A Brief History of the Association

Our beginnings were largely informal. In 1961, regular meetings of nearly all the people who worked as Theatre Lighting Designers in London could happen round a single table at Rules Restaurant in Covent Garden. Today, we have over 400 professional members who work as Lighting and Video Designers, Production Lighting Specialists, Programmers, System Specialists and Installers, and throughout the supply chain of a vastly expanded "Performance Lighting industry". That industry includes Concert Touring and Events of all shapes and sizes, Immersive Experiences and Exhibitions, as well as every genre and scale of Theatre.

We also welcome students and amateurs and anyone with an interest in lighting for performance.

Lots has changed since 1961, including our name, several times, but our fundamental aims have remained constant - to be a community of mutual support for every one of our members.

Back in the Rules Restaurant days, our founders chose the name  the Society of British Theatre Lighting Designers. They met to work together to agree a common  approach on matters  such as billing, fees, contracts and working conditions. For our professional members, this remains one of the key functions of the Association today.

In the mid-1970s membership broadened to include set and costume designers and the name was amended to the Society of British Theatre Designers, an organisation that still exists today.  However it became evident that with more designers of physical "things", discussion about the less tangible role lighting played in design became much reduced. Therefore in the early 1980's the Association of Lighting Designers was created, and once again the art and technology specific to how a stage was lit were at the forefront of its aims.

At this time, the repertory theatre system in the UK had adopted the role of resident lighting designer in each building, with only the largest organisations such as the national companies and commercial managements employing freelance lighting designers.  Our first executive resisted calls from some quarters for the Association to become a Trade Union. They agreed instead to work closely with the established unions, agents, and others, to help make the case for appropriate terms and conditions for lighting professionals. At the same time we continued to developed the Association as an open forum for the discussion and furtherance of lighting art and the appraisal of production techniques and equipment.

The 1980's and 1990's saw rapid growth in the whole live performance sector, including the founding of many of the manufacturing and supply companies that are familiar names in today's lighting industry. The expectations of performers,  producers and the public also rose significantly, as did our members reliance on fast developing technology. This was the era that saw the first 1000 lamp touring rigs, made possible through lightweight Par 64s, multicore cable, aluminium trussing and compact touring dimmers. It was also the era that gave us some of the first moving lights, and the first programmers.

In the 21st century, our members work in a very different world from that of our founders. Professional members working as Lighting Designers, Video Designers, Production Lighting people, and Programmers are predominantly freelance, moving freely from project to project between the genres of drama, musical, opera, dance, installations, concert touring, and working in venues that range from arenas and large capacity theatres through to small scale tours and fringe shows in rooms above pubs, or site specific spaces that are hosting a production for the first time and need all the infrastructure to be specified and installed in order to stage a performance. Professional members in the supply chain help to develop new products and support existing ones, and work in many other important ways to make possible the rigs our Production members put together, to enable lighting and video designs that enhance all kinds of performance experiences.

We have always looked beyond the professional world of lighting, to the next generation, and to the many enthusiasts who do lighting for fun rather than to earn their pay. Through Focus and members events, Student and Associate members too can gain access to the experiences of the Professional members, from our founders and senior fellows right through to contemporary practitioners from across the board spectrum of performance lighting.

We will continue to build on our heritage, and our founders' aims, and be the place to share our passion, and to support everyone interested in light for performance.