Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?
My name is Tamykha Patterson and I am a freelance lighting programmer and assistant lighting designer.
What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?
With both lighting programmer and assistant lighting designer roles I spend the majority of my day with the lighting designer.
As a lighting programmer, I will start my day checking the rig to make sure all lights, practicals and anything else controlled by the lighting desk is working and ready for when the lighting designer arrives. During the morning session I will typically be pre-programming scenes that are to be looked at that day or editing lighting cues from notes taken the previous day. I will then be building and editing cues when the company join to rehearse on stage. During previews I would either be operating shows or be close by in case something goes wrong during the performance.
As an assistant lighting designer my typical day will include me arriving to work a little earlier than the designer to ensure that their work station is ready for them to start work. The morning session tends to be without the company so I will walk the stage so the designer can continue to work. The afternoon sessions with cast differs slightly depending on the show. I can be doing anything from calling the followspots to creating paperwork and updating plans. During dress rehearsals and previews I will watch all the shows, making notes to feed back to the lighting designer and/or followspot operators.
What’s great about your job?
I enjoy seeing a production come to life. It is amazing how much a show can develop from the first day of technical rehearsals to the opening night. As a programmer I love that I am able to bring to life a designer’s vision and as an assistant lighting designer I love how I am able to nourish that vision whether it be, for example, watching the show and feeding back my notes to the designer or calling followspots.
What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?
On some productions I do find the time frame from pre-plotting some of the lighting cues through to opening/press night a little challenging. As a lighting programmer, I can feel the pressure of ‘holding up’ a technical rehearsal. This can be down to anything from the lighting designer wanting to create something quite big and spectacular within a tight production schedule, running out of time to run and finesse typically the ending of the show, or creatives wanting a change of direction, for example, dramatically changing the blocking, the location or the feeling of a scene.
What are the highlights of your career to date?
Working at National Theatre a year and a half after completing my apprenticeship
Programming my first West End production. The West End transfer of Nine Night at Trafalgar Studios
Working on my first West End Musical as Assistant Lighting Designer on Tina the Musical at Aldwych Theatre
My first experience working at an open-air theatre as Assistant Lighting Designer on Evita at Regents Park Open Air Theatre
I have absolutely enjoyed my role in these positions but it’s also down to the amazing lighting teams and incredible lighting designers that I have had the honour to work with that makes these jobs stand out.
What was your career path into this job? Have you also worked outside the arts?
I was a technical theatre apprentice based at New Wimbledon Theatre for a year. Before that I worked the delivery shift in retail which I was not a fan of, but for the last two months or so I would leave work and venture off to theatres around London, leaving my CV at the stage door asking for work experience or shadowing opportunities.
Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?
To leave a job that I enjoyed to become a freelance programmer and assistant LD with hardly any experience was both challenging and scary, but it was the right time for me to take the leap. I have such a great support network of industry professionals who I know I can always turn to for help and guidance. Also, hard work and determination to find work and improve at what I do.
Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?
Two main changes I have noticed are:
Health & Safety – I think there is a greater effort for the industry to abide by the rules and regulations to make the workplace a safe working environment. I believe introducing The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015 played a huge part in this.
High level of complexity and technical demands on shows – The size of productions is continually growing and due to the forever advancing technology within our industry, shows are more likely to have technical elements such as video, automation (stage revolves and lift, set and human flying etc) and auto-tracking followspots.
You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?
Do not panic about leaving school and not knowing what career path you want to follow. It may take a little time but once you discover it, it will make you so happy!
Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?
Just go for it! You are good enough! Like many professions there are setbacks along the way but keep going it will all fall into place in the end. Follow your heart and what you need to do to reach your goals. When in a working environment ask questions and soak up as much information as you can.
Tamykha Patterson will be participating in an ‘Ask Us Anything’ panel session at TheatreCraft 2019, the free offstage theatre careers fair for 16-30-year-olds which takes place on Monday 11 November at the Royal Opera House. To sign up for your free place at TheatreCraft and find out more information about the day, visit www.theatrecraft.org