Lighting Control

One of my long-term research interests is stage lighting control - not just the evolving technology used but, perhaps more importantly, the philosophy of how and why we choose to control light on stage in particular ways, and what this means for the art of performance more widely. I have therefore been particularly interested in control systems that historically represented a signficant departure from the practices of their day, whether or not they initiated radical change, or in some cases disappeared (almost) without trace.


Grand Master

The Grand Master was an early electric stage lighting control system, using resistance dimmers and mechanical operation via levers, wheels, shafts and gears. The Grand Master, made by The Strand Electric Company, was perhaps the acme of purely mechanically-operated dimming in the UK, before it was gradually superceded by electro-mechanical and later fully electronic methods.

As a part of my research, I have created a β€˜virtual’ (software) Grand Master, that you can download to see how the original control system worked.

Adrian Redmond was the Chief Electrician at the New Theatre, Oxford, UK, in the final year of operation of that theatre’s Grand Master, and oversaw its replacement with a Strand MMS system in 1975. Adrian offers some recollections of working with the Grand Master, and of theatre life generally at the time.

Light Console

The Light Console, created by Fred Bentham in the mid-1930s, was a remarkable innovation in lighting control, making ingenious use of the then-new technologies of the telephone exchange and the cinema organ. It was commercially not very successful, and lighting control for theatre soon moved in a different direction technologically and conceptually. The Light Console nevertheless represents a radical rethinking of the philosophy of lighting control, and indeed of the function of theatre lighting itself, at a time when the professional role of lighting designer did not yet exist. The Light Console also prefigured the in-the-moment operation of lighting for live music, thirty years before the rock concert stage came into being.

I have gathered together technical details, photographs and other information about the seventeen Light Consoles built.


Theolux is a lighting control system I designed and built as part of my PhD research. Theolux was designed following principles I developed as part of my research:

  • it places an emphasis on giving the operator a range of controls that recognise that operating a show is a physical, embodied act, and the control interface can - if designed in the right way - work as an expressive instrument, transmitting 'feeling' to the operation of the lighting in a way analogous to a musical instrument.
  • unlike current commercial lighting consoles, Theolux focuses on the performance of the lighting, rather than its programming in advance of the performance event. Some programming is required, but this is considered a subsidiary, preparatory activity.

Plotlite - A Significant Lighting Control Failure

In the early 1970s, a unique lighting control system was installed in the Mermaid Theatre, London: Plotlite. At the time, Plotlite was the only system on the market to offer full memory control combined with fader-per-channel preset manual control.

Plotlite was created by Digital Display Ltd., a company with no previous experience of lighting or theatre. The result was a disaster, leading to recriminations, legal action, and the failure of the company, as well as impacting on the careers of some of those involved. The story of Plotlite is told by some of those involved and through contemporaneous documents.

Lighting Control Positions in Theatres

As part of my research, I have gathered information about the location of lighting control positions in theatres, as it shifted from (typically) back stage to (typically) front of house.