by Laura Weick

Alex Macbeth went to college intending to study science. He dabbled in theater growing up but decided that it wouldn’t be a stable career. But when a light board operator literally broke a leg during a college production of Julius Caesar, Macbeth had to draw from his high school theater tech know-how to keep the show going. He hasn’t looked back since. 

Alex Macbeth, assistant lighting supervisor. Photo by Natasha Samreny

“There was a moment where the city was burning down and there’s all of these breathtaking fire effects going on,” Alex recalls. “And then everything just faded down to Caesar’s wife, and she blew out the candle in this beautiful display. It was then I knew what I really wanted to do. The next semester, I changed my major.” 

Alex, now assistant lighting supervisor at Trinity Rep, is part of the theater’s electrics team. The team is not only responsible for controlling stage lighting and spotlights, but also for making theater miracles happen through countless effects requiring electricity. 

It all starts with the first meeting between the production’s director and design team – when the electrics team hears their ideas surrounding the production’s visuals. The electrics team then determines what’s possible. From there, the lighting designer crafts a lighting plot, which maps out every lighting cue in a show. Finally, it’s time for the whole team of electricians to implement the plan. 

“It becomes a sort of all-encompassing hurricane where we’re thinking about not only how to set up, rig, and program the lights, but the special effects as well,” Lighting Supervisor Lovanni Gomez says. 

Lighting Supervisor Lovanni Gomez. Photo by Natasha Samreny

These special effects aren’t just light-based. The team is also responsible for many visual, atmospheric effects like fog, haze, and projections. Lovanni’s favorite special effects this season include the smoke coming from the witch’s cauldron in Becky Nurse of Salem, the magnetic wheel falling in The Good John Proctor, and confetti cannons used in A Christmas Carol – all of which are managed by the electrics team. 

Alex notes that less flashy moments can have an impact, too. He emphasizes how the slightest shift in a lighting set’s color, focus, or texture can totally change a scene. Alex believes these choices can empower actors on stage, too. When the time comes in a performance to implement each light or effect, it’s up to the two lightboard operators to make sure each cue goes off without a hitch. Ian Gale and Maddie Simmons are the current ops, sitting in a booth above the audience every show.  

Light Board Operator Maddie Simmons

“It’s more than sitting there and pressing buttons over and over again,” observes Maddie. “There’s a computer program we use to code in every cue, saved [before a production opens] so we can implement it each show … Then we’re sitting there and pressing buttons over and over again!” 

Jokes aside, theater technicians, no matter their specific discipline, have rigorous schedules. They’re on call during tech rehearsals and shows, on top of their daily duties as theater staff. But for people like Lovanni, the challenging work is worth it in the end. 

“A big part of the magic is people don’t see how we do these things behind the scenes, so I think [technical theater is] sort of underappreciated,” Lovanni says. “Sometimes it’s lost on audiences how much work goes in day to day to make these very finite moments of art happen.” 

Top photo: Ian Gale, light board operator. Photo by Natasha Samreny