Five minutes with...Lucy Carter

Collaborative Creations talk to award-winning Lighting Designer Lucy Carter about her early career, The Royal Opera House and joining the ALD to drive positive change in the industry.

How did your lighting career get started?

I Studied Dance and Drama At Roehampton Institute, which is part of Surrey University.

I was choreographing my own pieces and all my ideas began with visual ideas. Having taken a brief six-week course in lighting for dance, I began to experiment with the lights in the dance studio to help portray my choreographic ideas. Everyone else then wanted me to add light to their work and so I became the unofficial lighting technician and designer for the department during my time there.

After graduation, and a year at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama taking an Advanced Diploma in Lighting Design, I ended up getting casual work at The Place Theatre in London. I saw many, many dance pieces come through the door, with many Lighting Designers to learn from, and I began to light some of the performances there myself. I ended up as Chief Electrician for 18 months and then ventured out on tour and designing.

Are there different considerations working on lighting for opera and dance compared to theatre?

Every medium is different and every production is different. For theatre and opera you may have a text or a story, likewise for dance that may still be the case, but for something more abstract there might only be an idea, a theme or a starting point.

I find that abstract dance needs a lot more pre-production research and a lot more meetings in order to collaborate closely with the rest of the team. My processes are similar for all the different mediums; I start with research and then ideas and themes, moods and concepts.

Then I figure out how I could realise those ideas with light, and then I decide what equipment might be appropriate for each idea. The process after that relies on my instincts and intuition, as I paint and sculpt the light around the rest of the visual picture on stage.

Tell me about your work with choreographer Wayne McGregor – how did you first meet and what has made the collaboration successful?

Wayne and I first met at The Place Theatre when we were around 22 and both of us were just starting out in the business. We have worked together ever since, learning and experimenting alongside each other. Shaping each other’s practise and development.

At times it is hard to know where the ideas come from because it begins as a conversation between us that bounces back and forth and develops along the way into a fully realised design.

I love collaborating with Wayne; it’s always inspiring and challenging. I love lighting dance and bodies in motion. Dancers are never still and so the light constantly shifts and flows across the picture even if I am not changing the lighting state. Wayne starts every new work from a fresh perspective and so investigating new themes all the time is very interesting. I love to use light in a choreographic way to expose the choreography’s depth and concept, to work with the dynamic flow and highlight the inherent structure of the movement, and I believe Wayne’s desire for the lighting of his works is grounded in those principles too, I guess we developed those practises together. A good collaboration is grounded in trust and mutual respect and over the years we have managed to grow together.

What do you enjoy about lighting productions at the opera house?

The Opera House is unique in the way it functions; it’s a very busy repertory house which needs to put on performances nearly every night in order to maintain financial stability, and therefore technical time is very short.

The pre-production time is where all the brilliant planning, development and collaboration between the creatives and all the different brilliantly skilled making and technical departments happens very efficiently, and to a tried and tested model.

I find I need to plan in advance and in quite a detailed way, and leave very little to chance and experimentation. We do some pre-visualisation work to establish how we can light the show, testing out lighting positions and angles leaving very little untested. That way when we get onto stage, with very little technical time available around the evening performances of other productions, we can make cues and visual images as quickly as possible, often with no plotting time except for when the cast are on stage running through sections. It is a highly pressured situation where you often have to go with the first state you manage to throw together and hope you get back to develop it later.

The thrill of working with such a large lighting rig, in such an iconic house, is one of my favourite elements. Getting to collaborate with some of the best creative teams and technical teams is always exciting and inspiring. Having such a high-adrenaline, crazy, fast schedule is great fun (most of the time!).

What attracts you to new freelance projects?

The subject matter and the other creative team members. If neither of those provide any interest to me then I will consider turning the job down, although I do also have to consider the need to generate income as well.

How did you first get involved with the ALD?

I have been a member of the ALD for quite some time now, but I decided to get involved and join the executive when Jo Town took over as chairperson and she approached me to become the Professional Designers Rep.

I had realised that for quite sometime I had been moaning about the industry and how things were done and how it affected me personally. It had got to the point where I knew I needed to give something back and get involved in order to try and make positive changes within the industry. Moaning never accomplished anything but action does and working together is powerful.

Why is it important to have an industry association, and what are your goals for the future of the ALD?

We have to come together to have a voice, to educate, to make change for a better industry for everyone. That is how I feel about the ALD. A stronger, louder voice of many. A place to exchange ideas, provide support and a community. We need this more than ever right now. We should support and work together.

Having worked in the industry as a Lighting Designer for 28 years, I don’t want the negative elements of my experiences to be repeated for new generations of lighting professionals, and I want to ensure that the many positives can be their experience. I want people from every part of society to be able to experience a long, healthy and fulfilling lighting career.