Interview: Paul Pyant, lighting designer for A View from the Bridge

Interview: Paul Pyant, lighting designer for A View from the Bridge

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

We interview Paul Pyant, lighting designer for Touring Consortium Theatre Company's A View from the Bridge, touring nationally from 4 March 2015. How did Paul get into the industry and what's the creative process for lighting a production?

How did you become a designer? Where did you train?
Paul Pyant I did not set out particularly to be a lighting designer. It was a process of curious happenstance over a number of years. I attended the Stage Management course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London between 1972 and 1973.

How did you get your first job designing?

It was a gradual process. I left RADA in 1974 and my first job was with Glyndebourne Festival Opera as an assistant electrician in the lighting department. I was at Glyndebourne for 14 seasons, working my way up the ladder: first relighting productions on tour before designing lighting for them in my own right. I also spent several years between each Glyndebourne season as company stage manager for Kent Opera. I picked up lighting design jobs when I could. I think my first paid lighting job (£25!) was for an opera production at the French Institute in London. I did not go fully freelance as a lighting designer until 1987.

What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a lighting designer?

Be prepared for a long haul. Grab every opportunity to increase your lighting experience. Any job offered is worth doing simply for experience. Try not to focus on what you most want to do eventually (e.g. musicals) as there is a wealth of experience to be gained for every facet of theatre. See as much theatre as you can. Remember that it’s not a job, it’s a vocation

What was your first experience of theatre?

I came from a big family and grew up during the 1950s in a pre-television era when you made your own entertainment. All my family were musical and played instruments or sang. My father was an avid amateur singer and was very active in the local Amateur Dramatic and Operatic Societies. I joined in, first onstage, then got interested in the backstage work from a very early age. Going to the pantomime was popular at Christmas and we went to the local theatre regularly. Masters at my school were also very keen on theatre and music, and the school mounted very sophisticated productions. Some classmates and I grouped together and formed our own theatre group, which also did productions. I was also a member of the Croydon Youth Theatre Organisation. The first West End show I remember seeing was the original production of My Fair Lady at Drury Lane in 1958/9.

What is a lighting plot and at what stage do you work that out?

The lighting plot is a schematic drawing of what lighting equipment goes where to achieve the ‘looks’ or atmospheres that I want to achieve to complement the action. Working out what is needed is a long process that involves understanding the needs of the play and what both the director and designer are trying to achieve in their planned production.

My brief is to balance what they wish to achieve to the available funds, manpower, equipment and venue. Initial talks take place well before the first rehearsals. The designer produces a scale model and we have discussions about how the play will be staged, what atmospheres and spaces we need to suggest. I always have a budget to work to so I create a design that tries to satisfy all the criteria. This will be refined during the rehearsals until we get into the first venue. There, the design will be built onstage, the lights rigged into position and focused where I think they should point. In technical rehearsals, we plot the show into the lighting systems using specialist programmers.

What is your approach to lighting design? How are the different lighting states created?
My aim for each lighting design I produce is to try and realise lighting ‘states’ or ‘looks’ to support the vision the director and set designer have for the show.

The production period happens when we get into the first venue. This production loads in on a Sunday and we have to create the show for a Thursday opening. Once the set is built for the first time, we then colour and focus all the lights into the position I think they will be most effective. I will then form stage pictures with my programmer setting the level of each unit, or in the case of the moving lights, their focus and direction. Each state is recorded and we go on to the next cue and so forth.

The actors join us for the technical rehearsals, at which we see everyone for the first time in their costumes. Once we have achieved what we need, we attempt a dress rehearsal, fine-tuning as we go until we present the play as a finished piece to an audience.

How important is focus/ colour/ white light?

All important, of course. Each lighting angle, each colour is crucial to the creation of a stage picture. With the right focus and colour, you can eloquently suggest time of day, the weather, the temperature, or the style of production. It is critical in supporting what the actors are doing in making sense of the drama.

A View from the Bridge opened at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it ran from 4 to 7 March 2015. It then toured to Cheltenham, Darlington, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Coventry and Edinburgh, where it concluded on 2 May.