Alan Brodie (he/him) is Arts Umbrella’s Manager of Stagecraft and Theatre Operations. He is also an extremely well-known award-winning lighting designer in Canada and internationally. We recently sat down with Alan to explore his journey within the theatre world and uncover tips for budding theatre professionals.
Alan grew up in the small Northern town of Terrace, BC, a quintessential theatre kid with a voracious appetite for the world of theatre. The child of two musicians, Alan spent many an hour in the theatre watching concerts and attending local music festivals and events. He enjoyed model making and crafts, and learned to knit and sew from his mother and grandmother. Along with his two younger sisters, Alan studied music and was fortunate to be able to study theatre in high school, starting in grade 8.
Alan performed throughout high school, but never found himself to be completely comfortable on stage, sharing: “I love the theatre as a place to be, I love doing it, I love the people, and the creativity, but I don’t enjoy getting up in front of people. I understood right away as soon as I was exposed to stagecraft that it was really special and it was a container for so many of the things I had been drawn to.”
Things changed when Alan was able to take a stagecraft class in grade 11. This enabled him to take on part-time work as a technician at his community theatre where he started to develop design skills and competence, and learned to respond to creative impulses. His passion led him to study theatre at university, eventually earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UBC. Alan remembers: “We studied prop building, scenic painting, and carpentry and I did projects over the years in lighting, sound, set design and construction, costume design, and stage management. It was a really broad survey of all of the areas within theatre.”
Post-graduation, Alan went straight into work as a freelancer for about a decade, gathering lighting design and technician experience in the theatre and on film sets as a carpenter. Though his experiences varied, he always came back to lighting design, which fulfilled so many of his skills and interests. “Lighting is an intensively creative discipline but it’s also really hands-on and practical,” Alan says. “You need to know about physics, optics, and electricity. There is a big hands-on dimension too like climbing ladders and hanging lights. It ticked a lot of my boxes.”
The theatre scene in Vancouver in the early 90s was a different world than it is today, one without many lighting designers at play – a perfect opportunity for Alan to work and showcase his skillset. Alan remembers: “I was part of a very successful production at the Vancouver Playhouse in 1996. It was a show called The Overcoat. It was this wild Canadian theatre success story, touring across the country three times and it went to international festivals in the UK, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. The Overcoat felt like it was my arrival on the scene. I think that was the first time I won an award for my lighting.”
Fueled by the success of The Overcoat, Alan began to be approached by even bigger stages and productions. He worked on the global touring production of The Phantom of the Opera, productions with the Shaw Festival, the Stratford Festival, Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet of Canada, and more! Alan thoroughly enjoyed these experiences sharing “As a designer, you have these amazing dialogues with the director or choreographer. I love that part of diving into a work and figuring out what this play is about, how we want to tell this story and then, what are the things we can do on the stage to help tell the story.”
In conjunction with his designing career, Alan began to teach at UBC, the National Theatre School of Canada, the Banff Centre for the Arts, and Langara College, something Alan found to be incredibly rewarding. He shares: “I enjoy thinking about and then trying to articulate trying to do this thing that I’ve done so much, and there is a lot of reward in that.”
After hitting the ceiling of his career in Canada, Alan decided it was time for a new challenge. In 2014, he returned to school, earning a master’s degree in Directing from the University of Victoria. Soon after, however, the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the arts world and Alan was forced to pause and reflect on what would be next for his career, ultimately landing on the idea of transitioning into a mentorship role, passing down his skills and learnings to passionate students.
It was from this reflection that Alan landed at Arts Umbrella in 2021 as the Manager of Theatre Operations. “[Arts Umbrella was] the perfect place for me to land. All of my experience comes into play here in surprising ways and I have been learning so many new skills and ways of working.” Now, almost two years later, Alan runs Stagecraft workshops and has big plans for the future of the program at Arts Umbrella. When he’s not teaching, he’s busy managing and running the Theatre and Front-of-House department, caring for the Stagecraft shop, and onboarding instructors and team members.
Alan’s advice for budding stagecraft professionals is to not limit yourself to one field, to have at least two skill sets to offer, and to always think of yourself as a learner. “It’s one of the beautiful things about being a designer. You sit down with a synopsis and start at the beginning, it could be a style you’re not familiar with or a subject matter you know nothing about. Each of the productions will take you into a new world. You’re consistently learning and that’s one of the things I loved about it, I felt like I could keep growing as a person through the work.”
On April 24, 2023, Alan will be instructing a Stage Lighting Workshop for Pro-D Day! Young people ages 13 and up will get to embark on a lighting adventure exploring optics, photometrics, lighting instruments, colour theory, control systems, and more!
Alan encourages students with a passion for theatre, whether on stage or behind the scenes, to enroll in this workshop. “This Pro-D Day is perfect for theatre kids who don’t feel comfortable on the stage. But it’s also a huge benefit to kids who love to perform as the knowledge of Stagecraft will help students become more well-rounded theatre practitioners.”
To register for the Stage Lighting Workshop, click here.