Shows on paper — A Kettle of Fish.

Documenting The Process of Designing A Kettle of Fish.

For as long as I have been making theatre i’ve had a certain intrigue about the great wealth of material that is never seen by an audience. I usually fill a notebook a show, brimming with sketches and questions, quotes, sentences expressing conclusions about how things should feel or look, and more questions — all never to be shared (usually). Then maybe 50 to 100 reference images. I am so interested in how personal the act of design is. The consequence perhaps, coupled with theatre being about outcome rather than process is that we rarely see what it might look like to design. Even less so for design disciplines that are light, sound or video based! So i’ve a personal project underway to publish snippets of what i’ve been thinking or seeing whilst making work. The outcome, no idea. A time capsule perhaps? Maybe we’ll discover a through-line.


It’s import to stress that every show is different. And every designer is different. The way I work, or I should say — have grown to enjoy working is seeing the process of designing lighting as a journey. That is to say I allow the light to develop throughout rehearsals, as opposed to pinning down all the specifics from the outset. Light to me should always be responsive to the moment — the moment of creation, not the textual moment. I’m a believer that light is a key collaborator in the creation of the show, so I tend to design in the room, you’ll see what this might look like below.

I was lucky enough to part of early conversations about design with director Caitlin McLeod and designer Ingrid Hu. For us the journey has been about how we might stage this visceral and at times anarchic text that drifts from minute detail to the unconscious rambling and back again.

There is a maxim that Lighting Designers can’t draw — and I am certainly fuelling that fire!


From the rehearsal room — thinking on the possible meaning of different light sources.
From the rehearsal room — Sketching and thinking from the rehearsal room. Here I’m thinking about the sorts of transformation that may be required to take us to the train station.
From the rehearsal room —A lot of the information I’m keen to down on paper in the rehearsal room is to do with wider structure. How light might shift from space to space, and the sort of pace that this takes place within. It’s slowly piecing together the puzzle. It’s a process of gaining insights as the play is built around you.
From the rehearsal room — Development of images. As the rehearsal process continues I start to weave in reference imagery — shared and discussed with the rest of the creative team. From then onwards the notebook begins to search for more complete images — as seen above there is now a bigger notion of colour and wider rules at play.
From the rehearsal room — I tend to quick storyboard in the room as runs take place. By this point, I often already taken time to explore each moment in the rehearsal room previously — so this storyboarding serves to help identify wider arcs in the lighting journey. More and more I consider this process as a way of getting the show within my body — which helps out in fast and furious tech sessions!
Before Tech — Now we’re at the point where abstracted text and sketches must become a real thing. This document is a more structured version of the previous storyboard. I give everything cue numbers and start to think about specific timings. This document is the one I look at during tech. So each cue has a description of what I’m trying to achieve, there are additional columns from the ‘cue to cue’ session (a rare luxury) and notes on points at which light and video should work together or against.
In Tech — Now it becomes a thing of the real world. Above, the cues recorded in the lighting desk. Comparing this to the previous iterations of what the show looked like on paper — you can see that there has been much change. That's the name of the game — endlessly morphing.

Something that i’ve taken to as a matter of course when designing shows is making a playlist for each show, I find it a helpful way to start thinking about rhythm and pace, which of course is also the rather less visible jobs of a lighting design. Again it’s a way of starting to embody how the show feels and moves.

You can see the reference imagery from this production here.
Also, you can see how it panned out in real life here.