Interview: Shedding light on the Cambridge theatre scene

Johnny King
Image credit: Micha Frazer-Carroll

As a Cambridge theatre goer, it is all too easy to get to know the faces of the actors who circulate the scene year by year. Yet how often do you think about the students working behind the scenes to make sure everything looks and sounds professional and creative? Johnny King has been the ‘lights dude’ for eighteen shows - and counting - since coming to Cambridge last year, including Dying City, Cirque De L'Extraordinaire and The Coalition,  and I caught up with him at the ADC to hear about his experiences.  

How and why did you get involved with lighting at Cambridge?

I’ve been doing tech stuff for a number of years now and I left school with the explicit objective of not getting involved with anything serious. But then I got involved with our [Downing’s] freshers’ play and was reminded that being behind the scenes is just a great way to meet a whole load of people really quickly. Drama is obviously very high commitment but the technical side less so; you are drafted in towards the end of the rehearsal process meaning that you have an intense week of work. It’s dynamic, you can go through shows very quickly and meet a wonderful range of people who I would never have met otherwise.

What is your favourite show that you’ve worked on?

My favourite show as an experience was Cirque De L'Extraordinaire; everyone involved in that show was great fun and the whole premise of sketches set in a circus was hilarious and really fun to light. As a performance it was fantastically excessive on all fronts.

And so you must have a preferred venue too?

Well, I’ve mainly done Playroom and in-college shows. I find the ADC a lot more ‘high maintenance’ and time consuming and so haven’t got involved in that scene so much because it’s just too much of a commitment with all my course work!

What have been the biggest challenges for you?

On the whole I’ve been quite lucky. For Dying City we hired in this laminated tape which is thinner than a finger and functions as a light source; it’s not UV, it’s not fluorescent but is a light source in itself. It completely threw me. In fact, using it was quite humbling as it told me how poor an electrician I am. I’ve never seen it in a Cambridge show before and there was a lot of last minute fiddling with wires and things. Stressful, but certainly worth it!

And finally, have you got any tips for freshers who may want to get involved in lighting or the technical side of theatre more generally?

Doing technical theatre stuff is very accessible here. There are so few people involved so there is always a really high demand and you can get into shows pretty easily. And although it can be challenging at first, once you learn the basics you can go a long, long way with quite a limited technical repertoire. You learn to be happy to involved in many types - and standards - of show and it’s really enriching!

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