Let There Be Light! The Lighting Engineers at the Gasteig
The lighting team of Europe’s largest arts centre consists of ten people. Together, they are responsible for illuminating both the Gasteig’s stages and its foyers. With about 1000 light fixtures that are either permanently installed in auditoriums or waiting for their big day in hidden storerooms, the lighting engineers create an ever-surprising interplay of light, colour, shape and texture. As well as electronically controllable moving lights, some weighing as much as 40 kg, the stock includes gobos (screens used for projecting all kinds of patterns) and nostalgic rarities such as Svoboda battens with which they can create atmospheric »light curtains«.
Oliver Brandt, head of the lighting department explains: »At the Gasteig, we lighting technicians have a great deal of creative freedom. Since we do not have a fixed repertoire here and play host to a multitude of ever new events and performances, we encounter many different people, all with different requirements, which we then implement with our lighting equipment. Unlike in some other theatres, there are no hierarchies: everyone must be able to do everything but we can also give our creativity free reign.«
The sheer diversity of events is reflected in the everyday work of the Gasteig’s lighting technicians: today a straightforward reading in parallel with a classical concert complete with television broadcast in the Philharmonic Hall, tomorrow a complex dance theatre premiere. Then there are the festival weekends, which often involve see the entire lighting team fervently preparing for days in advance, using every free minute to sketch creative, multi-faceted lighting designs to underscore the line-up’s diversity.
In weekly production meetings, the special requirements of upcoming events are discussed, the lighting team always collaborating with many colleagues from stage, sound and media engineering. The run-up to a complex production often involves extensive lighting rehearsals, with lighting doubles taking the actors’ place in all the scripted positions. various moods are tried and programmed for each scene and – once the director nods their consent – saved to the light console. A full lighting plan can easily include about 150 different light settings, with descriptive names like »Dancer moves from stage right into red light square«.
Even where the light is largely programmed in advance, the Gasteig lighting technicians prefer to take key characters into their own hands: »Although LED front lights are by now quite advanced, we feel that it doesn’t do such a good job with facial lighting yet. A person should not appear grey on stage, and a good light spectrum is needed to bring out the best of a person’s appearance. Manual halogen spotlights are still unbeatable for faces,« says Oliver Brandt, who has headed the Gasteig lighting team for thirteen years now.
Rarely sitting at the lighting controls himself these days, Brandt’s roles include writing elaborate duty and lighting plans as well as ensuring that valuable equipment will survive the Gasteig’s impending relocation undamaged. Asked about his favourite moment as a lighting engineer, he recounts:
»The most beautiful event for me was an unplugged concert of the band Die Fantastischen Vier. The best moment was when band member Thomas D. threw a light that was suspended from an immensely long cable across the stage at the beginning of a song and which then, as the only light on stage, swung back and forth above his head for the entire piece.«
Right now, the Gasteig light engineers are on short-time work due to the coronavirus, but of course they all hope that the event business can soon resume and they can finally get their teeth into big stage shows again. Brandt’s eyes also light up at the mention of the Gasteig’s renovation: »I’m already looking forward to new LED concert lighting in the renovated Philharmonic Hall. The lamps we use in our current lights were discontinued a while ago and the only suitable replacements still available are of a poorer quality. In the New Gasteig, we’ll be able to dim the light up and down without anything breaking and us having to change the bulbs all the time.«
Repairs are carried out in the Gasteig’s own workshop: Behind the scenes, the lighting team tests and cleans countless lamps and assembles custom cables – all of that in addition to meetings, creating lighting plans, setting up, rehearsals, programming and the actual performances. And after the show? When the light slowly floods back into the auditorium and the audience leave their seats and head for the foyer, the lighting technician’s work is far from finished. If a rehearsal of the Munich Philharmonic is scheduled for the morning after a pop concert, countless lights must be removed from the beams above the Philharmonic Hall’s stage straight away. Only when the last spot has been secured, the last cable neatly rolled in the storeroom can the lighting engineers call it a day and say: Last one out, turn off the lights! On many a night, the only light left by that time is that of the moon, high up above the Gasteig.
Text and interview by Maria Zimmerer
Photos lighting department: Benedikt Feiten