I came to Oxford with very little backstage experience. It’s really easy to get into the scene—TAFF (the University network of backstage crew) is always active and looking for people to help out.
Lighting in Oxford is very much a learn-on-the-job kind of affair, where energy and enthusiasm play a much bigger part than extensive experience and an intimate knowledge of all lighting technology.
Most of the time in Oxford, experience comes from helping out with shows. The majority of my experience came from shadowing various lighting designers, working on productions as varied as Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. It may seem somewhat counter-intuitive, but one of the most important things I’ve realised is that although lighting is crucial for a show, the best lighting often goes unnoticed.
Audiences and reviewers often only become aware of lighting when it’s uneven, or not showing the cast’s faces, and by that point it’s ruining the show.
Part of the stress of lighting for a live show is the panic when things can, and inevitably do, go wrong. There was a particularly memorable moment during the second night of the Macbeth production at St Hilda’s JDP theatre last term.
In the second half of the play, the strobe lighting came on due to a faulty plug socket, turning the eleventh Scottish battlefield into something resembling a bizarre, Celtic warrior-themed rave night at a local down town nightclub.
Our producer spent the second half of the play with most of the plug cord from the desk wrapped around him, jamming the broken plug into the wall. Thankfully the cast and crew are able to laugh about it now.
The most recent production I’ve been involved with is Blavatsky’s Tower at the Michael Pilch Theatre. This was the first time I was fully in charge of all lighting, a fairly daunting prospect.
It turned out to be an immensely satisfying creative project—I had total freedom to set up the lighting exactly as I pictured it, utilising the space we had. Although it takes a lot of effort, being part of a production is such a rewarding experience.
The amount of shows going on in Oxford means there’s so much choice for what to get involved with. So, forget prelims, punting and pubbing—anyone with any amount of experience can find something to throw themselves into.