Lighting Design Assistant Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about a lighting design assistant's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a lighting design assistant.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Lighting Design Assistant

Lighting design assistants work behind the scenes to help organize and implement the 'light plots' for theatrical and other live productions. There's more to this job than flipping a switch, so take a look at the following pros and cons before deciding if becoming a lighting design assistant would be right for you.

Pros of Working as a Lighting Design Assistant
Variety in the job due to changing venues*
Opportunity to work in the performing arts field without having to appear onstage or in front of a camera*
Flexible hours*
The chance to travel and tour*

Cons of Working as an Lighting Design Assistant
Work may be temporary*
Pay may be low ($11-34/hr.)**
May not have authority to make the final creative decisions*
Evening and weekend hours are not uncommon*
Busy work schedules, deadlines and last-minute production changes*

Sources: *April 2012 job listings, **Payscale.com.

Essential Career Info

Job Description & Duties

As a lighting design assistant, you might find yourself working for a summer theater festival, a music hall, an amusement park, a ballet company or even a cruise ship. You might be employed directly by the organization running the venue, or by a lighting company.

This tends to be a collaborative job in which you'll be a member of a team. Your duties can range from helping with research and doing paperwork to attending rehearsals and providing hands-on support for a lighting designer's creative vision during the staging process.

During the initial design and building stage of a show, you might be responsible for familiarizing yourself with the script and preparing the schedules, charts and other paperwork attached to the production. Depending on the job, you may also be asked to co-draft the light plot or attend meetings with the director and the production team. You would probably help hang lights, write light cues and serve as the liaison between the lighting designer and the stage manager for cue calls. You'd also work with the stage manager and electrician to make necessary adjustments.

Salary Info and Employment Outlook

According to PayScale.com, as of September 2015, the hourly rate for a theatrical lighting technician ranged from around $11.00 to $34.00 excluding overtime. This salary information was culled from jobs in the areas of audio, video and entertainment production and special events services.

Education and Training Requirements

Although there is no required education for a job as a lighting design assistant, you can obtain the skills you'll need for this job in a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program with a concentration in lighting design. These programs generally include coursework in theatrical production, stage lighting, lighting design, theater history and maybe even acting.

In addition to developing your own artistic vision and learning how to work in a collaborative environment, you'll learn how to use computer consoles, automated lighting fixtures and computer-aided design software programs like AutoCad and Vectorworks. You'll also learn how to focus and cue lights, prepare production paperwork and brief a master electrician. Some of the skills/abilities mentioned by prospective employers from April 2012 job listings include:

  • Ability to understand and communicate creative and technical information, both orally and in writing
  • Ability to implement light rigging technology
  • Knowledge of the theory and safe use of basic electronics
  • Knowledge of computer-aided design equipment and consoles
  • Ability to lift up to 70 pounds, climb stairs and work on ladders

Lighting Design Assistant Jobs from Real Employers

Employers generally prefer candidates with experience in theatrical or TV/film lighting, as well as event or tour experience. Some employers also prefer a bachelor's degree in a related major. The following job postings from April 2012 will give you an idea of some of the diverse types of opportunities that are available in the field.

  • A professional Shakespeare company in Arkansas is looking for an assistant lighting designer to help out with a three-show season in multiple locations. This is a temporary position, and the individual will be paid a flat fee for his or her services.
  • A touring ballet company, currently based in Massachusetts, has an opening for an assistant lighting designer with a bachelor's degree in a related major and relevant tour and lighting experience. This is a seasonal assignment and the tour will load in, perform and load out of a different city each day.
  • A well-known multimedia retailer in Pennsylvania is advertising for an on-call/freelance lighting assistant with a bachelor's degree in theatrical lighting or a related major and between two and three years of entertainment, television or theatrical lighting experience. The successful candidate will work collaboratively with set designers to identify lighting needs, make sure that the lighting plot enhances both the products and sets and address any issues that might arise during a live show broadcast.
  • A special events lighting company in Washington D.C. is advertising for a production manager/assistant lighting designer to prepare the paperwork and coordinate the technical details for approximately 200 events per year. This is a full-time position, and while the listing does not specify any educational prerequisites, candidates must have four years of experience in event, theatrical or television lighting and two years of event experience in the Washington, D.C., area.

How to Shine in the Field

Many employers prefer to hire lighting design assistants with experience. Participation in college theatrical productions will allow you to begin acquiring those professional-level skills as early as your freshman year. Internships with professional theater, opera and ballet companies, obtained through a college degree program, will also give you a chance to jumpstart your career before you graduate. In addition, a variety of temporary apprenticeships and internships, both paid and unpaid, can be found by visiting BackstageJobs.com, an online source for behind-the-scenes opportunities in the live entertainment industry.

Other Careers to Consider

Interior Lighting Designer

Lighting designers who specialize in interior design provide the light schemes and effects for private homes, offices and public spaces. They can be employed on a full-time basis by architectural, design and engineering firms as well as by furniture stores and building suppliers. Designers must work according to an individual client's schedule, and along with some travel, evening and weekend work may be required.

A bachelor's degree in interior design and experience in the use of related computer software are the usual prerequisites for entering the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 19 percent increase in the number of jobs for interior designers from 2010 to 2020, which is slightly faster than the average for all occupations. As of May 2011, the median annual salary for an interior designer was $48,000.

Multimedia Artist

Multimedia artists and animators create the visual effects for movies, television productions and video games. As of May 2011, the median annual salary was $61,000, as reported by the BLS. Multimedia artists often work nights and weekends; more than half are self-employed. Though a degree isn't always necessary, many multimedia artists have a bachelor's degree in computer graphics, fine art or a related area. Employers look for candidates with strong portfolios and top-notch technical skills.

The BLS projected employment opportunities for multimedia artists and animators to increase by only eight percent from 2010 to 2020, attributed to the number of animation jobs being outsourced overseas. However, software publishers and computer systems design services will see dramatic increases in employment of 49 percent and 43 percent respectively, making those industries the best places for multimedia artists to find work during the next ten years.

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