The Curtain Rises – Looking Ahead At Theatre Lighting

Posted on April 6, 2021

Theatres are set to reopen, however gradually, in the US, UK and other markets. But when shows return, what form will they take? Will they return to “normal?” If not, what will they look like, and how will this affect the role of lighting in productions? To get a sense of these issues, we asked a diverse group of theatre LDs to share their thoughts with us.

Photo courtesy of: Jeff Croiter

Jeff Croiter
New York

The Story-Telling Role Of Design Will Not Change.

Friends and associates have often asked this New York-based Tony Award winning designer if he thinks theatre will return in 2021. He tells them that, being neither a government official nor an epidemiologist, he can’t know for sure, but his hope and expectation is that the curtain will rise on the theatrical stage this year. When that happens, as he explains in this interview, the parameters of stage lighting will return to what they were in the pre-pandemic days.

Now that the calendar has turned and we’re in a new year, what are the big challenges you face as a lighting designer?
“None of us really knows what will happened next. Only time will tell. Everything else is just speculation. That’s what makes this so difficult. We don’t know how to plan, because we don’t know what we are planning for.”

When theatres do reopen do you see any change in terms of crew or cast sizes?
“I don’t think crew sizes can be much smaller unless the designs are significantly smaller. It still takes a certain amount of people to complete the work. Initially, perhaps cast sizes will be smaller, because of social distancing. However, I don’t think that’s a long term issue. I’ve spoken with directors and producers who say that if they have to make too many compromises they don’t want to do it.”

Speaking of compromises, will budgets be smaller as we come out of the pandemic?
“That depends on the show and the type of production. I spend most of my time in theatre. What I’m seeing so far is for the commercial projects on the horizon, no, the budgets are not smaller. The answer for not for profit theatre may be different.”

How will your answers to the above questions impact your approach to lighting design?
“I don’t mean to sound too basic here, but if the director stages a show with actors spread out, my design concept will not change. My approach will still be to help tell the story the writer is trying to tell and to convey something to an audience. It doesn’t matter to me if the actors are two feet, six feet, or ten feet apart.

“As for the budget, my goal is always to attempt to design within the constraints. The projects I’ve worked on have had budgets that range all over the place. My approach will not change. I will design the project I am asked to design whatever the scope.”

Has the pandemic made it less likely for young people to enter theatrical lighting?
“Maybe there will be a gap. High schools and colleges aren’t doing a lot of lighting right now so maybe young people aren’t falling in love with it the way one has to in order to be successful. In time that will change.”

Do you think theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre-COVID era?
“Will it ever return to what it was – yes. That may not happen immediately, but in the long-term it will, yes.”

Photo courtesy of: Al Crawford

Al Crawford
New York

Expecting A Renaissance of Connection

A self-described optimist, this Knight of Illumination USA Award winner and Lighting Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre is confident that 2021 will see the reopening of theatres. Initially, dance and theatrical productions may have to operate within a more restrictive set of parameters, he acknowledges, but he is convinced that this will not change the design’s fundamental mission of telling stories in light.

When theatres do reopen, will things be different in terms of cast sizes and budgets?
“The larger question is what scale of projects will the economics allow? My expectation is that commercial projects will have the funding to move forward at a scale that is fairly normal, however not for profit groups will take a while to get back on their feet and move forward slowly. As they should!

“In the short term, budgets in general will be smaller. I also expect what I refer to as a renaissance of connection. We as a species are going to be hungry to be together. Theater is a way for us all to connect. Once it’s safe, I believe that live entertainment in general is going to see a big push.

Do you think there will be social distancing on stage?
“We’re already seeing ways that theater and dance companies are proving that they can be together safely. Many companies are creating their own ‘bubbles’ that maintain a strong control on their health environment. This allows them to coexist and be close while feeling confident of their own health. I expect this will be how theater dance, concerts and all live entertainment shows will have to move forward at first. I do expect daily health screenings and maybe even weekly testing to become a normal process in companies that involve large groups of performers, crews, designers, truck drivers, staff, etc.”

How will these changes impact your approach to lighting design?
“They will not. We tell stories with light. We may have one light or one thousand lights, it doesn’t matter, our process is the same. I do expect there to be budget issues or potentially staging considerations, but in the arts we have always been working with challenges that are put in front of us that force us to make creative decisions about how to tell our stories. I don’t expect that to change.”

Has the pandemic made it less likely for young people to enter theatrical lighting?
“Actually, I believe it’s an opportunity for them. Budgets will be less. Producers may be looking for options. Many established designers may not want to work as much as before. This will open up opportunity for the next generation. And this is a good thing!

Do you think theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre-COVID era?
“I do. I am an optimist about this in general. We will have to adjust some things about how we all function but art is one of the most healing aspects of this life. Light is life. The combination will forever be imperative to humanity.”

Photo courtesy of: Johanna Town

Johanna Town

Theatrical Lighting Never Stands Still

With several projects already booked, at least tentatively, for 2021, this multi-award winning British LD and Chair of The ALD is optimistic about the state of the industry this year. There will be challenges, she acknowledges as the theatres struggle to reopen, but, as she explains in this interview, one should never underestimate the resiliency of the theatrical community.

Do you see theatres reopening this year?
“Here in the UK venues seem to be hoping to reopen as soon as they are allowed, I have several shows in the diary starting in May and I think as long as the government allows we will do them. Commercial productions may be a little more cautious as their overheads are so much greater.

“But generally, I think the producers, artists and creatives are eager to start making work, either in person or online and will accommodate whatever is needed to start producing work. Here in the UK theatre resources are much smaller, so it is important that creatives and freelancers don’t pay the price in reduced fees, whilst also being keen to return to work.

“As the shows in my diary indicate, overall productions are going to be smaller, involving fewer people, smaller sets, less building and smaller budgets. Social distancing and making sure there are not too many people around at any one time will also be a factor that will reduce crew size.”

How about cast size? Will that be smaller too?
“I think so, at first, as venues can open with social distancing in place. Keeping overall costs down and liability with on off closures means that smaller cast sizes are more practical. I am currently working on three shows, being filmed online that have big casts and we are having to be very careful in spacing the actors out, managing entrance and exits and guarding against prop contamination, so the actors have to set all their own pros and personals an actor will hold a tray out by 2-meters and present a glass, whilst the receiving actor has pre-set the glass on the tray, each responsible for their own touched item. It all needs good coordination and management from the director, stage manager and actors. I also have a fight in one show where both characters kill each other — this just needs imagination to be well choreographed!

“As a designer, I have to stretch my creativity to account for these changes. It’s exciting, and I’m enjoying it. Lighting an intimate scene two meters apart requires more from a designer.”

Has the pandemic made it less likely for young people to enter theatrical lighting?
“I have to say yes. I think there will be less work and fewer options for them to enter the industry. There will be too many people for too few jobs for a couple of years till things get back to normal. I believe youngsters in college right now will be OK, it’s the students that graduated in 2019 and 2020 I worry about — many have had nothing now for a year and possibly longer and will be looking elsewhere for new careers.

Do you think theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre-COVID era?
“Theatrical lighting never stands still so I hope not, we should be always moving forward and changing the goal posts of creativity.”

Joseph Bingham

Lighting Designs Are Adaptable To Production Needs

Co-director of the acclaimed Cowles Center, this dance lighting designer had demonstrated a talent for adapting his work to a variety of productions. It’s a skill that he believes this skill will be essential when theatres reopen.

What do you see happening in theatre this year?
“ Theatre’s may reopen this year depending on their location and the extent of the pandemic. It will also depend on the type of work onstage and whether or not the theatre can welcome a reduced capacity audience. I assume audiences will be at reduced capacity in some way through the end of 2021.

“ Crew sizes might be smaller depending on the theatre. I bet the scale of shows will be smaller, again, depending on the venue or producer, which might mean a smaller crew is fine by default. My hope is that producers and venues don’t just try to reduce labor for the bottom line.

“As far as cast sizes go, that’s anyone’s guess. I bet the shows will be smaller in scale and require fewer cast, but some long running productions won’t reduce. I think with better access to testing, and producers just generally waiting until certain restrictions are relaxed, casts will not be social distancing for very long.”

So, do you think lighting budgets will be affected?
“I bet arbitrary numbers will be smaller (i.e., if the lighting budget was $5,000, maybe its $3,000, just because). Again though, if smaller productions are coming back first, those may have a smaller overall budget. However, some productions and producers may not be able to reduce their budgets for a variety of reasons. At that point, it’s weighing whether to come back while finances are tough, or waiting until it’s safer/easier to produce at pre-pandemic production scale.”

How do you see these changes affecting the way you approach design?
“My lighting designs are adaptable to whatever the production needs. It will just be exciting to have more opportunities to light again. I don’t think the virtual/filmed world in our industry will be going away, so I think that will have the biggest impact overall. Lighting for the stage while lighting for the camera simultaneously.”

What do you see in the future for our industry?
“ Similar to above, I think the virtual world is here to stay. So, while theatrical lighting will soon recover or become even better than it was, I think the challenges of all lighting designers needing to know how to balance for the screen are a new reality. I literally mean you’re lighting for the audience in the theatre while also lighting for the audience watching at home. I think hybrid events will be a reality for a while.”

Diana Kesselschmidt
New York

It’s Important Not To Produce Scaled Down Versions Of Large Shows

When theatres reopen this year, as she believes they will, this New York based designer expects social distancing on stage and budget-recovery to have an impact on the size of shows. However, as she explains below, she doesn’t see these changes being long-lasting.

Do you see the pandemic having a long-term effect on stage design?
“No, I do not expect any changes to come as result of what we experience. I think we will reopen theatres this year and new young talent will continue to enter this industry.”

What about in terms of the way plays are staged and produced, do you see any changes there?
“I think crew sizes will remain as they have been, which is already restricted by budget and space. Cast sizes might become smaller, as I expect Equity to enforce strict regulations about social distancing until we are out of the woods. This will affect which shows are produced for a while more than how a show is produced.”

You mentioned budgets. Will budgets for lighting be smaller when we return?
“They shouldn’t be, and anyone suggesting they should be should be treated with suspicion. Perhaps in some of the regional spaces, the first show or three will have to lower budgets for reduced capacity, depending on the region and vaccination rates, as well as rebuilding their budgets. However, by the holiday season, all theatres should feel obligated to be back up to speed, even if that means they choose their shows carefully.”

How will the changes we’ve discussed impact your approach to lighting design?
“I would be willing to consider a simplified approach to design, but only on shows in which it is appropriate, only if the design would not in any way suffer, and only until the holiday season. It is very important for theaters not to overreach their abilities, producing a cheap version of a large show. Poorly executed or cheap-looking productions reflect badly on the entire industry, but especially on the producers, directors and venue.”

Photo courtesy of: Paul Pyant

Paul Pyant

The Financial Side Of Things Will Be Paramount

Winner of Olivier and Critics Circle Awards, this well-known British designer is taking a cautious, carefully considered approach to the reopening of theatres. As he explains in this interview, there are many issues that will have to be settled before live theatre returns.

Do you see theatre lighting retuning this year?
“In the UK I imagine and hope that our authorities will not bow to the great pressures that are being imposed to re-open the economy sooner rather than later. Our industry suffered greatly at the end of last year having been able to re-open some theatres for a brief period only to be closed down again very quickly.

“Theatre goers will have to be assured it is safe to go into auditoriums before they spend what money they have on tickets. I hope and believe that there will remain a hunger for people to experience live events. People were attending socially distanced performances before the present lockdown. The organizations I am involved with at the moment are bravely planning seasons for this year but all have several fallback positions should restrictions not be lifted by certain dates.

“In my heart of hearts at the present rate of progress, and the uncertainty of how the various variants of the virus develop, think it is unlikely that things will open up again in any way much before the summer months. ……some are even looking at starting in September to be more certain.”

When we eventually come out of the lockdown will budgets be different?
“As in most things, the financial side of things will be paramount. So, the numbers simply do not stack up if you can only have limited numbers of socially distanced seats. It will have an impact on everything — the choice of production, the size of casts, design budgets and so forth. Tentative offers from managements I know are trying to plan projects for performance just as soon as they can. Understandably, they are playing the ‘we have little money’ card. It’s a classic between-a-rock-and-a-har- place situation.

“There needs to be an understanding that they should not use COVID as an excuse to roll back the budgets. Each of us in the industry still has to be able to make a decent living but at the same time we need product to attract the audiences back into the theatres.
Each individual will have to weigh up the pros and cons of what is on offer to them, and see if it’s worthwhile. I think this will be more difficult for the older generations of designers used to what fees they demanded than those just starting out.”

Looking at the future of the industry, will this discourage young people from entering it?
“With my other hat on, working with a London Drama school, I am devastated for the kids graduating or starting in colleges in this last year. It’s a profession that is next to impossible (in my view) to teach or experience in any other way than face-to-face.
COVID is having a massive effect on the very existence of drama schools and technical training — and it’s a huge worry to see how the future will pan out at the moment with so many unknowns. All the schools and universities do not have unlimited resources they can draw on.”

Keith Truax
New York

This Will Make Us Look At Things A Little Differently

Prior to the pandemic, this highly regarded New York based designer maintained a busy schedule lighting theatrical productions throughout the United States. Although he is eager to return to the theatre, and believes the lockdown will start to lift soon, he will, as he explains here, take a more measured and thoughtful approach to scheduling projects.

How will crew sizes look when theatres reopen? Will they be smaller?
“I don’t think crews are going to be smaller. I think, and hope, that production managers and crew heads are going to work out a schedule to limit the number of departments working at the same time. This is going to cause load-ins to run longer, but in the end they are going to be safer until more people are able to get the vaccine.

“However, I do think budgets might be a little smaller. It’s going to be about how resourceful you can be with your equipment. Finding multiple ways to use the instruments, thankfully LED’s can help with this challenge.”

Will cast sizes be smaller and will actors have to maintain social distancing on stage? “That is the million dollar question, one company I work with a lot has said they aren’t going to do a show onstage until the actors are all fully vaccinated. Another company is looking at doing shows with smaller cast sizes, so I think it’s really a theatre by theatre case. Another big aspect that I was just talked to a friend about is how do you fit a cast into dressing rooms, is that the factor that limits the cast size.”

What about you as a lighting designer, how will this change your approach?
“I don’t think my approach to lighting design will change very much. I love figuring out ways to work within different constraints. This will make all of us look at things a little differently, but I think the theatre industry as a whole is ready for the challenge.”

How about designers who are just entering this industry, do events of the past year make things tougher for them?
“I do worry about the students that are just entering the industry. It has to be difficult for them to find their place. It’s going to be even more important for those of us that are established to help the younger generation out as much as we can.”

Do you think theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre-COVID era?
“I don’t think things will ever be the same as they were per-COVID-19., I think everyone is going to be looking at things differently as we come back. It’s going to affect each of us differently, and not necessarily in a negative way. This time has allowed us to take a step back from what we do, and reflect how we want to continue in the future. I know from a personal side of things I’m not going to say yes to as many projects at the same time. I’ve spent this time focusing on becoming healthier mind and body, and I don’t want to go back to the way I was Pre-COVID-19.”

Photo courtesy of: Clifford Spulock

Clifford Spulock
Delray Beach, Florida

Many Theatres Out There Are Finding New Ways

This prolific young Florida-based designer has stayed active during the pandemic lighting livestreamed versions of theatrical productions. As he explains in this interview, he believes his experience adapting to a new reality will be characteristic of the theatre industry as it reopens.

Do you see theatres reopening this year?
“We all really hope and wish theatres could open up to 100-percent this year and that would be amazing! However, I do not see that being a possibility. Not until more of the vaccines have been distributed to all age groups. I do see theatres opening on smaller scales and with new sets-ups. Whether it is reduced seating, fully outdoor shows, streaming, or smaller shows/cabarets only. Theatres will find a way to reopen, as some already have started doing

“Unfortunately, I do see the size of crews being smaller and this is because of multiple factors. Things that will affect the crew sizes are: budget, scale of production being smaller, physical distancing, and over all show needs among other things.”

How about lighting budgets, will they be smaller too?
“This one can actually go in multiple directions. As a result of the lockdown, many of theatres have had to close or shrink because of loss of income. There are many theatres out there that are finding ways to make the show go on. Many are changing to either fully outdoor shows, or live streaming their shows. Some of the streamed shows could be full-staged musicals, or new cinematic styles of shows that can be intimate, or done on a make shift soundstage. These theatres have decided to invest in video camera and gear. This includes purchasing new lighting gear that is designed more for the video production side of our craft.”

Will cast sizes be smaller and will actors have to maintain social distancing on stage?
“From shows that I have seen and/or designed since the pandemic has started, I have seen both sides. Most theatres are going the route of smaller cast size to help with physical distancing as well as the reduction of their budgets. There are theatres that have gone the other route, they are doing fully produced large musicals without physical distancing on stage. They have the actors live together and they are tested multiple times a week to ensure they are safe. The theatre then has the audience sit farther away from the stage and spread out while wearing masks, but this route allowed the audience to still see a full out musical.”

How will your answers to the above questions impact your approach to lighting design?
“As my main area of lighting design is in Theatre, I had to start venturing into the world of video lighting. I recently designed a production of ‘Closer Than Ever,’ which was produced by MNM Theatre Company in South Florida. The final released product was then streamed through for one month and families and audiences were able to purchase tickets. The stream was available for 48 hours after they purchased the tickets. The production was done at the rehearsal studio of the theatre and it was transformed into a sound stage for the show. We ran it as a legit video production. We would record multiple times so we were able to have different video angles and to make sure everything was precise. It was definitely a different experience jumping from scene to scene while going out of order and having to record multiple times. The way I lit it was very different from traditional theatrical lighting since I was lighting for camera and not a live audience.”

You’re a young designer. Has the pandemic made it less likely for young people of your generation to enter theatrical lighting?
“I actually think the exact opposite. Many of the major companies have released products and trainings, that normally cost money, for free in order to help the many that are out of work during the pandemic. Software and trainings that cost hundreds of dollars, which young people normally could not afford, are now available directly on their computer along with videos and webinars to guide them in what to do. Many theatre professionals started doing these online webinars for young people since they are currently not working. What better time is there than now to learn a new skill while everything is closed and you are at home?”

Wil theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre-COVID era?
“I 100 percent* see it getting back to what it was We all, as theatre professionals, are excited and eager to get back to our theatres and venues around the country and world.”

Cory Pattak
New York

Theatre will come back as essential part of our culture”

Acknowledging that he is no “epidemiologist, doctor, economist, general manager or any other number of professions” who will actually be deciding questions” regarding the lockdown, this New York-based designer cautions that any prediction he makes about theatres reopening should be taken with “the smallest grain of salt.” Still, he is hopeful that the theatrical lighting world will return in some form this year. When it does, he believes it will present new challenges and opportunities.

How do you see things when theatres reopen in terms of lighting budgets, crew sizes and cast sizes?
“I would imagine budgets may be smaller for a while. I’m sure there won’t be an increase in budgets. There is certainly a belief that it’s cheaper to create designs with lighting and video as opposed to built scenery, which is not necessarily the case, but it’s a commonly held belief.

“So, I’m sure there will be questions like ‘can it be done with lighting or video?’ ‘Can it be more conceptual?’ ‘Can we ask the audience to use more of their imagination?’ Again, these questions were being asked long before the pandemic so it’s not a huge change. Most designers I know are on board with it, as long as the directors and producers are as well. Being on the same page gets us 99% of the way there.

“As for crew sizes, I have no idea. Will there be requests to try and have smaller crews? I’m sure. Both to reduce traffic backstage as well as save on costs. There will be questions about how many wardrobe staff, how many fly operators, how many spot ops, etc. But to be fair, those conversations have never not been happening. It’s never been a blank check. I also have no idea. Thankfully they don’t let Lighting Designers decide these types of things.”

How will these changes impact your approach to lighting design?
“I am prepared to be resourceful and economical and work with theatres to make sure I have what I need to do my job, while also understanding they are coming out of a very difficult time. I think if we all treat each other with respect and patience and remember we are just humans trying our best, we can still make great shows.”

Has the pandemic made it less likely for young people to enter theatrical lighting?
“I think it certainly hasn’t helped. This was already a difficult industry to enter with lots of gatekeeping and hurdles for those that don’t come with privilege or advantages. I think some young people might be more hesitant to enter this field after seeing what happens when it completely goes away.

“However, nobody should be entering this field unless they really, really love it and are prepared to work hard for it. Seeing the fragility of a career in the arts could help crystallize how difficult it has the potential to be, should really force anyone thinking of entering this world to make sure it’s what they absolutely want. But at the same time, I think we are working hard to open up pathways and opportunities to those that might have previously been shut out, so hopefully we will come out of this with new open doors for young designers hoping to pursue this as a career.”

Do you think theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre- COVID era?
“Yes ultimately I do. I think we may be more grateful for the jobs when we have them, and also walk away with a greater value placed on our home and personal lives. So, it will be about getting “back to normal” while also integrating those new feelings into our workflows and careers. But once we are vaccinated, once the audiences come back, once people feel safe congregating together in rooms, I think “theatrical lighting” will still be about pointing lights at stages and telling compelling stories. That isn’t going anywhere.”

Kenrick Fischer

There Are People Eagerly Awaiting Theatre

This versatile designer believes that the power of theatre to bring people together will build momentum for its return as pandemic restrictions life. He explains why in this interview.

Do you see theatres reopening this year?
“Yes, theatre is a very creative space that always finds a way. We’ve already seen many theatres create online content, streaming content, and even companies tapping into the style of radio plays. Theatre responds to its environment and morphs to survive. There are and will be definite struggles for individual companies, but theatre as a whole will find a way forward. What theatre will look like moving forward? I don’t know, but it will be changed. The scar from this event will show for a long time.

“When the do reopen crews will be smaller. Companies have lost a lot during this time. Not just financially but many have lost staff and crew that moved on for their own survival and there are others that have physically moved out of the cities where theatres are. Some have found other means of income. I have colleagues that have transitioned the many skills theatre teaches into other fields and are finding success there. It’s going to be hard to bring those people back.

“Add in that much of the public will likely still be hesitant to be in tight groups such as an audience and revenue goes down. Of course, there are people eagerly awaiting theatres to reopen and will be ready right away but it’s going to be small to start because the resources won’t be there like they were.”

Will budgets for lighting be smaller?
“Individual budgets are going to be smaller across the entire production. Even if the total budget amount stays the same there will likely be a new or expanded category for cleaning, disinfecting and general housekeeping that wasn’t there before. Backstage may require more space for actors and crew to move about safely. Dividers and personal spaces will likely be a thing for a while. This isn’t going to be easily forgotten. So, it’s going to take more to keep people feeling comfortable. It’s kind of like shaking an Etch-a-Sketch and now we have to all draw a new picture.”

Will cast sizes be smaller and will actors have to maintain social distancing on stage?
“I think we’ll see a lot of that to start but again theatre is resourceful. I won’t be surprised to see casting calls for existing couples to play together in shows. We saw sports teams agreeing to quarantine together to save parts of their seasons, something in that style may be an options too.”

How will your answers to the above questions impact your approach to lighting design?
“I’m not sure it will impact how I approach design. I’m still going to push to create unique designs appropriate for the show and try new things. What may happen is some of those ideas might get scaled back due to the lack of resources but I’m still going to ask. You never get the things you don’t ask for.”

Has the pandemic made it less likely for young people to enter theatrical lighting?
“Wow, that’s a good question…. There are a lot of fairly frustrated young people out there right now. What pretty much happened was they had an unplanned gap year. From what I have heard a good number of them did take the time to reflect on just what they really wanted so it will be interesting to see what changes come from this time. Only so much can be taught through remote learning about lighting design until you need to put your hands on an instrument or console. With schools ceasing in-person classes last year the learning is sure to have been affected.”

Do you think theatrical lighting will get back to what it was in the pre-COVID era?
“Sure. When? No idea. People like to be emotionally connected to what they watch. It’s those subtleties in tech theatre that support the actor’s work and create emotional connections. Lighting is a key component of that. People also like to be entertained, they like to have moments of escapism from their daily lives and struggles. Even if concerts, theatre, or corporate events all move to online content people still want to be wowed. Lighting provides that too. Theatre company’s lighting equipment didn’t go anywhere and designers still have ideas for shows, it will all be there waiting for shows to start up again.”

Robert Henderson
Basingstoke, UK

The Pandemic Has Been A Huge Wake Up Call

This versatile British designer is eager to return to works as theatres begin to reopen in the UK this spring. However, he is under no illusions that things will fully return to normal anytime soon. He sees the restoration of the theatre industry as a gradual process of small steps. It is a journey that he is more than ready to take!

What do you see happening this year with theatres in the UK?
“Recently, it was announced that theatres in the UK will be allowed to open with capacity limits in the middle of May. It is then hoped to lift these limits at the end of June. This is mainly due to the success of our vaccine program and could change if circumstances change.

“I think that initially crew sizes will probably smaller. With social distancing rules still in place this may impose a limit on the amount of people who can safely work in a space. Also, it will make sense to have the smallest number of people possible at risk –not to mention the financial pressure on new productions, particularly if there is a danger of sudden closure as happened just before Christmas in the UK.”

How about lighting budgets and theatre finances?
“I’m not sure about budgets. On the one hand there may be a lot of caution from producers and investors given the risks involved. On the other, they may feel that big budgets and spectacles are the way to entice audiences back.

“Over here, the emphasis seems to have been on large scale frequent testing and performer social bubbles rather than socially distant performance. I’m not sure there is much desire from audiences to watch socially distanced performance. There is possibly a hard core audience who will be desperate to watch theatre in any form, but the mass return of audiences that will make theatre economically viable again will require an experience very similar to pre-pandemic. Many of the big West End shows seem to be planning to open as soon as they get the go ahead.

How will what we’ve discussed thus far affect your work as a designer?
“The little lighting design work that I have done since the pandemic has been a lot simpler than usual, mainly to reduce the amount of crew required to install it. I can see this carrying on at least initially until we get a clearer idea of how the risks are evolving. I also think that there will be a heavier reliance on automated lighting to reduce the amount of people required for focusing etc. The Panto production that opened briefly at the London Palladium before Christmas had an entirely automated onstage rig, as the stage became a no go area for technicians once the cast started using it and there would have been no opportunity to manually tweak conventionals focus.”

What impact do you see the events of 2020 having on the industry?
“The pandemic has been a huge wake up call for everyone in the industry. I don’t think we ever considered what would happen if people were suddenly not able to congregate in large numbers. Many other industries have been able to continue in some form and this may well influence people’s career choices in the future. The theatre industry will be smaller for the next few years and young people will therefore find it harder to find a way in. You could argue that for the long term benefit of the industry it might be necessary for older, more established practitioners to step aside and encourage fresh blood.

“Ultimately if we can get the virus under control in the coming months and years, I can see no reason why the industry would not return to pre pandemic levels. Indeed, it may be even stronger. I think the virus has made us all think again about our priorities, responsibilities, and our need to nurture and cherish what we have as we realize how easily it can disappear.”