Stage Directions

Richard Pilbrow details his life—and the life of his consultancy—in his new book

Autobiography, corporate history, theatre history, memoir—the new book A Theatre Project by Richard Pilbrow is as hard to put into a simple classification as Pilbrow is himself. Best known as a renowned lighting designer, Pilbrow has also served as a ground-breaking theatre consultant, produced theatre, film and TV, was a projection designer before there was even a recognized craft and is an accomplished author whose works include Stage Lighting andStage Lighting Design: The Art, the Craft, the Life, two books that are familiar to almost every undergraduate lighting student. Perhaps his new book’s subtitle does a good job of explaining the scope: Triumph, Disaster and Renewal that Changed Stage Lighting, Sound and the Shape of Theatre, but even that doesn’t tell the potential reader the rich, engaging and insightful journey that Pilbrow has crafted inside.

The 486 pages are jam-packed with wonderful stories and store a visual feast with over 500 illustrations. It’s written like a great conversation, with the insight and personal asides that make the read fun and memorable. Pilbrow shares, with an easy writing style, a lifetime’s worth of anecdotes, stories and a rich history of a life in the theatre that has crossed paths with a veritable who’s who of theatre. What makes the book somewhat unique and adds wonderful depth is that Pilbrow let’s a lot of his collaborators speak in the book, offering their views and perspectives on the shared journey.

Pilbrow’s career path is a fascinating one, and he has well documented it in this book. Apparently one to keep detailed diaries and calendars over the years, he fills the book with a chronological history of not just himself but with the stories behind many theatrical milestones and productions he was part of. It’s true that you don’t do theatre alone and Pilbrow has done a great job of giving credit where credit is due for his successes. He writes of his friendships and collaborations with an amazing array of designers and directors including Tony Walton, Robert Ornbo, David Collison, Jean Rosenthal, Tharon Musser, Boris Aronson and Hal Prince, as well as a long collaboration with Sir Laurence Olivier.

A Theatre Project is at its core an autobiography, but it is also the story of a company, Theatre Projects. Founded by Pilbrow in 1957 as lighting equipment rental company that offered lighting design services, both Theatre Projects and Pilbrow share similar upstart beginnings that followed unmarked paths through theatre history. Theatre Projects, today a world-renowned theatre consulting firm, was a pioneer of the discipline itself and here Pilbrow shares the innovations, the incredible collaborations and also the frustrations of the company’s growth, missteps and triumphs. I found it particular insightful that Pilbrow has tied this autobiography of his design career with the historical biography of Theatre Projects because they are intrinsically interrelated.

Pilbrow’s life has had many acts but perhaps it is his joy of innovation and passion for theatre that is most engaging for the readers. I feel that Pilbrow has captured what a life in the theatre is as a designer and a collaborator. Like his other writings, A Theatre Project is extremely informative and yet very personal. Pilbrow’s strength as a writer is his ability to inform but yet make the reader feel as if only they are privy to the conversation as he shares his personal thoughts and experiences. A Theatre Project is highly recommended.

Michael Eddy, Stage Directions

© Richard Pilbrow   e:      E: lsi@PLASA.ORG       WWW.lightiing&