“Using technology to make art – that’s wonderful!”

What do careers in stage lighting – whether as a technician or a designer – involve? What motivates people to choose this profession and what do they think of it after years working in the field? BTR talked to two female lighting specialists at the Hanover State Theatre Opera: Susanne Reinhardt, lighting director since 2003, and her colleague Elana Siberski. One is a qualified electrician and the other a graduate of light design, and both are deeply enthusiastic about their profession.

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My visit took place in March, when the season was running as usual, with no inkling of the lockdown soon to come. Susanne Reinhardt showed me around her domain, taking me from the office and lighting booth to the repair workshop and the spotlight storeroom. Parts are rarely thrown away here. Reinhardt is proud of the fact that her staff not only see to maintenance and repairs but also devise their own conversions and innovations. Of course, they still have a wish list, but with mid-term planning and smart budgeting, they have managed well so far and been able to do a lot of creative work.

BTR: I’m very happy to find two women to talk to here at the state theatre in Hanover who have been working together for many years but come from different training backgrounds. My first question is: How did you get interested in your profession?
usanne Reinhardt: Friends recommended that I do an internship in theatre. I looked around various departments and found it thrilling to see what a wide range of different people work there, all with different educations and training, and all with specific skills that are needed in theatre. I still think that’s great and that’s why I stayed in theatre.

Lighting, I thought and still think, is amazing for the way it connects artistic ideas with gaugeable technology and uses colours and colour temperatures! It uses technology to make art, that’s wonderful.

I completed an apprenticeship as an electrician and gained practical experience on construction sites but intended to work in theatre from the start. I always wanted to do lighting myself and so after four years I took my certificate to become a master of lighting. I started working at the Hanover opera and ballet in 2003, when I became head of lighting.

Using technology to make art – sounds like a convincing reason to work in lighting. Ms Siberski, you approached the profession through a university course. What brought you to theatre?
Elana Siberski: I grew up with the opera in Hanover. My siblings and I were in the children’s choir, my brother was a trumpet soloist in the orchestra. I first got on the stage here when I was nine. The diversity of the people and careers – a cross-section of the population, and all of them working towards the same thing – that’s why I wanted to go into theatre.

I started a course in Theatre Studies in Bayreuth. Then during the 1993 vacation I did an internship here in Hanover and after that I knew I wanted to go into lighting.

That was while you were still a student in Bayreuth. How did you change over to study light design?
E.S.: In Bayreuth I had a student job as a lighting technician in a private theatre. I broke off my course and in 1995 started working in Munich, at places including the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz. A course in light design had just been launched there, and I enrolled. In 2000 I took my exam to be a master of lighting in Munich, like Susanne Reinhardt. And I have been working in Hanover since 2008.

We talked about art in lighting, and earlier you mentioned the connection between art and technology. Can you describe the technology side of it?
S.R.: In this field of work, technology has made leaps and bounds and completely changed in recent years. LED lighting and video technology are new arrivals that we didn’t have ‘back then’. Although I believe that LED in no way replaces the lighting technology we already had. LED is an additional stylistic element that can’t replace all the others in theatre lighting. And then there is data administration and digitalisation; that has made the lighting craft far more complex.

E.S.: To me, the technical means are tools, like paintbrushes. LED technology is another brush, to continue that metaphor. But just because I have the LED option, I can’t throw all the other brushes away. Fluorescent tubes came on the scene, then discharge lamps etc. Theatres never threw everything away just because something new became available.

You also mentioned earlier that you still enjoy your work. How do you organise the team work so that it is satisfying for all the staff, too?
S.R.: Here in our department I try to involve the staff as much as possible. The result must be right; how we get it is largely up to the individual, I don’t dictate much in that respect. The staff often suggest solutions that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I’m happy to invest in innovations dreamt up by staff.

E.S.: I think, too, that as head of lighting, or head of stage design for that matter, you need to get a feel for the artistic side. Otherwise you can’t give a good service in the team; after all, it’s partly about giving professional advice, opening up to the team and all the other people.

Let’s talk about the practical side. We always hear that lighting is allocated too little time…
E.S.: It’s true, we all agree on that. Lighting is the most complicated of all stage crafts. Every other one can be assessed individually. A model can be made of the stage set; there are fittings for the costumes. The performers can rehearse just with spikes on the stage. But for the lighting, it all needs to be combined to really see how it works. All the stage elements need to be in place, even if it’s ‘only’ for a lighting rehearsal, to see the effect of the lighting on it. In recent years, video has become another important stagecraft. Video and lighting both work with light, so they are rehearsed together. But that hasn’t meant they get a split-second more time – although both the medium itself and its interplay with the light should be put through thorough checks.

Would you nevertheless recommend a career in stage lighting?
S.R.: Jobs in theatre still hold a lot of potential for professional development. You need a broad foundation of expertise to get started and then in practice you soon specialise and start taking responsibility for specific tasks. So, in the end, it’s a far cry from the original idea of the all-round event technician. The hours of work are harder than ever to reconcile with most people’s idea of a social life and leisure activities. But if you find your own personal solution to that problem, the hands-on creative experience and delight in the product compensate for all the demands made of you. The final applause is always for everybody involved in the performance and shows the audience’s appreciation of all the preparatory work, too.

E.S.: Yes, for me it was the right decision, too. I still think so. But there are inherent problems with professions in theatre, as we mentioned. Lighting should get more focus and recognition on courses and in creative cooperation, as an equally valid element of artistic design. But we will keep working on that and naturally welcome anyone who wants to join us in this fascinating profession.

BTR Sonderband 2020
Rubrik: English texts, Seite 158
von Karin Winkelsesser

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