Edinburgh Fringe People

The Lighting Designer: Attila Lenzsér

Published on Friday 24 August 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, and top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. This time lighting designer Attila Lenzsér.

Attila discovered the magic of theatre at a young age, though originally began his career as a lighting designer in the concert industry. He has since moved into theatre lighting and at this year’s Fringe designed the lighting for the remarkable circus show ‘My Land’. Needless to say, shows like this pose particular lighting design challenges, with safety as well as aesthetics a key consideration.

We spoke to Attila about his work and the specific challenges of designing lights for circus and Fringe shows.

TW: When you are designing lights for a show like ‘My Land’, what is the creative process like? How much does the director of the piece input?
AL: My principle aim is realising the vision of the director while, of course, adding my own approach. The lighting design team takes part in many of the rehearsals during the creative process of the show. Ideally we are there from the outset, so we can play an active part in the development of the wider production.

TW: How did you get into theatrical lighting design?
AL: Theatre has always been an important part of my life. My father worked in a theatre and I often accompanied him there – so you could say I was touched by the magic of theatre at a very young age. He worked with sound, I got to work with light! I originally worked at concerts, but with time I found my way back to the theatre, where I have been able to capitalise on my experience of concert lighting design in a theatrical setting, melding the two fields.

TW: Lighting designers are often freelance – how do you get work? How do you decide what projects to get involved in?
AL: That’s very true, I am a freelancer as well. And that can be a very good thing, because you’re not tied to any one specific field or vision. How do I get work? Well, you do your work well, and that way you get more opportunities. It is pretty much like in any part of life.

TW: How does designing lights for an Edinburgh Fringe show compare to designing lights for shows elsewhere?
AL: At the Fringe, you have to compromise a lot. For starters, you’re venue isn’t necessarily a conventional theatre. This year we performed in a former church, last year it was a tent. Plus, of course, it is very likely that the lighting set up in your performance space is not only for your show, it will have to serve many others as well. So, yes, compromise is the key word here!

TW: Does designing lights for physical shows like ‘My Land’ pose particular challenges?
AL: Lighting design for circus shows is very special. The performers risk their lives night after night and the lighting has to support them. They can be high up in the air, balancing on and with different often impossible tools, and in that context – to put it simply – being able to clearly see is key to their safety. But at the same time, the lighting has to look wonderful as well!

So more compromise. The acrobat will say they need this and that light to allow them to achieve a certain thing. I’ll say “but that looks ugly!” Then we work together and manage to create something that supports them but looks amazing too. Trust is very important here as well. They must trust me, they must believe that everything will work out just fine.

TW: When you’re a lighting designer, what is your role once the show is actually in production. Are you involved in setting the show up? Do you have any involvement in operating the show?
AL: Yes, in most cases. For example, for the Fringe I accompanied the team to Edinburgh so I could be there while they were setting up the show. I also like to actually be there for the performances and to operate the show as many times as possible. This is partly because, with time, the show changes and develops, and I might want to adjust the lighting design to adapt to those changes. Plus you might also have new ideas once the show is up and running. So it is important to be there again and again.

TW: What is your working relationship with other people on the show’s crew like? How do you brief them to ensure your vision is realised?
AL: Of course, it is good. It has to be good. Because you can only expect a good show if you have a good working relationship with your colleagues. And not only with the technicians working on the show, or the director, but with the entire team. Especially on a show like this one, because – as I said – the acrobats must be able to trust me, and I must live up to their trust.

TW: What advice would you have for someone designing lights for an Edinburgh Fringe show for the first time?
AL: Be prepared for an extremely short time in the venue before your show opens. So plan everything you can in advance and in as much detail as possible. Know precisely what you want. Once you are in the venue, always start with the key parts of the production, because you can always enhance things later on. In fact, let me tell you a secret. At the Fringe, everyone fine-tunes the lighting during the first week of show. So if you are doing that, don’t worry, you are not the only one!

TW: And finally, do you have one top tip for anyone interested in pursuing a career in lighting design?
AL: Learn to be patient and learn to sit! You’ll always be the first one to arrive and the last one to leave.

‘My Land’ was performed at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2018.