Stage Lighting Design

Audiences Don’t Know Squat!!!

A short thought on the level of detail that true professionalism should bring to your work.

audienceOn a recent student opera show the lighting programmer, AV team, and myself were all working alongside the DSM to get a cue combination perfect. The cue included an extra special idea that worked really well with end of the show and having come up with this particularly creative thing, we honed it and eventually were happy with the result.

At this point, a student asked a perfectly reasonable question: “Do you think the audience is even going to notice this?”

Fair point. We’d just spent a good ten minutes on a detail, with and an outcome that we were all pleased with. Every night of the run, the detail would be there.

Perhaps 97% of the audience isn’t going to notice quite how well thought through and beautifully executed this tiny touch in two acts of opera. Maybe none of them will. I don’t expect them to, to be honest. I find that life in production is much more satisfying when one doesn’t restrict oneself to stuff that the average audience member notices. At least, not fully consciously notices.

A lot of what we do only become excellent when it isn’t noticed and true professionalism is adding those extra touches and polish knowing full well that only yourself and perhaps another keen-eyed professional is going to appreciate it. No compliment is better when it comes from another professional but it is enough for me just to know that I did a good job lighting the show tonight. Even when I suspect that no one else noticed.

Or, in the the shorter answer I gave to the student at the time:

“I don’t give a sh** about what the audiences notice. We do these things for us. Audiences are not how we should judge our work. For a start, they don’t know squat about production.”

We should, of course, seek to put on the best show we can for the audience.  But not limit ourselves to their terms of reference when it comes to quality.


Image based on work by Stijn Bokhove on Flickr

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