As I sit pushing the GO button on another show it occurred to me that maybe the role of the lighting operator may have changed over the years. I remember manual lighting desks were the only memory system was sheets of paper with all of the cues were written on that is what you set all of the preset faders at. You made copious notes about each cue and you manually operated each cue with feeling. With this method you actually developed a feeling for how the show ran, and you operated the manual fades with the mood and pace that the show was running at. So there was a lot of prep going into the playing back of cues, and there were times when it was physically impossible to do what the lighting designer required, and therefore compromises had to be made.
The modern lighting desks can do a lot more these days, but once you have programmed them, all you need to do is press the GO button. so is the skill that is required now is the ability to program a desk not the skill to operate and use your sense of timing to make it a part of the show. Most desks have the times programmed into them, especially for theatrical shows. So the operator is basicly down-skilled to a button pusher. The skill board operators need is the skill and knowledge of how to program the lighting desk. In some cases the lighting designer might program the show, I do this at times. Then all I need is a button pusher. But does it end there? Possibly not? What happens if some thing does go wrong? Can a button pusher have enough knowledge to solve any problems that might develop with the desk or with cues being jumped within the production. So maybe they do need some training.
It boils down to the fact that the board operator still needs to be a skilled individual and therefore it is not good for the production to use a mate of a cast member etc to drive your lighting desk. As the lighting designer you need to feel confident that the person driving the desk is going to understand the process that is involved and can sort out any problems that could arise during the run of the production. So when you are next designing a show insist on a person that is familiar with the desk so as the show evolves or problems crop up they can solve the problem there and then.
A good operator can make or break a show.