June 19, 2011
“It’s all about the experience.”
That’s what my friends at the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas like to say. They offer an unparalleled eight-week summer intensive training course in every area of stagecraft, from set painting to audio and from moving lights to automated rigging, and every one of their classes is hands-on with the technology or craft being taught. It’s quite a quick and effective way to learn, to say the least.
Now, four weeks into my summer internship at Focus Lighting in New York, I’m finding, once again, that it really is “all about the experience.”
During my time so far at Focus I have spent almost as much time out of the office as I have in it. I’ve been out to visit job sites, I’ve been to client meetings and mockup demonstrations, I’ve run errands around town, and I’ve come to realize: there is truly no better way to learn!
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been up and down a ladder in the past four weeks focusing a light or adding accessories or replacing lamps. I’m not complaining, though, because all that repetition has given me something incredibly valuable as a lighting designer: first-hand experience with light.
That’s what I miss most about theatre — the experience with light. You can’t design for theatre without knowing the tools; every day in the theatre was a chance to learn something new about light or lighting tools, whether you planned on it or not.
Fast forward to architecture school, our professors instill in us the value of getting hands-on with our lighting designs through mockups and small-scale tests with lighting fixtures, but they simply don’t offer the proper tools or spaces to accurately experiment with. As a result, many of our projects rely solely on a conceptual understanding of how a lighting fixture will emit light based on its shape, its lamp, and a grid of numbers on a piece of paper (or in a computer program). That’s no way to design! You need to see the light, feel it, and understand how it affects space with your own two eyes.
That’s one of the reasons I’ve really come to respect Focus Lighting — they are constantly experimenting with light in their office. Whether it’s a small detail or a feature effect, they will mock it up to make sure that their idea works. One of the reasons they can afford to be so thorough with their ideas is because they have one significant asset that most firms in the city don’t: a well-equipped, spacious, two-story mockup room. Stocked with some of the latest and greatest technologies, the designers at Focus can afford to take five minutes to build a mockup because it’s really that quick and easy when you have the right tools and space to do it!
I’ve really valued the time I’ve spent on a ladder or on a job site over the past four weeks because it’s allowed me to see the results of those countless mockups and tests at full-scale, and to understand the importance of all of the small details that go into a project. That experience has allowed me to start building a library of experience in my mind that I can reference the next time I’m faced with a design challenge. I will then be able to say “yes, this will work” instead of “yes, this should work.”
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the photo: I’ve checked the subwoofer, and YES, it DOES work. Does anyone else hear that ringing?