Stage Lighting Design
Stage lighting is the craft of lighting as it applies to the production of theatre, dance, opera and other performance arts. Several different types of stage lighting instruments are used in this discipline. In addition to basic lighting, modern stage lighting can also include special effects, such as lasers and fog machines. People who work on stage lighting are commonly referred to as lighting technicians.
Stage Lighting Design
There were two different types of Restoration theatres in England: Restoration commercial theatres and Restoration court theatres. Commercial theatres tended to be more “conservative in their lighting, for economic reasons” and therefore used “candle-burning chandeliers” primarily. Court theatres could afford to “use most of the Continental innovations” in their productions (Penzel 16). Theatres such as the Drury Lane Theatre and the Covent Garden Theatre were lit by a large central chandelier and had a varying number of smaller stage chandeliers and candle sconces around the walls of the theatres. Two main court theatres, built between 1660 and 1665, were the Cockpit Theatre and the Hall Theatre. Chandeliers and sconces seemed to be the primary lighting sources here but other developments were being made, especially at the Hall. By the 1670s, the Hall Theatre started using footlights, and between 1670 and 1689 they used candles or lamps. It can be noted that by the end of the 17th century, “French and English stages were fairly similar”. There is not much written on theatrical lighting in England at the end of the 17th century and from the little information historians do have, not much changed by the middle of the 18th century. Gas lighting hit the English stage in the early 1800s beginning with the Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres. In the 1820s, a new type of artificial illumination was developed. In this type of illumination, a gas flame is used to heat a cylinder of quicklime (calcium oxide). Upon reaching a certain temperature, the quicklime would begin to incandesce. This illumination could then be directed by reflectors and lenses. It took some time from the development of this new Limelight before it found its way into theatrical use, which started around 1837. Limelight became popular in the 1860s and beyond, until it was displaced by electrical lighting. Lighting advances made in English Theatres during this timeframe paved the way for the many lighting advances in the modern theatrical world.
Stage Lighting Design
A lighting designer (LD) is familiar with the various types of lighting instruments and their uses. In consultation with the director, the DSM (deputy stage manager) and the scenic designer, and after observing rehearsals, the LD creates an instrument schedule and a light plot as well as informing the DSM where each LX (lighting) cue is designed to be triggered in the script, which the DSM notes down in his plot book. The schedule is a list of all required lighting equipment, including color gel, gobos, color wheels, barndoors and other accessories. The light plot is typically a plan view of the theatre where the performance will take place, with every luminaire marked. This typically specifies the approximate lighting focus and direction, a reference number, accessories, and the channel number of the dimmer system or lighting control console.
Stage Lighting Design
Stanley McCandless was perhaps the first to define controllable qualities of light used in theater. In A Method for Lighting the Stage, McCandless discusses color, distribution, intensity and movement as the qualities that can be manipulated by a lighting designer to achieve the desired visual, emotional and thematic look on stage. The McCandless Method, outlined in that book, is widely embraced today. The method involves lighting an object on the stage from three angles—2 lights at 45 degrees to the left and right, and one at 90 degrees (perpendicular to the front of the object).
Stage Lighting Design
The equipment used for stage lighting (e.g., cabling, dimmers, lighting instruments, controllers) are also used in other lighting applications, including corporate events, concerts, trade shows, broadcast television, film production, photographic studios, and other types of live events. The personnel needed to install, operate, and control the equipment also cross over into these different areas of “stage lighting” applications.
Stage Lighting Design
The earliest known form of stage lighting was during the early Grecian (and later the Roman) theatres. They would build their theatres facing east to west so that in the afternoon they could perform plays and have the natural sunlight hit the actors, but not those seated in the orchestra. Natural light continued to be utilized when playhouses were built with a large circular opening at the top of the theatre. Early Modern English theatres were roofless, allowing natural light to be utilized for lighting the stage. As theatres moved indoors, artificial lighting became a necessity and it was developed as theatres and technology became more advanced. At an unknown date, candlelight was introduced which brought more developments to theatrical lighting across Europe.
Traditionally theatre and stage lighting has been of the “generic” type. These are lights which are focussed, geled, and then simply dimmed to give the effect the designer wants. In recent years the emergence of moving lights (or automated lights) has had a substantial impact of theatre and stage lighting.
A lighting designer must satisfy the requirements set forth by the director or head planner. Practical experience is required to know the effective use of different lighting instruments and color in creating a design. Many designers start their careers as lighting technicians. Often, this is followed by training in a vocational college or university that offers theatre courses. Many jobs in larger venues and productions require a degree from a vocational school or college in theatrical lighting, or at least a bachelor’s degree.
While Oliver Cromwell was ruling Britain, all stage production was suspended in 1642 and no advancements were made to English theatres. During this theatrical famine, great developments were being made in theatres on the European mainland. Charles II, who would later become King Charles II witnessed Italian theatrical methods and brought them back to England when he came to power. New playhouses were built in England and their large sizes called for more elaborate lighting. After the refurbishing of the theatres, it was found that the “main source of light in Restoration theatres to be chandeliers” which were “concentrated toward the front of the house, and especially over the forestage”. English theatres during this time used dipped candles to light chandeliers and sconces. Dipped candles were made by dipping a wick into hot wax repeatedly to create a cylindrical candle. Candles needed frequent trimming and relighting regardless of what was happening on-stage because “they dripped hot grease on both the audience and actors”. Chandeliers also blocked the view of some patrons.
Note: This guide is intended to give you an understanding of the lighting process to help get you started in the very basics of lighting. It is for a learning tool only, and is in no way, meant to be substituted for training in lighting and electronics.
The Master Electrician is responsible for taking the lighting plot and making sure that all lighting units on the plot are hung in the correct locations and actually work. Coordinating the numbers of lights and circuits and allocating cabling, gels, and other accessories are the most important aspects of this role. In many theatres, the lighting designer often ends up sharing many of the typical ME roles, so the job gets done by both.
The lighting designer will meet with the director and the design team (set, costume, and sound designers), to discuss the details of the set and the director’s interpretation of the play. The set, costume and lighting designers also meet and work together to ensure the creation of a unified look and feel for the production. A lively exchange of initial ideas and first impressions helps clarify the steps that each person needs to take in this intensely collaborative process.
The lighting controller is connected to the dimmers (or directly to automated luminaires) using a control cable or wireless link (e.g. DMX512) or network, allowing the dimmers which are bulky, hot and sometimes noisy, to be positioned away from the stage and audience and allowing automated luminaires to be positioned wherever necessary. In addition to DMX512, newer control connections include RDM (remote device management) which adds management and status feedback capabilities to devices which use it while maintaining compatibility with DMX512; and Architecture for Control Networks (ACN) which is a fully featured multiple controller networking protocol. These allow the possibility of feedback of position, state or fault conditions from units, whilst allowing much more detailed control of them.
Over the last six years, LED-based luminares of all varieties and types have been introduced to the market. Some of these fixtures have become very popular, whereas others have not been able to match the output from incandescent and discharge sources that lighting designers prefer. LED fixtures are making a positive impact on the lighting market, and are becoming more popular when compared to the energy usage of current incandescent, halogen, and discharge sources.
In many cases, a dimmer can be replaced by a constant power module (CPM), which is typically a 20- or 50-ampere breaker in a dimming module casing. CPMs are used to supply line voltage to non-dimming electrical devices such as smoke machines, chain winches, and scenic motors that require constant operating voltage. When a device is powered by a CPM, it is fully energized whenever the CPM is turned on, independent of lighting console levels. CPMs must be used (in lieu of dimmers) to power non-dimming devices that require specific line voltages (e.g., in the US, 110 V, 60 Hz power) in order to avoid damage to such devices. Dimmers are seldom used to control non-dimming devices because even if a dimmer channel is trusted to always operate at full power, it may not be controlled when communications are disrupted by start up and shut down of the lighting control surface, noise interference, or DMX disconnects or failure. Such a loss of control might cause a dimmer to dim a circuit and thus potentially damage its non-dimming device.