As a Church Lighting Director (or Designer), you might as well carry the title of professional juggler.
I might be biased, but there aren't many roles in the world that I have heard that switch projects and responsibilities as often as a church lighting director. There's this strange stigma attached to the job that is rare to find in many people; you're seen as highly creative, but also highly technical. You are expected to design insane things on the spot, but then are simultaneously asked by the next person how to pull off this other crazy idea. It sounds frustrating to no end, but I love it.
In the secular world, you typically have two people playing these roles of Lighting Designer and Lighting Director, with the designer wearing the hat of creative and the director taking care of the technical side of things.
You should be coming into the church with questions and having them answered within the walls of the church…
So what does it look like to switch between the hats?
As a Designer, when I'm working on a new project, I really like to define myself as "designer" and not get trapped in a definition of "creative" personally. I have just seen so many people get wrapped up in a mindset that creative equals art, and it has always been a staple of mine that design is greater than art for lighting.
Designing has a purpose; it's there to enhance and elevate something that was already there and fulfill a need that was lacking before. Art by definition is meant to make us ask questions and ponder what's going on, but you should be coming into the church with questions and having them answered within the walls of the church, not coming in and spending the service distracted by lighting and sets that are "artistic" and leaving you with more questions than you came in with.
When it's time to come up with a new design, there are few goals you should be trying to achieve within that process:
-Be purposeful. I feel like more and more often I am seeing people do things in services just because you can, and not because you should. Or you saw this other church do it, and it worked great there, so you want to try it too. There are reasons it worked there, and there are reasons it may or may not work at your church.
Be targeted. More than likely your church has designated a target demographic, and that's usually something I try to keep in mind when working on new designs. "What do -(insert demographic definition here)- like right now?" Your leadership has developed a culture that is most likely based around that group of people, and we should do everything we can to work within that culture, not against it.
Be flexible. I basically feel like this is the golden rule in the design process. You need to be open to criticism on your designs, and really remember it is not about you or your vision. It's about what is best for the church. Also, I can not even begin to count the times that I have sat down to start sketching a design that I loved in my head, and hated on paper, so be open to your own instincts to change things that just are not working.
Whether you hold the title of Director, being the designer and director can be a real challenge sometimes. As the designer, you made this awesome looking set or lighting plot, but now it is time to switch hats and you really have to figure out the details of how difficult it might be to pull that off.
Oftentimes, I find myself have to adapt my designs to help the workflow out, because lets face it, a lot of volunteers may not have the skills to help create that crazy intricate thing I sketched up. On the other hand, I have a tendency to design tough buildouts on purpose to really push my gear and myself as far as I possibly can.
I have a personal philosophy on the director and execution side: that I am going to get the maximum amount of use out of everything around me, and I really feel like that is part of the role and part of being a good steward of the resources.
So what does a day in the life of Lighting Director look like?
Here's a pretty typical day for me:
Set up meetings (these meetings are usually for farther out events, so I can get ahead on the concept and walk in to a later meeting with a plan)
Scheduling (work nights, weekend volunteers, programming sessions, etc.)
Drawing (quick sketches for design concepts)
Plotting (Detailed plans for final approval/visual plans for the team to work from)
Following up with volunteers
Repairing that light that broke over the weekend
Meeting #2 (do these ever stop?)
Checking in on/getting started on a set build
Another meeting, #3 (yep they just keep coming)
I think that actually describes a pretty typical day for me.
It sounds like the most chaotic job in the world, but I promise it's worth it. What is my parting advice to all my fellow colleagues out there? Simply come in with a heart to serve, whether you are a full time employee, part time jack of all trades, or a volunteer. You are playing an important role in the church to help take services to that next level.