Photo credit: LIM WOAN WEN

Jobs 101 – Lighting Designer

Lighting designer, Lim Woan Wen, spoke to Youth.SG about her decade-long career.

Arin Fong
Arin Fong

Published: 20 February 2013, 2:13 PM

A stage production is never complete without lights that enhance the mood in a play. Youth.SG spoke to Lim Woan Wen to find out what it is like being a lighting designer.

WHO: Lim Woan Wen, 35
OCCUPATION: Lighting Designer
EDUCATION: Bachelor of Arts (Theatre Studies and Chinese Studies) at National University of Singapore (1999)
Professional Diploma in Theatre Technical Arts (Stage Lighting Design) at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (2003)

Tell us more about yourself.

I watch a lot of theatre, read a lot and I recently took up diving and horse riding.


How did you become a lighting designer?

I volunteered as backstage crew at various dance and theatre companies when I was in University. When I graduated, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go straight into theatre. I worked as a reporter for Lianhe Zaobao for 10 months. That made me realise that I really wanted to do theatre, so I worked towards going overseas to get proper training. I did freelance writing, translations, design and production work to build a portfolio in order to get into a school.

In 2001, I was awarded the National Arts Council Arts Professional Scholarship, and went to do my professional diploma in Hong Kong.

Describe a typical day at work.

When preparing for a show, there are a lot of meetings, rehearsals and paperwork. I have to draft a (lighting) plan, work with the director and other designers and solve problems. The preparation will take about two to three months (depending on the scale of the project).

An average black box production of medium scale takes about three to four days to set up. I set up the look and the cues (of the lights) and the stage manager will run the show. I provide a lighting plan, which tells the stage technicians what to do.

Woan Wen’s work for suitCASES (2010) won her the best lighting design award in the 11th LIFE! Theatre Awards. PHOTO CREDIT: LIM WOAN WEN

How long have you been in the industry and how has it changed over the years?

I’ve been doing this for 10 years. It has definitely matured a lot. People are more aware and there is greater demand for design work. And there are more people getting into this full time. I think the starting of The Esplanade in 2002 was a catalyst for moving a lot of things ahead.

What was your most memorable experience as a lighting designer?

Working on Light Matters – it was my first solo show held at The Chapel at Sculpture Square in June 2012, which was funded by National Arts Council and the Young Artist Award grant. It was a six-year dream come true; I had the idea in my head for a very long time. It was a time-specific and site-specific installation in collaboration with the sun. There was a high sky window where sunlight would come in at a specific time of the day. The reflection of that natural beam of light would result in a three-hour ‘performance’. You totally couldn’t control it, if it rained, that was it. The idea came about when I first encountered that beam of light in that chapel six years ago.

Woan Wen tracking the path of the sun and tracing the outline of a spot of sunlight. PHOTO CREDIT: LIM WEI LING

What motivates you in your work?

For the last 10 years, I’ve lived by the year. It just keeps going. I feel like it’s kind of beyond me, like there is no end point I can see. In a way, it (theatre) is like an anchor of my life, like a belief.

What advice would you give to youths considering being a lighting designer?

If you want something badly enough and if you make it happen, things will fall into place. Be sure that this is what you want to do before you invest in it.

Educational requirements: It is really about what you can do, but it is good to be training in relevant fields.

Qualities needed: People management skills and theatre sense.

Working hours: On set, it is usually 9am – 11pm, though it can vary. Rehearsals can be 4 hours.

Salary range: No definite monthly salary as projects can overlap or there may be no ongoing projects that month. An average project can range from $2,000 to $4,000.

Career prospects/advancements/specialisations: Start by being backstage crew. Designers in theatre can go on to be in theatre management, master technicians or technical directors.

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