30th July, 2013 at 6:30pm
A Summer of Learning - Patrick Woodroffe
| YCN — Free

Patrick Woodroffe joined us on the 30th July to share his remarkable story of achievement, in lighting some of the world's most iconic stages and events.

Patrick began by recounting how his career began in the Seventies. Stage lighting of any kind was a nascent artform back then, and the ability to improvise with very little was key - but also immensely enjoyable for the young Patrick.

Each successive development in equipment and techniques would warp, excite and transform the playing field of lighting. As an example, with the advent of rows of lighting, competition between industry folks truly began in earnest. Colour-changing lights came along a few years later, followed by the very first moving light, which Patrick admits was like "being given an extra sense to play around with." And on that note, we were shown the very first model of moving light, the VL1. Of this initial run, there are only seven left in the world - one of which proudly sits in Patrick's studio in Bath.

Less of a plus side to being at this forefront of the field was the archaic technology still to be improved upon. For one, as a shielding device for sudden darkness, a long plank of wood would be used to obstruct lights set up in a row. The downside? When just one of the bulbs jutted out even slightly, the plank couldn't fall all the way down, leaving the lights still exposed. The primitive nature of this kind of solution obviously left plenty of room for error. 

Also worth mentioning is how different artists and musicians enriched his experience in different ways. Working with Freddie Mercury, for example, taught him that repetition of a simple, limited range of colours can give a lot of visual strength to a show, an approach that would later inform a lot of his colour-heavy work elsewhere, including the opening and closing ceremonies of last year's Olympic Games. Working wth The Rolling Stones and ABBA were also career highlights, both in their sheer ambition and respective budgets, which never hurt the process either.

Also formative in his early experience was working outside of live music. In lighting some very special architecture, he applied what he learned from rock and pop shows to entirely different settings, in venues such as Somerset House (for London Fashion Week), as well as in theatre. The 25th anniversary of Les Miserables is a stand out example of his work in a different context, whilst his work on High School Musical 3 even got him an extra role in the production.

Working on all four of the Olympic ceremonies (the opening and closing events of the Olympic and Paralympic competitions) was both epic and terrific as a prospective project. We were shown an insightful photo diary of his experience; from the purpose-built lighting control room just opposite the athletics track, to the myriad tunnels and tracks just under the stadium, housing the cauldron and armies of performers waiting to play their part. He also pointed out one of the biggest innovations - the so-called 'pixel lighting' in the seats of the stadium. Part of his vision for the Opening ceremony was for the pixels to never go dead, and act as a backdrop for the action in the arena.

The final segment of the talk focused on his work with Michael Jackson, on the late star's This Is It tour. Patrick read out from his memoirs; of the vulnerable, childlike figure who whispered all through devising the performance, to the megastar who suddenly materialised in their final few rehearsals, and how, as a team, they all witnessed someone truly unique.

In the Q&A which followed, he described his approach to interpreting a show - whether he responds most of all to the music itself, or the movement on stage, or any other kind of context which happens to be relevant.

He also left us with the message that lighting is really no different from conceptual art - it's just mostly a different canvas - just be sure to trust that inner intuition.

A very big thank you is in order for Patrick, for giving up his time to share such illuminating insights into his career to date. More talks as part of YCN's Summer of Learning are to be announced shortly. Not yet a member? Join here.

Written by Chris Berry. Photography by Akhil Morjaria.

Event Details
  • Location:
    72 Rivington Street,
    London, EC2A 3AY,
    United Kingdom
  • Start:
    30th July, 2013 at 6:30pm
  • End:
    30th July, 2013 at 8:00pm

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