Avolites interview industry veteran Stuart Wood on his new profession teaching the next generation of lighting professionals.
While spending his teenage years playing the guitar in bands, Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood asked his then LD Lee Forde for a crack at what he did. Describing the initial attraction, he said: “To me, lighting was just like picking up another instrument to interact with the music. So instead of standing on stage playing a guitar, I stood at the back and ‘played’ the lights.”
Moving forward, Woody lit acid house nights, before forming his own hire company, Mr. Phantasy Lighting, amassing a large quantity of fixtures, and with the help of the Princes Trust, a Par can rig. “It went on from there,” he says, “touring as an LD with bands, travelling, and sitting in an office employing seven people”, before settling in London for stints at London nightclubs Home and The End, after which he slotted back into the role of a traditional freelancer doing the usual rounds of festivals, corporate, tours and one offs.
Today, Woody tutors at the Elstree University Technical College, imparting the benefit of his many years of industry experience onto an eager group of students enrolled on his Lighting course. Avolites have been supporting the course with equipment including a Tiger Touch, Expert and Powercube.
Elstree UTC offers full time technically orientated courses for students aged 14 – 19. Their prospectus includes a broad range of courses that focus on technical skills, trades, crafts and technologies that support the entertainment, film, television, theatre, visual arts and digital communications industries.
UTC Assistant Principle Ben Rice first approached Woody, and explained that the college needed somebody with experience of the business to come and teach. As Woody recalls, “When I actually met the team at the UTC I was impressed on their emphasis on real world practices and starting with a younger age group. This was an opportunity to really prepare young people for the sometimes-crazy world of Lighting. I initially came in to do only 5 days but was offered a regular position the following week.”
Discussing his experience at Elstree thus far, Woody has noticed what appears to be a much improved understanding of what makes us tick, than when he was at school: “Arty, creative kids may not be driven towards applying for jobs as nuclear physicists, but the world desperately needs creative people.
“It is fantastic to see lighting and sound, film making etc being taken seriously as ‘proper jobs’. They certainly never were in my day and I don't think teachers realised then that you could actually make a good living from doing these things!
“Teachers are so much more enthusiastic and put so much more work in than people realise. They do it because they care about their students and what happens to them. I have so much respect for the teaching profession since I have worked alongside them.”
The college’s rapidly increasing profile managed to draw attention from former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, who visited in July, saying: “I’ve been incredibly impressed with what I have seen at Elstree UTC today. The school is harnessing the talents of students from a diverse range of backgrounds, providing them with a fantastic education tailored to a future career in the entertainment industry.”
Having Woody on board has meant the Elstree UTC students have benefitted from his wealth of industry connections, and had a chance to impress industry figures. In May, a number of students took part in work experience at Coloursound Experiment Ltd where they worked alongside lighting professionals in a busy warehouse prepping and de-prepping equipment as it came and went. Some experienced the “We Are” Festival in Uxbridge, and more recently, got hands on at Reading Festival.
In addition, two students recently got the chance to experience work at Avolites HQ, getting involved in the prep of equipment on its way out to Glastonbury Festival. Students Jordan and Jojo also took part in training sessions with the Avolites training team, breezing through both the Foundation and Advanced courses in impressive time, also showing off the rigging and operating skills they had learned from Woody.
“We have been incredibly lucky with our industry partners Coloursound Experiment and Avolites,” he explains. “Real world experience will enhance learning so much. I plan to expand on the work experience side of things and create more ‘real world’ scenarios in the college. I like to create deliberate ‘stitch up’ scenarios and faults so we can replicate problems and find solutions as if in a typical live show.”
Discussing the opportunities her students have had in their chosen industries, Moira Green, principal at Elstree UTC noted: “It is essential that young people have a good understanding of business and are well prepared to join the world of work. At Elstree UTC we equip our students’ with confidence and the skills that employers’ value. I’m proud that many of our students have already received job offers.”
When they had a free moment at Avolites, we had the chance to ask Jordan and Jojo about their experiences at Elstree, they were highly complementary of the college and their teacher, explaining that thanks to the real world experience and scenarios that they’re encouraged to get into, they’re “just like mini Woody’s” as Jordan put it. She soon found herself having a lot of fun, after being sat at a console with Woody. “There is so much technology available to us at Elstree. It’s amazing!”
“His teaching style is great”, adds Jojo. “He teaches us the way he learned, and he’s really keen to get us connected in the industry”.
They’re not the only ones enjoying the experience, though; Woody also gets a lot out of teaching at the UTC. “It has been an incredibly humbling experience and for me it is a great opportunity to pass on my knowledge and experience to the next wave. I know the mistakes I have made and what I have learned from them so I can hopefully arm the students with these lessons!
“Lighting has always been a pleasure to me,” he continues, “and the occasional compliments you get doing it is nothing compared to somebody's mother telling you of the positive change in their son or daughter. Professionally, I feel it is the most positive thing I have ever done in my life and I am grateful for the opportunity.”
Avolites Managing Director Steve Warren is equally excited about having a hand in the development of aspiring lighting designers. “From my first day in the industry, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every moment I’ve got out of it. It’s fantastic to be in a position now, where we are able to develop and create opportunities for young people, and make sure they are equipped for the real world. This is part of the reason that Avolites are so committed to offering training for students, both at our offices and on our roadshows.”
When asked what they would say to someone who’s thinking about getting involved in lighting, Jordan’s answer was wonderfully succinct… “Go and talk to Woody!”
Info about Elstree UTC can be found at http://www.elstreeutc.co.uk
Woody can be contacted at – firstname.lastname@example.org
Avolites training details can be found at http://www.avolites.com/training or email@example.com