Light is magic. It is invisible and ethereal; only revealing itself to our eyes after its reflection. Indeed, one could even say that light and our senses cause us to live in the past because – as instant as it all seems – light has a limited velocity, taking time to reach us and to be decoded by our eyes and brain. Just looking up at the stars is a window directly into the past.

Our closest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.24 light years away and therefore the light that reaches us from such a distance is almost four and a half years old. It could have gone supernova and we would be none the wiser for the time it takes a newborn to grow into a child almost ready for school. The mind boggles.

And so, until that happens, we will have to settle for creating our own spectacular supernovae here on planet Earth in a contained environment without the inconvenient downside of mass extinction. I am, of course talking about event lighting, controlled in no small part by the lighting designer and his instruments.
On 27 September this year, the fourth Stage Lighting Master Class was held at the Market Theatre Laboratory in Newtown, Johannesburg, organised by creative consultant Declan Randall, a lighting designer with 17 years’ experience, both locally and abroad.

This year the guest lecturers included Richard Pilbrow; probably the world’s most respected lighting designer and theatre consultant with many decades in the business, and Mannie Manim, one of South Africa’s most well-known and respected lighting designers and theatre producers. Declan was also one of the key lecturers as well as the main organiser.

Despite being deemed a “Master Class’, the event was geared towards budding aspirants and working professionals so the crowd included a wide variety of attendees. Indeed, with such prodigious names like Pilbrow and Manim on the bill, there was much to learn on all sides of the camp and ample was taken away by all. The main sponsors of the event included Artscape, CamQuip, DWR Distribution, ETC, Electronsonic, LEE Filters, The Market Theatre, Phillips Selecon, Prosound, Rosco, Split Beam, and of course us – Pro-Systems magazine.

On our arrival at the event we were greeted with a warm welcome and two goodie bags filled with lighting things such as swatch books and gels; things that audio engineers know very little about.
Day one started off with the usual welcome and handshaking as everyone got acquainted. There were many familiar faces in the crowd and it was clear that many people were particularly eager to hear Mr Pilbrow speak. He is undoubtedly a hero in the field that few lighting designers would miss.
As we moved into the theatre, we were greeted by Declan and given a short introduction to basic lighting principles and eventually to his guests. Next up was Mr Pilbrow, who is a quaint, warm man with a good sense of humour and a sizable dash of English wit.

He began by giving a retrospective of his history in lighting – a valuable insight into his methodology and philosophy as a lighting designer – and eventually moving on to his involvement in theatre consulting, which he continues to this day. Richard is a seminal figure in this field and has consulted on the construction of over 1 200 projects in 70 countries worldwide, not to mention well known theatres such as the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal Opera House and Covent Garden. In addition, he is one of the principle inventors of lighting projection technology, which is becoming a major part of what lighting designers do today.

After lunch, next up to speak was Mannie Manim, who also gave us a retrospective to his career and learnings along the way. This was particularly interesting and relevant as it gave us a small window into not only his personal history but of the history of South African theatre. Of course lighting was the focus and he had a wealth of insight and knowledge to share.
The rest of day one proceeded with workshops delving more into the art of lighting, including choosing colour, which was lectured by Richard and eventually moving on to a lecture entitled “Lighting Cycloramas’, lectured by Declan. In the evening at 8pm a lighting performance was offered.

Day two was much of a continuation of the first, opening with a discussion and critique of the evening’s performance. Throughout the day, interspersed with a few tea breaks and lunch, many topics were discussed and lectured by Richard, Mannie and Declan, including LED lighting techniques, lighting for drama, opera, musicals and dance, and designing with Gobo and Projection. The day ended with an open panel discussion with the lecturers.
I had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of the master class attendees to find out what they got out of it. This is what they had to say.

Richard Newton Technical Representative, Sight and Sound
Can you tell me what you thought about the master class in general? Was it helpful?

The overall knowledge shared by the speakers was unbelievably informative, I was surprised at the depth we went into, from simple lighting techniques to designing a complicated rig it was all very absorbing

Who was your favourite speaker and why?

Between Richard, Mannie and Declan they have a wealth of knowledge and their own “special’ techniques so I’d have to say all of them. I must say I enjoyed witnessing Richards’s passion and dedication to lighting design, with his spontaneous outbursts you can tell he lives for lighting design.

What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

Wow, the list could be endless, I came to SLMC having previous lighting experience and being under the impression I knew enough to do it well. After the first day I realised just how intricate the industry is and how much I still had to learn. I left SLMC with a whole new outlook on lighting, I find myself constantly thinking of ways I can improve on my rigs and my overall show design. A big thank you to the SLMC team: Richard, Mannie and Declan for sharing their lifetime of lighting knowledge


Jean-Claude Laurent, Theatre Manager, University of Johannesburg

Can you tell me what you thought about the master class in general? Was it helpful?

As someone that has been in Theatre for the past 21 years it was a good refresher. I however feel that the master classes spoke more to students and non-lighting practitioners. A bit of a back to basics thing! For the senior people it afforded the chance to do a bit of networking as well as to listen to one of the founding fathers of modern theatre lighting discuss his approach to lighting shows. It was also a good reaffirmation that the training I was providing at UJ Arts Centre was on the right track and for my senior technician, Sizwe, that he was approaching lighting in the right way as he is now starting to light shows.

Who was your favourite speaker and why?

The highlight for me personally was hearing Richard Pilbrow speaking. He has been an inspiration to me since I started working in Theatre and the opportunity to meet him was very special.

What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

Having worked in the industry for close on 20 years you soon find out that you learn something new every day. The minute you stop learning you may just as well give up. The most informative piece of information that I took away from SLMC 2012 was all the new systems that are in place internationally that makes the life of an LD a little bit easier, even though it creates more paperwork. You win some, you lose some!