How many lights do you need?
Wow – that is a hard question.
How many keys on a piano do you need?
At least one for every tone that is called for in the music. Then you should think about if there is a tone that isn’t called for; can you really leave that key out? Can the pianists fingers get to all of the right tones with the missing keys? What if the composer wants to add something? Leaving keys out would limit the artistic possibilities.
So… How many lights do you need?
Enough to create every visual need of the show. Plus some more if new ideas, scenes, blocking come up during the tech process.
The question of how much equipment do you need comes up in every show. Often the question comes up to early in the conversation. How can you give a real answer when you have not even discussed the style of the show with the director let alone helped formulate a ground-plan? Of course the producer needs to put together a budget for the production. Here is a classic battle of wanting to give an answer but making sure you don’t give an answer too soon. This is one of the reasons why I am such a large proponent of doing as much homework in the beginning of the production discussion as possible. The sooner you know how many visual notes you need to create then the faster you can give a realistic answer.
Often you will walk into a situation where you are handed a set list of equipment that you have to work with. May it always be more plentiful than you need However, it is often not. Then there is the conversation of I need more or I need some instruments that can do multiple jobs. I believe the more you have thought out your design the more you can defend the need to spend these resources to get what you are looking for. If you present your needs in a well thought out manner and then ask the simple question, if I don’t have this equipment, how do I create that environment? Then in the end either the resources exist or they do not and if they do not then it is your job to make the best concession possible.
Sometimes you get lucky and the facility has enough or more equipment then you need. I’ll never forget the first time I designed at Plays in the Park in NJ. I believe it was “Dracula”. My light plot really only used about half of the equipment they owned and the electrician was talking a little “smack” behind my back that the show would be under lit. I was hired back for multiple seasons after that show. It wasn’t under lit, it was correctly lit. Some productions don’t need a ton of equipment.
So I guess the point of this blog is to promote doing your work early. The sooner you can get a reasonable rough light plot done the better you are. Then you know if you have the equipment you need. Heck, now that we mostly draft on computers it isn’t like you even have to erase to move a light around. So go ahead… do that rough plot early and then finalize it when necessary.