A young English designer begins his career
Is it any different or any easier to forge a lighting career in London as opposed to New York City? A few months ago, recent graduate from the acclaimed lighting program at Yale University, Matthew Richards, gave his views on cracking it in the Big Apple. This time around we get to hear from the other side of the Atlantic on what it’s like to be a lighting designer carving out a niche in the competitive and lively city of London.
Jason Larcombe is a graduate of Rose Bruford College near London, which offers the only lighting design degree course available in the UK. In the two years since he has graduated Larcombe has put his well-earned first-class degree to good use. Larcombe had not been idle prior to his studies and was always determined to have a career in the lighting industry and has in fact been laying the foundation since the age of 13 with his involvement in amateur theatre and stints in local venues.
Larcombe was originally keen to work in the television industry, which seemed suited to his interest in engineering and technology, but after some research he decided that the TV lighting route would involve a long journey to reach the top of the heap. On the advice of friends already working in the industry, he opted for the live theatre route.
Since graduating, 24-year-old Larcombe has been employed as a project manager and lighting designer by the leading London-based lighting rental company White Light. He also spends about 15% of his time on freelance projects, which White Light is happy to allow him time to pursue. "I’m fortunate that my position here allows me to be flexible, and there are benefits for the company as well in that my freelancing work brings in new contacts. I’m not tied to White Light, though, and will always advise a freelance client to hire from the best source for the job."
Larcombe spends about 40% of his working year as an assistant lighting designer and has worked with some of the greats, including Nigel Levings and Rick Fisher. He finds assisting to be challenging and interesting work where he gets the opportunity to learn the way others devise lighting and employ their creativity. "I find that being the LD can be a lonely job and I really like the collaborative aspect of working as an assistant. You develop a second language with LDs and make some great contacts."
Larcombe is not one to be idle and spends part of his time (his few precious free weekends) traveling to his hometown in the picturesque county of Somerset in the southwest of England. His journey is for work purposes as Larcombe has his own lighting rental company, Bright, which he started in 1998 and which has steadily grown in size with an increasing client base. Larcombe started the company as a way into the business and to make contacts, and his initiative has certainly paid off.
His long-term goal is to have someone else manage the company on a day-to-day basis to save him having to travel and from being involved to such an intense degree. Larcombe feels his life is settled in London, at least in the foreseeable future. "I think there are areas outside of London such as Manchester which are really taking off in terms of live theatre and events. It would be good to eventually have the freedom to live outside London, but for now this is where I need to be."
Larcombe’s great passion is for musicals and he has worked as an assistant on West End productions such as The King and I with LD Nigel Levings and Peggy Sue Got Married with LD Mark Jonathan. But Larcombe feels that the stereotypical flashy musical may have had its halcyon period and for him the interest lies in what can be done with the pared-down basics--a minimalist philosophy he has had since his student days. "I like lighting to be simple and stylish and I’m not a huge advocate of moving lights as I feel they impose a certain style on a production that may not always be appropriate."
In Praise of Love
Experimentation with lighting styles was the main benefit for Larcombe of attending Rose Bruford College. "I spent long hours in the lighting laboratory enjoying the freedom of being able to make mistakes whilst experimenting. I used to enjoy trying to recreate the lighting from images that had captivated me during visits to the National Gallery in London." The college was fortunate enough to have good relationships with leading lighting manufacturers and suppliers, who ensured that students had access to current technology.
One of the best pieces of advice Larcombe received at college was to allow things to develop at their own pace and not to push the lighting to happen in a particular way. "Serving the piece" is a favorite expression of Larcombe’s and one of his ways of achieving this is to be conscious of what each light in the rig is doing and how they interact.
On the business side of lighting, Larcombe has an agent, Karen Baker at Associated Arts, to assist him. His reason for taking on an agent was to relieve him of having to talk money with people he was then going to work with, but there are occasions when he does his own negotiating. "I really feel it’s worth having an agent. Karen is great to bounce ideas off and if I have a problem I can have a chat to her about it. It has also proved beneficial if I’ve needed some research done."
Larcombe’s future plans are to build on what he has already achieved in an industry he loves and he prefers to let the experiences of life just evolve, without having anything as rigid as a five-year plan. He believes the business is a hard one to break into, particularly somewhere as competitive as London, but feels that so far he’s had lucky breaks. "Something I like to be able to do is to give opportunities to others and give someone else a break." Larcombe achieves this through offering work experience opportunities at White Light and by going back to his college to teach.
There might not seem like a lot of similarities between Jason Larcombe and Matthew Richards but both these young designers display a maturity, dedication, and passion for the art of lighting design. It appears that the lighting business is a tough one to crack, regardless of which side of the Atlantic you’re on. But with perseverance and talent in abundance there is no reason why both these young designers shouldn’t be in hot demand, as they carve out their careers in two of the greatest theatre cities in the world.
Jacqueline Molloy is a UK-based freelance writer with a background in lighting and production management. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jason Larcombe can be reached at email@example.com.