Playability: A Reinvention of Contemporary Lighting Practice Drawing on Fred Bentham’s 1930s Light Console

Hunt, Nick (2015) Playability: A Reinvention of Contemporary Lighting Practice Drawing on Fred Bentham’s 1930s Light Console. In: Revaluing Theatrical Heritage: Challenges and Opportunities. Leuven University Press, Leuven, Belgium, pp. 59-69.


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In London in the mid nineteen-thirties Fred Bentham invented a theatre lighting control system that was in several key respects a radical departure from the controls of the time. In a pre-digital age, the Light Console made use of cinema organ technology to create a lighting control that for the first time gave full, finger-tip control to a single seated operator, and was compact enough to be placed front-of-house so the operator could see the stage. Bentham saw the lighting operator’s role as essentially artistic, not merely technical, and created a console to allow him to fulfil this vision. However, in the English-speaking theatre world at least, the role of the theatre lighting operator has remained a procedural one with minimal creative input into the performance. In this essay, I describe a research project that has investigated what might be learnt from Bentham’s ideas – embodied in the Light Console – and how these ideas could be applied in contemporary theatre-making practices. I describe both the initial stage of the research, restoring to working order of one of Bentham’s original Light Consoles, and the second stage in which a new lighting control system was created, based on principles derived from the radical innovations of the Light Console. This new console was used to light a devised performance in order to test how it might support a reinvention of the theatre lighting process in which the lighting operator becomes the lighting artist. In the essay I argue that to arrive at an embodied, lived understanding of the past – the kind of understanding of the practitioners of the time – the artefacts of the past must be used, not merely examined and documented. Furthermore, the value of examining the artefacts of the past is not only to understand earlier times, but also to inform, and perhaps to radically reshape, present and future practices.

Item Type: Book Section
Depositing User: Dr Nick Hunt
Date Deposited: 05 Jan 2021 15:59
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2021 15:59

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