Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

Murphy's Laws
Entertainment Lighting

As one progresses through a career lighting the
performance stage, some misfortunes will ultimately
befall one. Here is a humourous look at a few of these.

(For those of you not familiar with Mr. Murphy and his laws,
essentially the name is representative of the fact that
anything that can go wrong, at some point will.)

Here are two dozen plus examples:


  1. CAD  You decide to do a computer-aided lighting design, and are so into trying to keep up with the looks flooding from your brain that you fail to save the work at any time. After several hours of creativity not seen for a decade, you attempt to save your work but the system blue-screens just at that instant.

  2. The Pack  You carefully measure to the millimetre every piece of gear so as to be sure it will all fit into the truck. After the vehicle is packed and you are ready to leave for the tour, you realise that you have neglected to allow space for your extra suitcase and some other personal items. Thus, you end up having to wear the same clothes for the duration of the tour, and the schedule is so tight that you can't find time to shop for more, or to launder.

  3. Key Order  When on the road, if you are the keeper of the keys, no matter in what order you place the various rings of keys inside your pocket or waist wallet, the set you want at any given time will always have worked its way to the bottom.

  4. Colour Choice  The one crucial gel colour you choose to use in a show will be the one of which your on-hand stock is exactly one sheet short.

  5. Extra MC  The number of Masters of Ceremony at the lectern will always be one more than for whom you have allowed, so one of them will always be under lit.
    * Trying to get around this, you decide to light for more than the supposed number of MCs. Of course whenever you do this, there will always be fewer than was stated to you. As a result, excess light extends well beyond the lectern, unnecessarily diluting the rest of your carefully planned looks.

  6. Trim Height  The chain hoists you specify for a show are based upon someone's adamant statement of the venue's ceiling height. Of course, it will turn out to be three metres higher than the length of the chains -- and neither you nor the venue will have a suitable ladder.

  7. Channeling  The available dimmers will always turn out to be one channel fewer than the number your design specifies, resulting in frequent swap patches.

  8. Tripping  After load-testing the circuits in a small venue that has only 15-amp, U-ground wall outlets available for power, you are satisfied that the electrical breaker limit will not be exceeded by the lights you connect. During every rehearsal, power is steady with no interruptions. Yet on opening night with a paying audience, one breaker trips continually throughout the performance. It turns out that an actor in a dressing room has innocently plugged a hairdryer into a previously-hidden outlet. This ordinarily would not be a problem except some thoughtless electrical designer has connected to that same circuit an outlet located in the performance area.

  9. Spares Inventory  The single light for which you have no spare lamp is the only one that will burn out.
    * It will be the most critical light in the production.

    * Even if you do have a spare lamp with you, the burn-out will have happened just after the start of the show when you have no way to get to the unlit fixture.

  10. Headsets  The number of available headsets will always turn out to be one fewer than the number of followspots you are required to call.
    The night when one spot operator fails to show will coincide with the failure of one of those headsets, so you will still be one short.

  11. Worklights  Although you have brought extra worklights, they have been handed out to needy musicians and to others that never seem to be aware that it will be dark backstage. Shortly after you give out the last one, your only lighting console worklight fails and you end up having to do the show with a flashlight between your teeth.

  12. Script  You will be the only person who does not get the revised script. (Lighting people are the last to be given anything, if they even receive it at all.)

  13. Credit  It has been promised that you will get a credit. If your name actually makes it into the programme, it will be mis-spelled or mis-attributed. In the case of an announced credit, the MC will misplace the paper with your information, or will find it in a little-used pocket after he gets home.

  14. Cues  The likelihood of you missing an important lighting cue is directly proportional to the size of the audience.
    * It is also proportional to the importance of the people in that audience.

    * ... and is additionally proportional to the significance of the artists on stage.

  15. Food  The only place open to eat after your show will have closed 5 minutes before you arrive.
    * The 24-hour gas station or convenience store at which you end up will have nothing in stock that you like at that hour.

    * After spending money on unwanted, prepackaged, overpriced gas station food, you find out that the promoter is providing meals for the crew -- at any hour of the day!

  16. Repair  The 5-minute fix you decide to tackle two hours before a show will end up taking two hours and 5 minutes.
    * Because the show is 5 minutes late starting, it concludes 5 minutes late, so when you finish at the end of the night, the one place available at which to eat will have closed 5 minutes beforehand.

  17. Parts Loss  When disassembling a light for a more involved repair, any small part dropped will always find its way underneath a larger object -- and be inaccessible when finally located. Blocking that inaccessible area will have the future result of other small parts finding additional places in which to roll and become inaccessible.

  18. Stage Hands  The "experienced" members of the crew, as were promised to you, will not know clockwise from counter-clockwise, or a flat washer from a lock washer. To make it worse, they will have to be personally shown what to do because they never learned to follow verbal instructions. This is, if they even show up and are not drunk.

  19. More Stage Hands  The strike personnel assigned to you will always appear at the end of your show on time and be sober -- except for any night where you barely have enough time to pack up, travel to the next gig, and get set up there.
    * Because it took longer to pack up, the one place available for a meal will have closed 5 minutes before you arrive.

  20. Accommodations  The hotel room you specify for yourself and a crew member (whom you belatedly discover to have taken an unwanted romantic interest in you), turns out to only have one bed. You are not interested in a liaison with this crew member and so you issue repeated requests to the management for a room with two beds. They go unfulfilled because it is their busy season and none is available. Thus you end up with an apprehensive night of no rest.
    * The management is finally able to supply a cot but it jams and will not open, so you end up sleeping on the floor.

    * Because of all the time wasted with the uncooperative cot, you just get to sleep in time for your wakeup call.

  21. Cleanliness  After several days of intensive one-night touring, you finally get a chance to bathe just before the truck leaves for the next location on the tour. You soak off the road grime in a nice hot bath, get out, dry off, and put on fresh clothing. You check out of the hotel, and as you approach the waiting truck, you find that you must take a detour to the toilet to have what turns out to be the messiest bowel movement of the year.

  22. Memories  The lighting design of which you are most proud never gets recorded because, in your exuberance, you forget to pack your camera. Due to the fact that you told everyone you were providing a camera, no one else brings one, and so in the future the show is seen only in people's memories. These of course falter over time, so no one completely remembers the great design you created.
    * One saving thing might be that most of the crew have cell-phones with built-in cameras; however, the inability of their phones to record accurately in the high-contract and/or low-light conditions means that many of the resulting images betray your stories of grandure and become an embarrasment.

  23. Key Blues  You have double and triple checked to make sure you have keys for every locked item accompanying you on tour. This is because during your last series of gigs, a lock had to be destroyed in order to open a drawer for which no key had been packed. However, for this tour you have forgotten this lock has now been replaced, and the key you packed is for the old, destroyed lock. So the new lock has to be deliberately broken the first day of the tour.
    * To prevent this from happening again, you send all broken locks and their keys to metal recycle, intending to buy new locks and keys for the next tour so as to completely replace the old. However, in your haste and frustration (and unknown to you), one of those keys you recycled several thousand kilometres before arriving home was actually your house key. So after an exhausting tour and a longing for your own bed, you discover while standing in a sea of suitcases on your doorstep that you are locked out of your house -- and you have already sent the taxi away;   ... Oh, and your cell phone battery has died.

  24. Academics  Since you have been having so many troubles with Mr. Murphy, and also not getting as much work as you'd like, you decide to go back to theatre school to study an area of the industry having very few qualified persons. Of course, by the time you receive your degree and get certified, the field is overflowing with qualified personnel, so you still can't find any work.

  25. Saving Your Designs  You have been contracted to light a revival of a major show that you had first designed and operated in the 1990s. It is specified that the lighting is to be exactly the same as it was at that time. Being smart back then, you saved every lighting plot, cue, and board setting from that era of your career on to both floppy discs and zip-drive cartridges.

        They were carefully packaged and sealed, then stored in a bank safety deposit box for the day when they might be called upon to save you eons of work. Sadly, an enthusiastic hobbyist has placed his very expensive and exceptionally large collection of refrigerator magnets in the box adjacent to yours.

  26. Wrong Choice  The one time after you bindingly agree to light a one-night, no-pay, no-glory charity show will be the time when the production you have waited all of your career to light will be offered to you.
    * This charity show, that you would now prefer to blow off, will fall at a point when a substitute lighting director is unavailable. Or if a substitute is available, he or she is unacceptable for either the charity gig or for the one day you would miss of this potential production of your career. Thus, you are unable to agree to light the desired gig.


    * The charity show is on some airport-less island where ferry service is only available every third day. Although the potential show of your career is scheduled to start the day after the charity gig, the island's boat will leave on the morning of the night that you will be finished, so you are still unable to light the gig of your dreams.

  27. Time for Yourself  The only day you have off during a six-month tour will see you in some small village with no Internet or cell phone service, on a Sunday when there is nothing open, during the storm of the century so you can't go outside, staying in a hotel with no bar, no entertainment and no gambling... and the only television channel is in some language you don't understand.
    * Because you took so much time trying to find something to do, the one available restaurant in the hotel will have closed 5 minutes before you decide to go there.

For More Serious Thoughts:
Read our
Lighting Essays

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