As lighting designer and production stage manager for Louisville Ballet, Michael T. Ford works behind the scenes to bring a choreographer’s vision to life. Here, he talks about the importance of collaboration – for him, and for others contemplating a career like his.
Is it accurate to say that in your line of work, when it’s done poorly it’s very obvious, but when it’s done well, it should be almost invisible?
Pretty much, yes. Sometimes it may not be obvious, but if you are not reinforcing the choreographer’s ideas and vision, then the audience is being led astray. You also need to know when to step up and step back. There are times when it is appropriate to have a dramatic lighting statement that is very noticeable, but once again, it must fit the production. The audience is not there for the lighting but for the ballet. Some of Adam Hougland’s pieces (“Cold Virtue” is shown above) have a lot of dramatic shafts of light and darkness. We hardly ever use any front light, but it works for his stuff.
I am a collaborative designer in that I feel I am really working for the choreographer. It is his or her vision. I certainly go into the theatre with ideas on how I want things to look, but if we might disagree on something, we certainly go with their preference. I had a learning curve with Adam Hougland and his set designer in the beginning of our collaborations because I could not always see where we were going. I learned to trust Adam and we worked to get to a place everyone was happy with. I have learned a lot about lighting in a different way because of that.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in your field?
I n many ways, there are more opportunities out there now than when I was starting out. Technical theatre, and particularly lighting, is changing dramatically every day. There is new technology coming out all the time. Learn how to use that equipment so when you do start designing, you understand your tools. Knowing how to use CAD and lighting software is essential now to doing the job. In the end, however, it is a visual medium, and equipment is the means to an end. The classroom is a good place to start learning theory and basic ways to be creative. Then you have to go out there and work shows. This will expose you to other people’s work – and that is how you will meet the people who will remember you when other jobs come along. Also remember that this is a business in which you have to know how to work with other people. Designers, directors, stagehands, and performers – you will have to work well with all of them.