Budding lighting designer getting some industry training under his belt

June 3, 2020

With Covid-19 restrictions slowly easing up, Jonty Robinson is eager to get back into the theatre to pursue his love of lighting design.

Robinson has enrolled in a Skills Active qualification thanks to one of 100 scholarships for industry trainees, provided by Entertainment Technology New Zealand (ETNZ). He is completing the New Zealand Certificate in Entertainment and Event Operations (Level 3).

Jonty wants to make his career in the technical side of the theatre world. For the time being, he has been spending the lockdown getting through all of the theory in the programme, so that he can whiz through the practical tasks once shows start back up at the Globe Theatre in Palmerston North.

People only notice lighting when it’s done badly, Jonty says – but when done well it adds an indefinable magic.

“I am creating special little moments for an audience; that’s the part I love, as a lighting designer. For instance, hearing kids go, ‘Wow!’ as a disco ball lights up an entire auditorium – it gives people that experience they will remember.”

Jonty was part of a team that was about to launch a production of Sister Act when everything ground to a halt in March.

“We all got together as a crew and as a company; had a few drinks, a few laughs, shed some tears. We had just done all this work and we had to put it on hold, essentially.

“But it’s that camaraderie in the hard times that makes things a little bit easier. Yes, right now we don’t have our show, but give it a few months and we’ll be back in the theatre doing what we love.”

Manawatu Theatre Society (MTS) president Graham Johnston is supporting Jonty through his qualification. Graham wanted to help Jonty get stuck into his formal qualification, to give him a building block for his theatre career.

“I know that this is what Jonty wants to do. I met him when he was 17, and he programmed the entire lights for one of my shows when he was 18. He is creative and technical, which is a unique mix in a lighting designer.”

Graham knows what it’s like to follow your passion – he got his start in theatre aged seven, and at 14 was given his first set of keys to the Globe. Now, as well as being MTS president, he runs a youth theatre company, lectures in music at UCOL, and is a working musician.

He says the theatre tends to be a place where young people are welcomed in, given a lot of trust, and supported to learn new skills.

“It’s very inclusive and open for all people to be involved, in whatever shape or form. It sees past skin colour and all those things; gender orientation. If you’re in a show, it creates expectations, but they are supportive expectations. If you’re struggling with a task there is always someone to help you.”

Graham says prospective theatre employers increasingly need to see that candidates understand what the industry is all about, and have the right skills and the right attitude to health and safety.

“That’s why it’s great that this qualification is aligned with the guidance materials that ETNZ is putting out. We are all literally reading from the same page – rules that we can abide by and are enforceable.”

Offering formal qualifications for team members also helps when applying for funding, which is a big part of running theatre groups, Graham says. “It shows that you are doing the right things, and making sure you have a safe and inclusive workplace.”

Jonty’s Level 3 qualification, and the Level 4 apprenticeship, sit on a pathway of qualifications that Skills Active is developing jointly with ETNZ and other partners. Graham says it’s great for theatre professionals to have these higher qualifications on the horizon.

“As they build and add on the Level 5 and Level 6 programmes down the line, it becomes a staircase of qualifications that can take you around the world.”

Jonty says he likes to be busy. So as well as being a good first step for his career, the Level 3 programme helped to keep him occupied during the lockdown.

“I would like to thank ETNZ for the opportunity,” he says. “Being selected for the scholarship was fantastic – I’m really grateful.”