History of Technical Theatre

My research often engages with the history of technical theatre, not simply for its own sake, but also because knowing about the past is essential if we are to understand the present and how we got here. This in turn enables possible futures to be mapped, and strategies to make positive change can be developed. Understanding the past in order to shape the future can therefore be a powerfully ethical practice. 

Click on the image or link to find out more about some of the main projects and themes in my research that engage with technical theatre history, or scroll down for a list of related publications.

Canon project logo
I am leading Rose Bruford College's contribution to the CANON project, which is developing online teaching and learning resources for the history of technical theatre. The project brings together eight partner institutions from across Europe, and is funded by the EU Erasmus+ programme.
Close-up of faders and switches of an old lighting console
The development of stage lighting control is a long-running theme in my research. I have gathered information about some of the significant lighting control systems, as they prompt questions about how we want to control light, not just in technological but also creative and philosophical terms.
Light bulb at night, outdoors, with pink blossom
The Light and Warmth project investigates the aesthetic, creative and social implications of the shift in how we make light, from incandescence (tungsten lamps) to luminescence (arc, fluorescent and now LED). The production of light is now decoupled from the production of heat - to what effect? How can and how should we mark this momentous historic change?
Black and white picture of two men looking into a model of a theatre stage
Lit models have been used to develop, test and communicate lighting designers' intentions since at least the start of the twentieth century. I have traced the crucial role of model-scale lighting and miniature, room-sized lighting rigs which were vital to the establishment of performance lighting in the UK as an artistic practice in its own right.


My publications are often not explicitly about the history of technical theatre, but strongly informed by it. The following list reflects that approach.

“CANON: Digital Technologies for Teaching the History of Technical Theatre”. A presentation for the Electronic Visualisation and the Arts conference, at the British Society of Computing, London (in person and online). 4-8 July, 2022.

“CANON: A Transnational and Interdisciplinary Model for Researching the History of Technical Theatre”. A presentation for the International Federation for Theatre Research conference, Reykjavik, Iceland. 20-24 June, 2022.

“CANON: A Transnational and Interdisciplinary Model for Teaching the History of Technical Theatre”. A presentation for the Harnessing a 21st Century approach to Performing Arts: Technology, Practice, Education and Research conference, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (online). 20-22 January, 2022.

“The Lighting Laboratory: A Place of Imagination, Transformation and Memory”. A paper presented at the conference of the Theatre and Performance Research Association, University of Exeter, 4-6th September 2019.

“The Pedagogy of the Lighting Laboratory”. A paper for the International Federation for Theatre Research Scenography Working Group meeting, Charles University, Prague, 14-15th June 2019.

“Modelling Light: the transformative role of the model and the miniature studio in the development of lighting design in the UK”, Theatre and Performance Design, 2018, vol. 4, nos. 1-2, 101-118.

“Fugitive Light: seeing stage lighting through production photographs”. A paper for the International Federation for Theatre Research conference, Stockholm University, Sweden, 13-17th June 2016.

“A Commanding View: the scenography of the production desk and the technical rehearsal”. A paper for the International Federation for Theatre Research conference, University of Hyderabad, India, 6th - 10th July 2015.

“Playability: A Reinvention of Contemporary Lighting Practice Drawing on Fred Bentham’s 1930s Light Console”, in Theatrical Heritage: Challenges and Opportunities, edited by Bruno Forment and Christel Stalpaert, published by Leuven University Press, 2015.

“Playability: a reinvention of contemporary lighting practice drawing on Fred Bentham’s nineteen-thirties Light Console”. A paper for Revaluing Theatrical Heritage, Schouwburg Kortrijk, Belgium, 22-23 January 2013.

“The Virtuosity of the Lighting Artist: Designer or Performer?”, in Light – a Reader in Theatre Practice, edited by Scott Palmer (Leeds University), published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

“Light Industry: creative lighting practices in large-scale repertoire theatre production”. A paper for Performance Studies International conference, Leeds University, June 2012. Also presented at TaPRA, University of Kent, 5-7th September 2012.

“One Thing After Another”, a paper on the creation and use of scores for theatre lighting, drawing analogies from music, and considering past practices including those of László Moholy-Nagy and Le Corbusier. The paper also presented practical research undertaken with BA (Hons) Lighting Design students at Rose Bruford College (joint presentation with Rachel Nicholson, Rose Bruford College). Music on Stage conference, Rose Bruford College, October 2008.

“Organo Ad Libitum”, a practical demonstration to academics and theatre professionals of research into the relationship between the lighting artist and lighting control technologies, using a lighting control system of 1946 based on cinema organ technology. Universal Voices Symposium, Rose Bruford College, April 2007.

“Pasteboard Temples and Liminal Spaces: Using new projection technologies to illuminate modernist and postmodernist theory in vocational undergraduate and postgraduate teaching”, Second International Conference for Digital Technologies and Performance, Doncaster, June 2006.