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A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
average off-Broadway electrician’s salary is some-
where around or under $1,000.00 a week. That’s an
average, before any taxes are taken out. The produc-
tion electrician and assistant may make more, and the
youngest electrician would probably earn less. The
load-in weeks will be higher, the weeks running the
show will be lower. But $1K a week, per electrician,
is a reasonable place to start calculations. Using that
formula, the load-in payroll is budgeted for about
25-person weeks, while the running crew will be
limited to six or seven people at the most.
Since it appears to be 5 days in the theatre until the
tech begins, and presuming that most of the lighting
package will be rented, it’s possible to bench-mark the
“prep” period at approximately a week. If the prep/
load-in/get-us-thru-focus crew includes the production
electrician, an assistant, and another eight electricians,
that roughly translates to $10,000.00 a week. If the
“prep” period only refers to the period of time through
focus, the $18K number seems high and might be able
to be adjusted to other line items. If the “prep” instead
is referring to the entire period of time through pre-
views until opening, which is over 2 weeks, then the
designer potentially there may be a problem.
The funny part about budgets is that often it
seems like it’s all about interpretation, depend-
ing on whos analyzing them. They’re like the half
glass of water; some say the glass is half empty, oth-
ers say the glass is half full, and some say the glass
is too big. Even though the budget’s numbers don’t
change, their impact can often be radically different,
depending on who’s doing the talking. Here are some
questions that might be posed to the person who’s
actually going to analyze the projected labor costs
and the results of the rental cost estimates. In profes-
sional situations that will be either the general man-
ager, or the producer:
•Willthecrewbepaidweeklyorbythehour?
•Whenisthecalendarbreakpointbetween
“load-in” and “weekly”?
•Whenisthebreakpointbetweenweeks?
Sunday or Monday? During the tech there’s no
Monday off. Will the crew go into some kind of
overtime?
Usually the lighting designer doesn’t get involved in
this facet of the show. For the purposes of this book,
however, the issue of labor is going to be examined
a few times, in order to see what takes place when
money is tight and the show is too big.
As far as the weekly rental goes, looking at
that number and having some sense of what it
means is a little more difficult. Having worked in
the Hybrid Theatre in the past, and having some
sense of the house inventory, a lot of the show will
have to be rented. There aren’t many instruments
and there isn’t much hardware stock in the venue.
There are no boom bases, no pipe, and no side-
arms. There’s also very little cable and two-fers.
If memory serves there’s not much house circuitry, and
the number of the functional house dimmers is ques-
tionable. Without a preliminary site survey, there’s no
telling how much house gear can really be used.
So how much gear does this budget actually
translate into? Sadly, it depends on a lot of things;
the city, the rental house, the quality of gear, what’s
available on the shelves, what’s the latest expensive
“gotta-have” toy, and so on. When you’re the big-
time lighting designer you can ask, or demand, that
light shops cater to you, since you bring them a lot
of business. When you’re the small-time or the new-
bie lighting designer, you rarely get those kinds of
breaks, or that kind of treatment. There are many
other ways to develop relationships with lighting
rental shops. One method begins by familiarizing
yourself with the shops and the rental account repre-
sentatives and then finding the account rep that you
get along with. Take him or her out for lunch, and
ask questions: how to get the best rental bang for
your buck, what’s the best way to present them with
rental requests, and so on. A different method is to
make friends with the production electricians in that
city, or the house elecs in town, and ask for their
opinions about the lighting rental shops. Everyone
has their own stories, and more often than not, is
very willing to share them.
The amount of weekly rental money may not be
substantial enough to cover both conventional and
moving light fixtures. The rental will either consist of
some number of conventional fixtures, or a lot fewer
moving light fixtures. And that takes us to a discussion
of moving lights.
Shelley’s Notes:
Movers or Not?
When confronted with having to choose between con-
ventional and moving lights, there are two extremes
and a lot of in betweens. Like the little devil on one
shoulder, and the angel on the other, the devil says
“Sure, the moving light fixtures provide you with
more flexibility and pizzazz, they have movement,
color, what’s not to like?” But the angel says, “Yes,
they are pretty, but they come at a price. They cost
more money than the same number of conventional
fixtures, and their replacement bulbs can be very
expensive. Not only that, there are lots of extra pieces
needed for the moving light: power supplies, special

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