10 Tips to Consider When Hiring and Working with a Lighting Designer

By Allen Willner

December 1, 2019, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

1          Communicating About Lighting for Dance

Lighting can be hard to communicate about since it’s such an abstract element. A great way to communicate about your lighting design needs with a potential lighting designer is through photos, abstract images and descriptive words. Words like warm, cool, colorful, moody and stark are simple examples.

2          Get money and time out of the way

Be upfront about budget, scale of production, timeline/dates and the amount of time you’d like the lighting designer to be in rehearsals with you. Lighting designers tend to be flexible and will usually try to work within your budget but it’s important to address the details early in the project rather than later. In the case that a designer is unable to work on the project they can also be a great resource for recommending other designers who might fit your project.

3          A First Meeting

If you’re working with a lighting designer for the first time, plan a phone or face to face meeting to talk about perspectives on light and to develop a language to communicate about light.

4          The Whole Picture

Include your lighting designer in conversations regarding set, visual design and projections. All of these elements will have an effect on the lighting design, and the lighting designer will probably have helpful thoughts as related to lighting/time/venue etc.

5          Plan for a Design Run

Set aside time for the lighting designer to view a run through of the work(s) they will be lighting. This is an important time for the designer to prepare their plot and cues for your show. Try to have as many elements present, represented for the run. This can include sets/props, sound design, musicians, video and costumes (a sample of costumes is fine).

6          Rehearsals and Sound Design

If you’d like your designer to come to rehearsals make sure that the sound design is accurate. It isn’t really useful to have a lighting designer see a run with no audio if there is audio or with a different audio than the one you intend. Changes in sound design will likely impact/change the lighting designer’s design and plan.

7            TECH

In planning your technical rehearsals assume that the lighting designer will need to have time for the following (all of these will vary depending on venue and scale of show):

  • lighting hang
  • focus
  • a pre-record of cues
  • cueing

The Lighting Designer can help with scheduling how time is allotted and what time is needed for your show.

8          Lighting Materials Budget

Plan a materials budget for lighting. This can range from $100 for gels to upwards of a few thousand dollars for rented instruments. The lighting designer can also help with planning financial projections in advance.

9          A Touring Package

Let your lighting designer know ahead of time if you have plans to tour the show. This will require a touring package which the designer can provide. A touring package usually comes with an added fee and would include the following:

  • A lighting plot
  • Cues
  • A board recording of the lighting cues from the show.
  • A tech rider of lighting requirements

10        Let your Designer Design

Having a good idea about what you want in a lighting design or even details around specific cues is great, but you should also allow the lighting designer some space to create. If you’re investing in a lighting design, it’s a good idea to let them do what you hired them for. Be mindful that they aren’t just a board operator or a technician.

This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of In Dance.


Allen Willner is a lighting designer for Theater, Dance and Opera. He has lived and worked in San Francisco and New York as a Lighting Designer for 20 years. Locally he has designed for many Bay Area Dance companies including Erika Chong Shuch Performance Project, inkBoat, Garrett Moulton Productions, Deborah Slater Dance Theater, Katie Faulkner’s Little Seismic Dance Company, Kristin Damrow and Company, ABD Productions, Moving Ground and Epifany Dance Theater. Regional designs include The Arizona Theater Company, The Guthrie Theater, The Chicago MOMA, REDCAT, The Cleveland Public Theater, 59E59th Street Theater, Playmakers Repertory Co, Brown University and The Philadelphia Theater Company. International designs include Dock 11, Potsdam Fabrique, Pfefferberg Berlin, Goyang Opera House, Seoul Korea, and Berkeley Street Theater, Toronto, ON. Awards and nominations include: San Francisco TBA Award Lighting Design Awards: We Player’s Beowulf, Shotgun Players Eurydice, Theater of Yugen's This Lingering Life, SF Playhouse The Obligation. Bay Area Critics Circle Lighting Design Nominations for The Shotgun Players Eurydice and God’s Ear, Broadway World Lighting and Set Design Nomination for Symmetry Theater’s Patience Worth. Isadora Duncan Dance Awards for the lighting design of inkBoat’s Line Between, Heaven’s Radio and Deborah Slater Dance Theater’s Private Life.

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