Declan Randall Discusses his Love of Lighting

Declan Randall has been a professional lighting designer for over 16 years. Born in South Africa and now based in London, Declan has travelled worldwide for his art. He's also served as Resident Lighting Designer for the Market Theatre, Johannesburg the South African State Theatre Dance Company, the Barnyard Theatre Group, the Black Ties Ensemble and Opera Africa.

In his tim­e Declan has designed the lighting for more than 235 productions and has won three awards for "Best Lighting Design". In January 2008 he published his first book on lighting design entitled "Stage Lighting Design - Making the Light Fantastic". Recent credits include: Aida, Saturday Night Fever, Les Contes D'Hoffman, High School Musical, Porgy & Bess, Winnie - the opera, Dialogues des Carmelites, Wind in the Willows, The Graft and the Wexford Festival Opera season 2011.

Why choose lighting as your creative medium?

I wanted to be an actor, but a potential future life on the breadline didn't appeal! I decided to study the technical side of entertainment - from the first lighting class I was hooked. I enjoy the dynamic nature of lighting design; it's a unique creative outlet that demands a fluid and flexible approach.

What delights you about being a lighting designer?

Without light, there is nothing. The ability to manipulate both the medium and the audience so they see things 'our way' captures my imagination and inspires me on every project I do.

Le Corbusier said - "Light creates ambiance and feel of a place as well as the expression of a structure." In a similar vain how would you describe what light means to you?

One of the most evocative phrases relating to lighting is: - "In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary". I've tried to bring that sentiment into my work. Light for me is another performer - sometimes in the background, offering support and sometimes it's a key player with something to say. Without the performance, stage lighting would have no purpose, and conversely without light, the show could not be fully realised. A symbiotic relationship exists between the two. It's the exploration of this that captivates me, both intellectually and creatively.

In terms of the sector you have chosen to work in what drew you to it?

I have been fortunate enough to work in most sectors and have also spent some time designing architectural lighting design. The live events sector (and I include theatre in this) is the one that fascinates me. Because it's live you need to be able to react fast and think on the fly. I also enjoy touring - each day is a new venue. New equipment choices have to be made with the same end-goal in mind - the original design intent and look of the show has to be preserved. That said there's an amazing sense of satisfaction that comes from having completed a lighting design and "locked in" all the cues. To know they are happening night after night, and that each member of the audience is treated to the same show every show is a delight.

Do you have a signature style?

I've tried very hard not to develop a style that identifies my designs. I believe that each show is unique. However I do have a few "signifiers" that those who know me well can recognize.

What's your favorite 'natural world' lighting scenario?

I enjoy creating realistic lighting scenes; it's the biggest challenge for any lighting designer. Re-creating a storm on stage is the most fun. Progressing from a bright summers day, through a gradual darkening of the skyline, to arrive at a total downpour is hugely satisfying. It's all about taking the audience on a journey. One of the key functions of lighting is to inform the audience about the location, season and the time of day.

What makes for a successful lighting design?

This is a tricky one. I guess a good design is one that works in synchronicity with the piece. It's when every single cue is perfectly placed, perfectly timed, perfectly executed and looks right. The success of the design is about the complete package – it's also about the team that helped to put it all together.

Your palette - how flexible or open to new technology is it?

I find that as technology improves, often the solutions we end up using are the old tried-and-tested ones. I've always been open to new ideas and technologies; It's part of what we do. Lately there have been some rapid and exciting developments in product design. I hope we can use these to create equally exciting and certainly more energy efficient lighting designs.

Do you have a trusted toolbox - what makes you seek out new technology?

More often than not, we are "forced" to use new technology by situation rather than by design. Perhaps we are in a venue with limited power resources that makes us turn towards more energy efficient sources, or perhaps the set design requires that we find smaller more compact fittings. We need to be open and we need to be willing to adapt and experiment.

Having said that I remain a huge fan of tungsten lighting. I'm 100% against LED lighting as a replacement light source for tungsten. LED is another tool in our toolbox and in that context I am 100% in favor of it. I choose my instruments/colours/angles carefully and that goes a long way towards the overall success of the design. I make decisions conscientiously and I'm mindful of the energy consumption/carbon footprint. However I would mourn the day where such decisions are no longer the creative's to make.

How do you see lighting design developing in the future in the context of technological development?

I think that over time stage lighting has steadily got brighter and that there are a large number of stages out there that are over lit. We are learning new ways of lighting particularly with the advent of LED. They behave differently to other sources. I hope that as part of the learning curve we can see overall light levels reduced.

Is there a lighting professional that you particularly admire? If so and you could ask them any question you wanted who and what would it be?

There are several and I would ask them all – what is your favorite lighting tip or trick and why.


For more on Declan's dedication to our lighting industry check out these links: