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STAGE LIGHTING BASICS

by Dr. R. Iacobucci


In stage lighting---whether it be for a Shakespearian theatre production, a huge rock concert, or intimate cabaret---the lighting designer has the extraordinary power to control what the audience sees. Without light there can be no vision; and without vision, no perception. The qualities of light he controls include brightness (amplitude), color (frequency / wavelength), change rates, and direction (angle of incidence).

Brightness

A key goal is to illuminate that which the audience is to see, such as the performer's facial expressions, while preventing light from reaching distracting objects: the stage apron, speakers, rigging. Gradations of brightness allow the designer to create relative emphasis --- the soloist should be most brightly lit, while a non-participating chorus should be dimly lit. The Dimming Systems described in Red Pages - STAGE ILLUMINATION SYSTEMS , are the primary means used to control the lights' brightness. Secondarily, fixtures can be equipped with hinged metal flaps, called "barn doors", or sliding metal gates, "shutters" to control the beam's spread.

Color

Where brightness focuses the audience's attention, color influences mood. Dyed plastic sheets, called " Gels" or "Color Filters," held in frames which mount on the lighting instruments, are used to produce the desired colors. Subjectively speaking: RED is hot and exciting. ORANGE is warm but strange. YELLOW is cheerful. GREEN weird. BLUE cool and somber. MAGENTA warm and romantic. LAVENDER restful and soothing. PINK active and flashy.

The more vivid (saturated / lacking white) the color, the more pronounced the effect; the more pastel (tinted / nearly white), the more delicate and subdued the effect. Where a romantic solo would be enhanced by flesh pink and special lavender; a hard rock concert might be accentuated by dark magenta and yellow green.

Blending the three primaries: Red, green, and blue, in washing fixtures such as the border, strip, or wide angle Par (see lighting instruments on Red Pages - STAGE ILLUMINATION SYSTEMS) allows the light artist to create virtually every color the eye can see through the magic of color synthesis---as illustrated by the RGB pixels of any TV screen.

Typically spotlights equipped with pastel colors are used to illuminate the performers; while wide beam washes using deeply hued colors are used to bathe the stage, and particularly the rear curtain / cyclorama (see fabrics in Blue Pages: SURFACING MATERIALS ), to set mood.

Plastic sheets of color filter and diffusing sheets, can be selected from Yellow Pages - SPECIAL EFFECTS .

Change Rates

For most dramatic theatre productions, changes in the lights' brightness and color should be so gradual as to not distract from the acting. Hence, slow "crossfades" from one "preset" set of lights to another, upon the proper "cue", are accomplished by the Dimmer Controls Panels (see Red Pages - STAGE ILLUMINATION SYSTEMS).

A disco / rock music event is often energized by rapidly sequencing or chasing the light from one color to another. See the Disco type lights and controls in the Yellow Pages - SPECIAL EFFECTS section.

Directional Control

As illustrated by the following photos, pleasing to shocking results can be achieved by controlling the angle of incidence of the light beam as it travels from lighting instrument to the performer / prop / scenery.

PHOTO 1: A single light source, directly in front of, and 45 degrees above the performer is the barest method of lighting. This condition is typically produced by a single Follow Spot (see Red Pages - STAGE ILLUMINATION SYSTEMS). This results in a flat-faced actress, who looks like a crescent moon when viewed from the side. Notice unpleasant shaddows under nose and chin.
PHOTO 2: For a pleasing appearance, a warm tinted light source 45 degrees to the left and 45 degrees above the performer, the "key" light; is coupled with a cool tinted light source 45 degrees to the right and 45 degrees above the performer, the "fill" light. Together they yield a natural depth, free of harsh shadows, that flatters the facial features.
PHOTO 3: Back lighting can attractivly highlight the hair and shoulders of the performer, causing her to stand out from the background. A highly saturated color filter is typically used on the back lighting instrument; especially when used in conjunction with pastel key & fill lighting shown in Photo 2 above.
PHOTO 4: Lighting from the footlight location produces an unnatural ghoulish special effect.

Hence, for each area of the stage in which a performer will stand, use the appropriate combination of brightness, color, change rates, and direction to accomplish the desired theatrical result. Overlap the lit areas to avoid dark voids as the actress crosses the stage.

Pattern Masks

There are two common lighting instruments that accept a metal disc into which has been etched a sillouette --- these are the ELLIPSOIDAL and the SCANNERS OF PATTERN MASKS . These discs are called "gobos" or "cookies" or "pattern masks", and are available in hundreds of stock images or can be custom made to include a logo, person's name, etc. See PATTERN MASKS

In the theatre they are commonly used to suggest an environment, such as a projected leaf pattern to suggest an "outdoors" setting. In concerts they are used in motorized Beam Projectors (see Yellow Pages - SPECIAL EFFECTS ) to provide dazzling moving backdrops. In advertising, they work to project a product name or slogan.

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Copyright March 1998 --- This document is protected from unauthorized use by international copyright laws. The author hereby grants permission to teachers to reproduce and distribute not more than fifty (50) copies to students, provided that the following acknowledgment is included with every copy: "Stage Lighting Basics by Dr. R. Iacobucci of Roctronics, www.roctronics.com" For all other proposed uses call 781-826-8888 or email: doc@roctronics.com


To assist the beginner, Roctronics has produced educational videotapes. See DETAILS of Lighting & Special Effects Videos

Roctronics
Dr. R. Iacobucci
Roctronics Park, Pembroke, MA 02359 - USA
781-826-8888
Fax 781-826-8889 ---24 hrs.
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