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EP 7: Alex Stafford

Alex Stafford is a freelance Lighting Designer based in Derbyshire with over twenty five years professional experience.

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Alex is a freelance Lighting Designer based in Derbyshire with over twenty five years professional experience designing for regional and national  producing houses and UK theatre companies including Nottingham Playhouse, New Vic Theatre, Red Earth Theatre Company and York Theatre 

Recent theatre designs include: Oh No, George! Can’t Sit Still Theatre; Cinderella & Skellig Nottingham Playhouse; Around the World in 80 Days UK & USA Tour Kenny Wax Productions & the New Vic; LAVA Fifth Word Theatre Company and her twelfth Pantomime, Jack & The Beanstalk for Harrogate Theatre.

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Anisa
This is Anisa on the 5th March 2020 recording for Lights Up at Derby Theatre. Please can you introduce yourself and tell me where and when you were born and what you do?

Alex
Okay. I’m Alex Stafford Marshall and I was born in Leicestershire – do you need to know when? (Laughs) In 1967. And I am a freelance theatre lighting designer.

Anisa
Lovely. What is your connection to the East Midlands?

Alex
I suppose quite a few connections really. So I was born in the East Midlands and grew up going to see theatre in Leicester, which was the nearest theatre, so my mum used to take me to see the big musicals that they used to do at the Leicester Haymarket. And then I went away to study and worked in London for a little while. Then I came back to Derby and I was actually resident here at Derby Theatre, which was called Derby Playhouse then, so I came back here to work as an assistant electrician in the electrical department here at the theatre. And I haven't really left, so (laughs) lots of connections to the Midlands.

Anisa
Who did you live with growing up?

Alex
With my mum and my dad and my older sister.

Anisa
What did your parents do for work?

Alex
My dad was a farmer and my mum was – she would hate me for saying this, my mum was a farmer’s wife but actually much more than that. So mum basically ran everything else that dad didn’t do because he was farming.

Anisa
What’s your first memory of theatre?

Alex
So I think it would be – so mum used to take me – mum came from Leicester, she was a city girl who came to live with a farmer. So we used to go and see – she took me to the Haymarket. I probably saw things earlier than I remember but the ones I really remember was when I was a young teenager, so early teens, going to see the big musicals that they were doing there. With a fantastic creative team who later on I was lucky enough to also work with, which was amazing. I didn’t realise it at the time because I had no idea, but I went to see things like Me and My Girl, which was a big musical that then transferred to London. So they’re the things that have stuck with me about theatre. Though I probably did go when I was younger. I don’t remember going to a pantomime or anything, but I do remember going to see big musicals when I was early teens.

Anisa
Wow. What was the main trigger for you to want to work in the theatre?

Alex
I had no idea that the job of lighting designer existed. I didn’t really know anything about theatre. I certainly didn’t train in theatre. But I did an English degree and whilst I was doing my degree the university had a theatre that – didn’t have a drama department actually but they had a really lovely theatre, and so the first thing I got involved with was a student union review. Some friends of mine that I lived with were going to be part of the student union review and they were looking for someone to help organise props backstage. And they kind of went, “You're quite organised, can you come and organise props?” So that was the first thing I did.
Once I did that, again, I haven't really ever stopped doing theatre. So I wasn’t looking for it, but I fell into it, which I think you’ll find quite a lot of people say, and then carried on from there.

Anisa
Who was your biggest inspiration in those early years?

Alex
Lots of people. I think people in theatre tend to be and I’ve always found really generous with their knowledge. So as you work with people they all tend to be influences. And all those influences feed in and that’s one of the great things about theatre. About all sides I think, but I think perhaps particularly for technical theatre, people are really happy to teach you and for you to learn.
So there was a stage manager I worked with in the early days who also lit. And then there was a lighting designer called Steve Hawkins who was one of the first people who let me sit next to him and I operated the lighting desk and he told me what he was doing as a designer. And everywhere that I’ve gone there have been people who have shared their knowledge and who’ve therefore become inspirational from my point of view.

Anisa
When did you know that lighting design was a job?

Alex
(Laughs) I suppose in those early days when I used to go to theatre, I suppose if I read the programmes I would have realised there was a lighting designer credited. Although on a lot of smaller shows they weren’t often credited. It’s quite a new – although performances have been lit for a long time, since the 15th, 16th Century, with oil lamps and very basic things, but the role of a lighting designer is relatively new. So therefore it was probably not until I started to actually work in theatre that I knew exactly what that role was.

Anisa
What’s your own personal journey into this industry?

Alex
I’ve already mentioned a little bit. I started when I was doing my degree, started volunteering, started working backstage. And I found once you start, again it’s a network, so you tend to then be offered more work. So I started in Cambridge where I was studying and then I did casual work. So again you're just asked in on specific things. I did casual work for the local theatre, I did casual work for the local rock and roll venue – so I used to do some rock and roll roadieing as well. And worked for the college theatre, they took me on a more regular basis.
So I did that for a couple of years and then I went to London and I worked as a technician again in contemporary dance for a while. So at Laban, which is a contemporary dance college, and then going out on tour with some of the small contemporary dance companies. Then I was offered the job here at Derby Playhouse as assistant electrician. I stayed here at assistant electrician, deputy electrician and then head of lighting here. So I was here for twelve years until my children were born, and then I went freelance. Seemed a sensible thing to do at the time with two young children.
So from the beginning I was a technician and then I started combining designing in with being a technician. So I’ve always come from the technical side of it. And now do mainly design work as a freelancer.

Anisa
That’s really interesting. Can you tell me about any training that you took part in?

Alex
I didn’t do any formal training. I always say that I did the apprenticeship route, so I learnt on the job. I learnt to design whilst I was working as a technician by working with other designers and watching what other designers did. I’d go back and do qualifications now, it would be lovely to have the space to learn. But again, when I started, which is a long time ago, you know, it’s over thirty years ago, there actually weren’t the number of courses there are now. Especially not on the technical side of it. You could train to be a stage manager, but there was no specialist courses that let you train to be a lighting designer. Which there now are some fantastic courses.
So even if I’d known I wanted to do it, it wasn’t really an option. You could train as a stage manager and perhaps specialise in lighting, but there weren’t specific lighting design courses. So that’s something that’s changed massively over the last twenty-five years.

Anisa
Out of all the roles in the theatre, what was it about lighting design that drew you to wanting to work in this section of the theatre?

Alex
I suppose initially perhaps I’m not sure I did know. I think initially I fell into it a little. But once I started to do it – I mean, it’s a visual – it’s the visual art in terms of the design criteria along with set and costume design. And I found, I think again it was because I was working with lighting equipment I found I enjoyed the technical side of it. I enjoyed working out what the different lanterns do, how you can use them. And then in terms of – because lighting design is basically painting pictures with light and I can't draw and I can't paint, so once I found that you could use lighting equipment to be creative in that way, to paint pictures and to sculpt people and to create atmosphere, then I was pretty hooked.
Also in terms of practicality I found I got employed more as a casual to work on the lighting crews than I did to work on the set crews. I think partly because there’s attention to detail and once you express an interest and who you're willing to learn then you get called back more. I think there’s also a fact that with a lot of the set get-ins they’re big and they’re heavy, so they tended to perhaps think that I might not be as useful in those departments as it was on the electrics department. So in the beginning I think I got filtered a little bit but then actually I discovered it was what I loved doing anyway.

Anisa
What exactly does a lighting designer do? What is the job description?

Alex
So obviously quite literally I design the lighting. So in terms of a theatre production, the lighting designer is part of the creative team. So when a theatre or a producer or a company decide they want to put on a production then they will put together their creative team. And the lighting designer is part of that creative team with the director, the set, costume designer, often the sound designer, these days often the AV designer as well. So you're part of the team who are going to tell the story.
So from the lighting design point of view you're looking at various things. You're looking at responding to the vision of the director and the designer. So when they’re asked to stage a production they will have a very definite idea coming out of the text about the style that they want to stage it in and perhaps a sense of location, whether something is going to be very stylised, whether it’s going to be naturalistic, whether it’s going to be abstract.
So all of these discussions will we had initially with or without you anyway. And as the lighting designer comes into the conversation then your job is to respond to all of these things. So if I’m teaching I always say that in terms of lighting design what you're actually doing is you're going to be doing three things. You're going to be lighting the space. And that space could be anything from a black box with nothing in it to the most intricate, delicate scenic designs, to something that has a single scenic design or something that has lots of things that changes – so again, something like a pantomime, where there’s lots of scenery flying in and out.
So you're going to need to find a way to light the scenery or light the space that you're in. You also need to think about lighting the people. So again, whether you're looking at a piece of theatre or a piece of dance, or an opera, there are bodies on stage. And the lighting designer’s job is to light the people. One of the main parts about lighting design is visibility. So in terms of – there’s an old adage that they say in theatre, if you can't see someone you can't hear them. So as an audience you're coming in to watch a production, if you can't see what’s happening on stage then your connection with it is really hard to make, being drawn into that world.
So as a lighting designer you are going to create visibility. And that can make it sound very boring. You know, you could just turn on a light and someone would be visible. But obviously what you can also do with lighting the people is you can make them stand out from the scenery, you can sculpt them. So you're lighting a space, you're lighting people, and then you're responding to the text or the piece of performance. So you're using lighting to create atmosphere. You're using colour, you're using direction to tell a story. You're always telling a story. So you're going to paint pictures that give a sense of location, a sense of emotion.
So you're going to be doing those three things. To do those three things, you are going to have certain constraints about what you can do. To achieve those three things you're going to be using lighting equipment, and that will depend on what a theatre has. So you're using a stock of equipment. You're also going to be using potentially things that are special effects. So you're lighting, but you're using resources that exist within the spaces. And you also find that the space itself has physical parameters that will define what you do.
So that’s what you're aiming to do. Then in the same way you're working collaboratively with the other members of the team. So as the lighting designer you're part of the meetings that talk about the design for the team, for the production. Then you're part of the rehearsal process, so you're watching as the directors work with the company, watching how the blocking works, so where the actors are, where you need to put lighting changes. So you're working through the rehearsal process to put all that information together.
Then the final stage is when the production transfers from the rehearsal room to the theatre. You are there physically to create the lighting states. So you're in the space and you go through a process of focusing and then what we call plotting, where we actually make a lighting state and record it into a computer as lighting desk. And then into the technical rehearsals and the dress rehearsals and the performances.

Anisa
At what stage are you brought into a production?

Alex
Sometimes not as early as when we’d like. So ideally you want to be brought into a production as soon as the directors and the designers start to have discussions. Because at that point there are things that hopefully you can perhaps give a view on. So, you know, if a designer suddenly – if you're brought in later and you find that a designer for instance has designed a set that’s got walls and a complete ceiling piece, and then you have to point out to the creative team that that really limits how you can get light on the actors. Again, if you're brought in at the beginning of the process and you can work collaboratively from the beginning then some of those slightly more tricky situations you can kind of work earlier on with.
The reality is often the lighting designers are brought in a bit later. And again, that’s fine. So often by the time the lighting designer is brought onto a project the directors and the designers have already done initial design discussions or come up with initial design which then you respond to. But again, at whatever stage you're brought in it’s about you then responding to often what the set designers have given and obviously to what the director’s vision of the piece is as well.

Anisa
When did you first recognise that you were pretty good at this job?

Alex
(Laughs) I’m not sure you ever say that you're pretty good at the job. People are very kind and if they like your work the biggest endorsement is if somebody asks you back. So that would be I suppose what you can perhaps take. If people like your work and they ask to work with you again, that is the nicest thing about it, yes.

Anisa
What sort of genre do you most enjoy to design for?

Alex
I like straight drama. Storytelling, I love a story, I think stories are what captivate us. And I think good storytelling is central, should be central to theatre. So I really like working on what they would call kind of straight plays. That are all about the storytelling. And it’s then really nice if they’re slightly stylised. So a production that perhaps has lots of – I suppose because again that makes it more interesting from my point of view, you know, if something’s just set in one room and doesn’t move, it’s slightly limited what you can do from the lighting point of view. But if you're working on a play that it ranges, you know, a novel adaptation or something that ranges through lots of different locations, then it’s really lovely that you can work with that.
I also do quite a lot of children’s theatre, which I really love. It’s really nice to work out. Again, when you're introducing people to theatre, you know, children’s first experience of theatre, be it a show that’s designed for children or again pantomime’s which I’ve lit a lot of over the years, to make that first experience really magical. And you can make it really bright and really colourful. I love to do children’s theatre shows as well.

Anisa
What drives you to do your job?

Alex
I genuinely do love my job. I think it’s a privilege to be able to do the work that we all do. It’s a privilege to be able to work in theatre. It’s not always easy work, the hours are long and the pay’s rubbish, but to do something that’s creative and you love to do is really important. I get really excited, as soon as somebody offers me a new project or as soon as I’m given a new script or something to read, I genuinely get excited, and you start visualising it straightaway (laughs) and you have to kind of pull back a bit. So I think that’s what—
And the people, genuinely most people who work in theatre are lovely people. So to get to sit in a room and to create something with a bunch of lovely people, again, not many people are lucky enough to do that as their job. So it’s a privilege.

Anisa
What are your top three tips for lighting a show?

Alex
(Laughs) Wow, okay. There are lots of tips. I’ve been really lucky to again work with amazing lighting designers. When I was a technician, so again when I was working here as an assistant and a deputy, you would sit next to lighting designers whilst they created their work. So there was a lighting designer called Chris Ellis who used to light big musicals here for the artistic director then, Mark Clements. I would programme the lighting desk for Chris and watch him work.
There’s things that he would say which I’ve always carried with me. He would say, “Try and work in broad strokes.” Lighting design is always – in theatre we never have – two things that there’s never enough of, there’s never enough time and there’s never enough money. And lighting design, particularly because you can only actually realise your work when you're in the theatre space and you're given a lighting session and then the tech sessions, that’s the amount of time you have to try and create the whole show.
Sometimes you get really bogged down in the detail. You’ve painted a picture and you're like, yeah, but that angle’s not quite right, or, that’s a bit bright. And Chris used to say, “Broad strokes. Work in broad strokes and then you can go back and tweak and finalise it.” So broad strokes is a good tip. Start with the bigger picture to get it there and then whilst other people are working on other things you can tweak and you can hone and you can refine.
Another of Chris’ which I think I’ve carried with me is leave yourself somewhere to go. So you're trying to lead the audience on a journey. Lighting is about almost manipulating what an audience sees. So you're guiding an audience to what the director wants them to see. But you need to leave yourself somewhere to go is what Chris used to say. So you don’t give away all your tricks in the first five minutes. So the things that you’ve got in the rig that might do a special effect or a certain different look with a different colour gel or from a different angle. If you use everything that you’ve got in your rig in the first five minutes then you’ve kind of blown it all. So one of the tips is to leave yourself somewhere to go. So have a strong beginning but make sure you’ve still got something left to have a strong ending.
The other thing is trying to just keep calm. It can be a very public arena to design lighting. I don’t think that ever gets any easier. Everybody is sat in the room waiting for you to create. Most of the other disciplines have an element where you can go away and do a bit in private. So a set designer will create their beautiful model boxes in their studio or in their rooms and agonise over the detail before they have to present it to the public. As a lighting designer, you are there creating it in front of everybody. So you have to just try and just almost zone everyone else out and just try and create a starting point. And it is always a starting point because you can always amend it. But trying to keep calm is probably the other tip. I’m not sure I’m still very good at that.

Anisa
What do you most struggle with in lighting a show?

Alex
(Laughs) What do I most struggle with? Trying to make the right decisions. So have I got it right? Am I doing something that looks good? Have I got the angles right? Have I got the equipment right? Am I creating what the director wanted or wants? Do I think it looks right? Does it look clean? Does it look interesting? I think you continually question everything actually. (Laughs)
What is probably the trickiest part of the process which is being a lighting designer in the tech week. So in terms of being able to filter information, try and realise everybody else’s vision, but try and do that within technical challenges, technical parameters, within the constraints of time. They’re definitely the hardest things. All the elements, but lighting is very dependent on technology and technology goes wrong. So quite often some of your precious time is drifted away because something is not working or something is broken. So all of those kind of technical challenges make the job quite difficult sometimes because you have this limited amount of time.
And also the room needs to be dark to do lighting. So quite often if other people need to work in the space then there always has to be this agreement, this kind of mutual working agreement, where everyone is trying to maximise their time in the space. But there’s certain things with lighting that you can't do. I can do an awful lot with an angle grinder going, as long as it’s out of the way. Or I can work whilst the sound designer is working because they’re working aurally, they’re listening, and I’m working visually. But if the workshop need to hack apart a piece of scenery then they’re going to want working light to do it. So a lot of the challenges of the role are within that production period.
Although focusing with an angle grinder going is not quite so good, because you're trying to shout instructions to technicians who are kind of metres above your head and you’ve got people who are using power saws and angle grinders. So yes, then you just have to ask very politely if perhaps they could just pause just for a few minutes so you can get on with your job.

Anisa
What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t a lighting designer?

Alex
Gosh. I honestly don’t know. I didn’t know what I wanted to do before I started working in theatre. So having now worked in theatre I still don’t know what I would want to do. I suppose in reality I’d like to stay within the arts. So if I wasn’t a lighting designer there might be other areas within the arts that I could stay in. Or I could give it all up and become, I don't know, a landscape gardener or something. I know a lot of people that worked in theatre that now work outdoors. I think it’s something to do with being kept in a black box for years on end that you suddenly go, right, I’m going to do something that exposes me to the elements. But I don’t think I’d be very good at that (laughs), I don’t like the cold.

Anisa
Was there anyone who gave you your big break or really championed you through this career?

Alex
Always. I’ve been so lucky at every stage for people to put faith in you. So again in those early days the first person who called me for an elecs fit-up who thought that I could do it. The first person who said, “Come and programme this lighting desk.” The first person who said, “Would you like to design the lighting?” Which was for a student show, “Would you like to design the lighting for a show?” So all of those people. I think especially when I arrived here, Derby was producing – as they produce now, but they were producing an awful lot of shows every year. So they would produce nine or ten shows.
Within this building the shows were created from scratch in this building. So the scenic workshop was on site in this building, there was a wardrobe department, there was a props department, and the Derby Playhouse productions were completely in-house productions, often with some of the creatives brought in. But I was incredibly lucky because as I say I was the assistant electrician, and the artistic director at the time, Mark Clements, who is now artistic director at a theatre in America, Milwaukee Rep in America, he had the faith to say to me, “Would you like to design one of our productions?” And the production manager, again, an amazing production manager called Peter Dean, he also had the faith that I would be able to do it. Because of that I carried on, whilst I was still working as a technician, I was doing a number of in-house designs every year. Really because they had the faith to let me start.
In fact, one of the first things I did here was a big musical, which was kind of crazy, I’ve got no idea why they thought I could do that (laughs). I do remember having a slight crisis in the middle of that saying, “It’s all gone purple.” Because every state I put up seemed to be purple (laughs). But because of – yes, it’s people having the faith. And again, I think that’s a really important thing about our industry, is that people share their knowledge and people are then happy to pass that onto the next generation. Because you’ve got to bring people through, otherwise theatre is going die. It’s all about you guys, it’s all about the next generation.
And also as I say some of the more experienced lighting designers who I worked with, who were happy to talk me through their process, let me watch what they were doing, show me things that they’d done. So all of those people. And then directors of companies who were then happy to use me. All the way along there are people who allowed me to work and to learn and to carry on learning.

Anisa
When did the theatre become your career?

Alex
So really after I graduated I’ve never done another job. Since I graduated I pieced together lots of work from different places, as a casual, and then carried on doing that until I took a permanent position as the assistant electrician here. So I was twenty-one. So it’s been the only work I’ve ever done, other than raising two children (laughs). Who are my best productions, I should say that, shouldn’t I? (Laughs)

Anisa
What gave you the confidence to pursue this as a career?

Alex
I didn’t ever pursue it with great confidence. I was just lucky enough to keep being offered work. I’m still always waiting to be caught out, always waiting for someone to say, “How are you qualified to be doing this? Why are you doing it?” I think that’s something that’s always with you, you can always doubt whether you're actually good enough to do it. But the proof has to be in the pudding. So if you can work and do something that then people ask you to do more of, that’s what gives you the confidence that somebody thinks that your work is good enough for you to work again.

Anisa
What’s been your biggest setback in your career?

Alex
I don't think there’s been setbacks because I never had a path that I thought I was going on. Because there’s never been a plan, so therefore there’s never really been a setback. Obviously, I have changed direction, but it’s always, so far, touch wood, it’s always led in a really good direction. Obviously having worked as – still predominantly as a technician before I had children, it would have been impossible – because I was resident head of lighting here, so still working on all the produced shows. So, you know, once a month, every three or four weeks, you would do a production period. And the hours of production period are anything between seventy and ninety hours in a week.
Obviously with young children that wasn’t going to be possible, I couldn’t do my job from that point of view. So at that point it was working out whether I was brave enough to go freelance. But that’s not a setback, that’s just the next part of the journey. So I think perhaps again I’ve been really lucky, I don’t think there’s anything I would regard as a setback. (Laughs)

Anisa
What do you most enjoy about your job?

Alex
I love lots of things about the job. I love the people that I work with, and it’s always been great, but I suppose it’s great now you’ve kind of reached the point where most of the people that I work with are now younger than me. And that’s really great, because you get to kind of – it’s really nice to be able to work with the younger generation. I love what I do. Again, I think because it’s my creative outlet, so it’s fun. And to do something that you can be proud of as well. To do something that – yeah, I think theatre’s really important. I think the arts are incredibly important. So I think it’s great to be able to be part of that.

Anisa
What isn't quite so good about your job?

Alex
(Laughs) The hours are not great. So again, quite a lot of the work I can do at home. So creating the lighting plans, the technical drawings that I do that my designs are based on you can do at home. But obviously the time that you spend in the theatre is very intensive and the hours are very long. If you're juggling as a freelancer to try and get as many projects in as you can then you can end up doing back to back production periods. So the time is very long, you're inside a black box an awfully long time. Often when I’ve been away my boys will say to me, “Where have you been? What did you see?” And I say, “I didn’t see anything in that city other than the theatre and where I’m staying,” because that’s what you do.
And you don’t earn a huge – it’s hard to earn a living doing what we do. You're freelance and there is not a huge amount of money in the arts. But again you're privileged to work as much as you do. They’re two of the things. It’s very intensive. So again, over the years I’ve missed weddings, birthdays, I didn’t miss the birth of my children obviously but I know quite a lot of dads that work in the industry that did. Theatre ends up you have to put it first because there’s a deadline. The show opens on that day. So it’s very difficult to therefore work around it, there isn't a flexibility. So sometimes that can be tough but probably tougher for your loved ones than it is for you (laughs) because that’s what you do.

Anisa
I’d like to talk about the changes in the industry for a moment. Have you noticed any?

Alex
Yeah. I think from a technical theatre point of view obviously when I first started out thirty years ago there were a lot less women doing technical theatre, and certainly doing lighting design and sound design and AV design. There are definitely a lot more people in the industry now, which is great. But I do think that theatre has always been – there have always been a lot of people working in theatre who are female, I think it’s just in terms of the technical roles.
I think even now – it’s been a long time since I counted, but I think it’s still less than ten percent of the professional members of the Association of the Lighting Designers who are female. So it’s still a relatively small amount of women who work in the job. Having said that, there are some incredible role models. Some of the best lighting designers in the country are female. Paule Constable, who lit War Horse and the Curious Incident. Emma, who lights for Wayne McGregor. There are huge female role models which I think is amazing.
When I was head of lighting here there was also a female head of lighting at Nottingham. There was a female head of lighting at Stoke, who is still there, and she’s also the resident lighting designer, an amazing lighting designer. So there have always been and there are women that work in the industry but there are certainly more now. When I first started out I was often the only woman on the crew.

Anisa
What are your thoughts on opportunities for women in technical theatre roles?

Alex
There’s absolutely no reason why women can't work in any of the technical theatre roles, absolutely no reason. Again, there are now really good courses so you can learn. But you can still also learn the way I learnt, by doing it, by going to your local theatre or your local drama group, getting involved at a grass roots level and learning as you go. Because you never finish learning. And also because technology is changing so quickly now that everybody is having to learn new things and a lot of it which we can then pull back into and use really creatively in theatre. But I think, I don't know if it’s a confidence issue, but there are no roles in theatre that women cannot do as well as men.

Anisa
What are the advantages of being a woman in your role?

Alex
It’s hard, isn't it? I would never want to be employed for what I do because I’m a woman. I would hope to be employed because people like what I do for me as an individual. So there shouldn’t be anything that makes it better that I’m a woman doing it than a man, if that makes sense? Everybody that does the lighting designer role, it’s about communication. And so the role dictates a lot of how you need to fulfil the role I think. So I don’t think it’s gender specific from that point of view. I think it’s more about the personality. It’s more about if you – and again, one doesn’t always achieve that – but if you feel that you can – you want to communicate and you're good at communicating, or that you like collaborating, like being part of a team. They’re the important criteria to the role I think rather than gender.

Anisa
Couldn’t agree more. If you had a magic wand and could change one thing in the industry, what would it be?

Alex
I think it would be to allow people to create work sometimes with – money would help. So for people to be able to create the work they want to create, companies, be that work that’s more accessible, or work that’s on a bigger scale, without the constraints of funding. So I suppose it goes back to the other two things that there’s never enough of in theatre. Money and time. So I suppose if we had more money and more time then there would be a freedom to create whatever, wherever, whenever, for everyone. And that would be lovely.
I have to say I’m really passionate about regional theatre. It’s really important that theatre reflects an area. And so much of the resources in the arts goes into London. Which is amazing, we have a fantastic theatre sector, but it’s really important that some of that, that the creativity that exists across the country is recognised as well. And I’ve worked in this region in regional theatre for thirty years and the work that’s produced by local – at all levels by local theatre makers is astonishing. And it would be lovely if that got more funding (laughs).

Anisa
What’s your greatest achievement?

Alex
Other than my children. Theatrically. Oh gosh, I don’t… It would be really hard to pick one show. I suppose the greatest achievement is to be able to continue to do lots of work with lots of different people. And to have had fantastic relationships with the theatre family that I’ve worked with over the years. Be that technicians or writers, directors. And it is a family, it’s a proper family. There are people that I worked with thirty years ago who are people making theatre and working theatre all over the country. I think, yeah, the greatest achievement is to be part of that theatre family.

Anisa
Is there a production that you are most proud of?

Alex
There’s been a lot of shows (laughs). And I’m proud of a lot of them. I’m trying to think about perhaps landmark shows. But I’m not sure I could name one. It’s funny as you're asking I can kind of see show images flashing up in my head. There have been shows which have given me different experiences, so they’re all kind of valuable in different ways. Yeah, I’m not sure I can give you a name of a production that I would want to nail everything on. It’s kind of more important to have done them all.

Anisa
How would you suggest a young person can get into this industry?

Alex
I think again there are lots of different ways now. I think if you know you want to do it at an early enough age then there are some fantastic technical theatre courses that you can do. The drama schools and the conservatoires do amazing courses where you can specialise in lighting or you can do something that’s much more broad based in terms of technical theatre and then specialise later. And I think that’s a good option for a lot of people.
But as I say I don’t think it’s the only option. I would always say to people – and especially as a lot of the courses now focus very much on lighting design, so their students are coming out at lighting designers, which is absolutely amazing, but you cannot separate out the design from the technical side of the job. So to be a good lighting designer you also have to be – you have to know your technical side of it.
And you have to be willing to do the dirty work as well. And I think that’s really important. Because I was a technician, I never like to ask another technician to do something that I wouldn’t do myself. Be that hang upside down off a bridge whilst you're trying to focus something or climb a Tallescope, go up seven metres repeatedly to focus. So I think that marriage of technical training, technical knowledge, and then the creative knowledge is – and again, the courses that you can do offer you that, but you can also do that by doing it. So you can do that as a young person by finding where your local theatre is and going and often you perhaps begin as a volunteer.
But once you’ve gained a certain amount of knowledge and they’re happy that you can work safely, then they will often – theatres employ an awful lot of casual labour. Theatre can't afford to employ a huge amount of permanent technicians. So the staffing works on a pool of casual technicians who will come in for the production periods to fit the shows up or take the shows down or to be there during the production weeks. So I can gain experience.
Again, it’s so much about attitude. If you want to do it people very quickly become aware that you want to do it. And if you’ve got a good attitude to work, if you're pleasant to be around, if you want to do it, then you will get work. And then the knowledge builds because you never stop learning. I get things wrong all the time and I learn things all the time and that doesn’t change, that always happens. So I think although the courses are brilliant, I think that is still not the only way to do it. I think you can learn by doing it.

Anisa
What advice would you give your younger self?

Alex
(Laughs) I suppose try just to not to be afraid to try to do it. Again, I had no idea that this world existed, I had no idea that I would be able to make a living doing it. So I think it’s about having the confidence enough to try. And you don’t have to be perfect, you're not going to be perfect, you're going to make mistakes, you're going to get things wrong, but all you can do is try and do the best job you can do every time that you do it. And I think that’s what you have to try and carry forward.