Even worse, in my opinion, is not knowing how to use that new and expensive lighting system that you just bought. The best determination in the world and lots of talent in the lighting design field will not help you- if you can’t see anything on stage!
I’ve been training people to use various lighting consoles all over the world for over 10 years now (yes I’m getting old) and with a few exceptions, which I’m saving for my memoirs, almost everyone gets it. Even the ones who had never seen a lighting console until the day a large crate marked “fragile” arrived. It’s not a black art and it’s not rocket science!
The problems that I encounter on a regular basis with church installations, as with most other installations, are either to do with the high turnover of volunteers, or a misunderstanding of a lighting system as a whole.
When a church, or any venue for that matter, is looking at a lighting console, I always suggest that either one or two full time employees, or a couple of settled volunteers (i.e. not the smart kid who is going leave in 6 months to become a computer programmer is Silicon Valley) get full and proper training on their console of choice.
There is no substitute for proper training!
The best lighting console programmers in the world (and I like to think that I’ve trained a good few of them) still need to be trained to operate a console confidently. Even then they may still require a large amount of time on the phone being talked through something they are unsure of. Once that person or persons have been fully trained, then they are the designated “experts” on-site to answer questions and solve problems. They will also have to handle the bulk of new programming that will be required as the system evolves.
Who you get your training from is as important as choosing the vendor from whom you purchased the equipment in the first place. They do not have to be the same people and in fact often aren’t. Keep a number of factors in mind when arranging your training. For example, the things that make a good lighting console programmer do not necessarily make a good console teacher. Speed and an aptitude for complex issues can actually work against you when teaching, as it can give students a sense of inferiority and a feeling that the console is more complex than it actually is.
Fifteen people standing around a console for a couple of hours does not constitute professional training. There is a direct correlation between the number of people in the class, their access to the console hardware and what they get out of it as students. I prefer to never train more than 4 people at a time on two consoles. The best scenario is a console for every person training, but as long as the trainees know each other, sharing is a good compromise. What I’ve found is that the larger the class, the less the people will get out of it. Ask about class sizes and the hardware that you will be working with.
Another consideration is what the console is connected to. You can’t learn to use a console that will normally be controlling 40 – 100 lights when you only have 2 during the learning process. Visualization systems such as WYSIWYG, Martin Show Designer and the free grandMA 3D software, show a virtual lighting rig on a computer. This can really make a difference in training situations, as it allows a console to be set up in a comfortable environment; without setting up the rig.
You should also understand what you want to get out of it. I believe that confidence is very important. A new user has to be confident in their own knowledge of the console, and in it’s abilities.
A good training course is the beginning rather than the end of the learning experience on any product or skill for that matter. Having someone on the other end of the phone to answer the things that have not sunk in yet is integral for better understanding.
Training on a system as a whole is an entirely different skill set from that of a console programmer, just as a lighting designer and sound designer are different. It is possible to have both subjects handled by one person, however that person can only hold so much information in their head. You should recognize this not as a shortcoming, but as the way things are. If you are going to ask yourself or somebody else to learn a complex lighting console and an even more complex lighting system all in a couple of days, then don’t be surprised when it doesn’t stick. You run the risk of having a very tired and confused “expert” who’s not really an expert at all.
Last but not least, beware of false economies. Taking a local training course that costs hundreds of dollars may not be as good a deal as flying to the other side of the country to take a free course run by the distributor of the product you are buying. Also, look into getting a distributor to come out to you. Many will happily do this in exchange for you covering their expenses. Be specific about your training requirements when you are at the bidding stage for your console purchase.
Remember, education is supposed to be fun- as is the process of lighting and lighting programming. See you beside the lighting console!