The operator’s experience (words)

For the lighting artist to be connected into the ‘circuit of energy’ she or he must see and be seen by the audience and the actors, and an ambivalence must be sustained between the lighting artist being a spectator and being a participant. As lighting artist for Passages, I was positioned with the Theolux console at the end of the arc of audience seating that wrapped around two sides of the stage space. So to what extent did this geometry connect me into the ‘circuit of energy’, promoting my role as a performer?

The first question to be asked in the post-show discussion after the first performance was whether I felt differently after operating/performing Passages than I would after operating a conventional theatre show. In my response I focused first on the physiological, noting that I felt ‘sweaty’ and ‘exhausted’, ascribing these feelings to the intensity of concentration required to perform the lighting. Such a physiological response is not that which I would associate with either the conventional theatre lighting operator’s experience, nor indeed the typical experience of the spectator.

However, there is more to the idea of the circuit of energy than simply intensity. My own notes, made on the performance day, list the following activities during the performance in addition to the business of actually operating the lighting: ‘worrying about what comes next and what I need to do to be ready; watching the performance; watching the audience and their reactions and locus of attention; watching the light in the performance; reflecting on how the timing [of the performance] is constantly shifting’.

I also noted that ‘I do not feel in control of the performance, or that what I do is (wholly) determined by the performance.’ In addition, my sense was that I was physically present in the same space, and part of the same activity, as both the actors and the audience (in distinct contrast to the typical theatre lighting operator’s experience as I have known it in my professional practice).

Reflecting on my experience, I would say that my focus and responsivity (my connection to the ‘circuit of energy’) was more in relation to the actors than the audience. While I was at times observing the audience’s reactions and locus of attention, I was not – consciously at least – making much use of this information. Thus, while knowing that I was seen by the audience was an important factor in the quality of my experience, and so - presumably - affected my performance at some level, it is not clear to me how or to what extent I was being affected beyond a certain kind of alertness. I would speculate that, had we run the production for more performances, I would have learnt how to shape my own performance in response to the audience; this is a matter that would benefit from further research.

To what extent then was the spatial configuration responsible for the nature of my experience as the lighting artist performing during Passages? My experience during the performance was of a particular state of alertness, a particular quality of attention, that was intense but also complex, and my sense was that being able to see not only the other performers but also the audience – and being aware that I could in turn be seen – promoted that alertness. Performing as lighting artist from a hidden ‘backstage’ position, unseen by and unable to see the audience, would not – I would argue – promote that quality of attention and affective responsivity to the same degree.