A Day of Lightbulb Moments

An instructor onstage with a lighting rig, speaking to workshop participants sat in a theatre auditorium
LX Designer Paul Curtis instructing 15 keen amateur lighting techies

In the first of our Technical & Creative Workshops supported by a grant from amdram.co.uk last month, a former Lighting Designer for BBC Children In Need (Outdoor) met 15 future amateur LX technicians, directors, and producers to share his expansive knowledge of his craft. If the participants in Paul Curtis' workshop had been keen to try lighting a stage production before the workshop, their enthusiasm was now brightened by several hundred lux!

As LX designer-in-residence for both the Rhodes Arts Centre and our city's own Mumford Theatre – positions which saw him plot LX designs for almost 500 amateur and professional productions within just a couple of decades – Paul had copious experience and skills to impart. And this he managed expertly, with participants giving the workshop an average score of 8 out of 10.

An actor lit directly from the front, while the instructor speaks to workshop participants assembled on a stage
Paul demonstrating lighting positions on an actor's shadow

"There couldn't have been a better instructor," said one participant. "I came into the course an absolute novice, and know so much more than I ever expected to – from the types of lanterns to the requirement for the lighting designer to understand and enhance the script – and so much more. What a far cry from 'turn them up, turn them down'. Paul's approach is inclusive and to the point."

Many other participants agreed, adding comments such as "Paul is a great speaker, passing down his experience and wisdom which is very practical and helpful!" and "Paul was great and incredibly knowledgeable."

One even nodded to the range of abilities across the workshop's participants: "Paul did a great job introducing lighting, especially given the mix of experience in the room."

In addition to learning about different lighting options, playing with a lighting desk, and getting their hands dirty (and warm...) focusing a rig of lights, workshop participants got to meet Paul Gotch, current chair of Cambridge's Penguin Club, for advice on how to enter the fantastic society that is the city's community theatre scene. Representatives from the Pied Pipers (Chip Colquhoun), BAWDS (Colin Lawrence and David Sear), and Combined Actors (Chris Avery) also turned up to invite the participants to hone their lighting skills yet further in exciting upcoming amateur productions – including Grease, Bleak House, and Our Country's Good.

These presentations made just as much an impression on the future LX crews, with one participant commenting, "I very much look forward to contacting your groups to do some shadowing – and I think I may well join the Penguins too."

Another told us, "I am already very keen to come to future workshops – and, at some point, to try my hand shadowing a lighting director or something similar."

Three workshop participants onstage with a theatrical lighting rig, one of them attempting to focus the light on a backcloth
Participants try their hand at focusing

Oh – but it wasn't just the technical development and the presence of some of Cambridge's finest amdram groups that made the workshop a huge success. As one participant noted, "for £5 with lunch included, it was an absolute bargain!"

This was all down to the amazing support from amdram.co.uk, the nation's premiere website for community theatre, who provided the Pied Pipers with a grant to run these workshops with the aim of growing the number of theatre technicians and creatives across Cambridge. We're incredibly grateful to Jane at amdram.co.uk for this opportunity!

Huge thanks must also go to Jamie and Eduardo at the ADC Theatre for hosting the workshop, and the Penguin Club's Paul Malpas and Serena Povia for managing proceedings.

We're just awaiting confirmation of dates for our next workshops, but expect another chance to develop theatrical technical prowess – and a chance to learn more about the creative process behind direction – from yet more experienced industry professionals. Even if you're not looking to focus on one area in particular (pardon the pun...), there's much to gain from joining in our upcoming workshops. We'll give the final words to two of Paul's participants:

"My plans to utilise my learnings have more to do with understanding the ins and outs of lighting as a director and producer, [so I can] help a lighting designer do their job and have ideas myself about what we could aspire to in a particular production."

"Thanks for organising such a great event!"