We’ve had several people call this year to ask, “Why should I hire Studio T+L when the local sales rep/distributor has offered to do the work?” In one instance the caller was an interior designer we’ve worked with before who wanted help in explaining the role of a lighting designer to a client. In another, it was the client of an architect who was urging that we be brought on board as a theatre consultant. In all cases the owner was looking to save money, and saw adding another consultant to the design team as a potential waste of money. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Why Hire A Lighting Designer?
For starters, the local sales rep or distributor isn’t going to do the work of a lighting designer. She/he will suggest fixtures from the manufacturers that she/he represents. It will be up to the architect/interior designer/electrical engineer to determine if the suggested fixtures meet the project’s needs. What the rep or distributor won’t do is invest the time in meetings with the owner and design team to fully understand the project. The rep or distributor won’t develop a complete approach to the design that includes illumination levels, distribution, aesthetics, and controls. The rep or distributor won’t implement that design by selecting appropriate fixtures and controls, testing those selections through calculations or mockups, and creating the construction documentation. The rep or distributor won’t be available throughout construction to inspect the progress of the work, answer the contractor’s questions, focus the fixtures, and set levels in the control system.
Now, sales reps play a valuable role in acting as a liaison between the design community and the rep’s manufacturers. Distributors play a valuable role in procuring lighting equipment for the electrical contractor and delivering it to the site on time. To increase their sales, and their profit, they may offer assistance to architects, interior designers, electrical engineers, and owners, usually at no charge. That assistance may be useful, but no one should fool themselves into believing they are getting a fully developed design from someone who will participate in the project from start to finish. That’s what a professional lighting designer does, though, and is one of the reasons to hire one.
Why Hire A Theatre Consultant?
Theater consultants are hired for the same reasons as lighting designers, only more so, as we’ve written here. Designing a performing arts space requires extensive collaboration between the architect, owner, users, and theatre consultant, beginning with the very first meeting. The most obvious part of a theatre consultant’s work is designing and documenting the theatre's special requirements - the form and layout of the theatre, space adjacencies, stage rigging, dimming and control, seating, etc. This work doesn't happen in a vacuum. At Studio T+L we often say that design is as much a process as it is the product that is delivered at the end of that process. We listen carefully to the artists' needs and desires, convey them to the design team in language they can understand, and advocate for those needs and desires throughout the design and construction process. We listen to the design and construction team and explain their needs and concerns to the artists. By assisting and guiding the collaboration we help to assure a successful project for everyone.
As in the lighting world, the local sales rep or distributor can’t and won’t design the project. Can they assist in a one-for-one replacement of old equipment? Absolutely. Can they sell the project a set of equipment (rigging, dimming, etc.)? Yes. But they will not, and cannot, provide impartial, wide ranging expertise from start to finish to develop, design, and build a fully thought out and integrated performing arts building. Those important services are only provided by a theatre consultant.