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RICHARD PARKER (article first published : 2005-11-30)

Presented by KZN Dance Link, the Durban Dance Awards have honoured Playhouse Company lighting designer Richard Parker for his skilful and sensitive lighting for dance. Apart from dance productions, Richard has designed lighting for innumerably productions in the Playhouse Opera, Drama and Loft.

Born in Pietermaritzburg on November 22, 1951, Richard was educated at Cowan House and later at Michaelhouse. Always interested in history, he self-effacingly admits that he was “a bright boy” at school.

When he was 10, his family moved to Matatiele. His father, the Reverend Kenneth Parker, was originally a builder and became a minister late in life. His building skills were usually inspanned to put up sets for the local drama society’s productions and it followed that young Richard became involved as well.

After high school, Richard went into the army and was based in Grahamstown before going on to university in Pietermaritzburg where he studied History and English. Graduating in 1972, he used to help out backstage for productions put on by the Drama Department as well as for those presented by the English department.

He then moved to Cape Town where he began to work seriously in the theatre, starting his professional lighting career as a follow spotter. He continued to work on an ad hoc basis before getting a job with Brickhill Burke productions. Originally based in Cape Town, the Brickhill Burke company eventually moved to Johannesburg and Richard moved with them. He later worked for Pieter Toerien and most of South Africa’s major theatre companies at the time.

His restless feet then took him to the UK where he worked with his former brother-in-law who was an antique restorer.

Then came the offer of a position at the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC, now the Playhouse Company) as they moved from the Alhambra Theatre to the current Playhouse premises which were being upgraded to incorporate two theatres: the Opera and the Drama (The Loft was added later).

“I jumped at the chance of working with the new Galaxy Lighting Board and at the opportunity of working under Joe Freedman,” Richard says with enthusiasm. “It was exhausting – we worked about 16 hours a day but I was operating state of the art equipment – the best lighting desk in the country - as well as having the best boss. The sheer scale of things was incredible. At the Alhambra we had 120 circuits and in the Opera we had 500. “We will never look for circuits again!” I said to Joe. “Just watch!” was Joe’s portentous reply!”

Richard’s favourite theatre is the Drama and he is well-known for his sensitive lighting of dance productions in this venue, the most recent being Phenduka Dance Theatre’s Traces.

He explains that lighting design is a step by step process: “Once you’ve included the basic technique, you watch rehearsals. I’m an orthodox operator and work purely by the book. I don’t do anything freaky. The music is a fairly determining factor. I’m not musical at all, so I try to feel the moods. You also have to watch the movement. Bodies must be clearly seen so there’s lots of sight and back lighting.

“The computer lighting board means that you can do a lot more and faster – especially with the moving lights. The old palette of five colours is now 500 but a lot of modern stuff can be tricksy if not handled properly. I was brought up under the dictum that you shouldn’t notice the lighting. People should say: “What a wonderful performance!” not “What wonderful lighting!” I love the modern stuff but we mustn’t forget what we are there for." – Caroline Smart




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