them is welcome to do so! So I have started thinking about what to tell her.
What subject should I start with? Clearly she said to learn about Stage Lighting but her real goal is to learn the “other” side of the business. I imagine for her, the other side of the business is anything that is not performing. She came to me to learn about Stage Lighting as she felt that I had solid information to share. I guess she would go to someone else for House Management, or Stage Management, or Box Office, or Marketing, or, or, or and or… Heavens, there is so much that goes into a production!
Then my mind wandered and I began to think about the business. I then had to clarify to myself, which theatrical business. There are so many. Certainly there is the group of people who produce shows to commercially make a profit. Perhaps the most pure form of the “business”. Pick a show, hire the right people to make a quality artistic product, get it into the space and then convince people to purchase tickets for as long as possible to then make as much money as possible.
Then there are the folks that make a good living providing services to the people who WANT to be in the business. Businesses that provide lessons, workshops, intensives and so on. That is a whole other business with a different set of skills needed.
Then there are businesses like us. We sell Stage Lighting equipment to anyone who wants it. That ranges from a high school, to Broadway, to car manufacturers and churches. We give away our opinions on how to use the equipment or what is the right equipment for the job, but of course that is part of “our business”.
So, what is this soap box about? Indeed, Theatre is a business. Actually, it’s a pretty complicated business with so many different angles to it. What am I going to tell her? She wants to learn the other side of the business. I guess I am going to try to concentrate and teach her first about the different sides of Stage Lighting. You can make a living designing it, physically making it happen as a theatrical electrician or running crew member, design equipment, manufacture equipment or even selling it.
My opinion is that to do any of that you need to understand the basic principles and goals of design. What the equipment is and what it does and then YOU MUST GO DO! Find a show that will let you get your feet wet and go ahead and design it, hang it, focus it, cue it and run it. Do the whole thing! Experience is by far the best teacher. It might be smart to assist someone, first, who is doing Stage Lighting to get the basics down, but after that you have to go give it a try. This is also great advice for those who think, “I’ll just go to college”. The truth is that most of the good schools expect you to already have a knowledge base and experience. There are only so many spots in their program and it will go to the best candidates. There is no better way then going ahead and doing it. Certainly you can read books on the subject and we of course encourage you to read our text-book on the subject (it’s free here online).
So here is what I am going to tell her. Let’s go have lunch and talk about it all. Mostly because I love having lunch Then if she is really interested she should find a production where she can assist and then we have to find her a production to give it a shot!
Head of HPL