Lighting Design 101 part 1 “The Aims of Stage Lighting”

Lighting is an integral part of a stage production.  Without light the performers cannot be seen. But once there are visible what next can you do with lighting? Well there are several key factors that you need to take into consideration for an effective lighting design.  The first key factor is to read the script several times to get the mood of the piece. Some scripts will have very obvious info about the lighting, with others the key will be in the text. but just because the information is in the script does not mean that you need to follow this. You also need to chat with the director about their vision for the show. Your lighting design needs to complement the directors vision. You need to be working of the the same page.

There are some basic ideas that you need to think about when you re designing theatre. Some of these ideas I have got from the Legendary Francis Reid, and I have used them myself when I am designing lights for a show. Another great source of ideas about stage lighting is Richard Pilbrow. You could sort of think of them as rules but remember rules are meant to be broken occasionally especially if you get the result that you are after. Remember to think outside the square.

So the basic principals are:

Visibility – this is really the first basic requirement of lighting. Audiences need to see the actor as well as hear them. If you cannot see the actor they are usually difficult to hear. So visibilty of the performers and the stage is important, but we can also use selective visiblity to emphasise various key elements within the show. Also the level of illumination can also give the audience clues about the show. The brightness of a scene is only relative to what has gone before.

Indication of Setting – this is were you use the lighting to indicate whether the scene is indoors or outdoors, day or night and weather conditions. This is rather simplistic but as you experiment with light you will find more ideas for the indication of the setting.

Creation of Mood – here you are attempting to use the lighting to sway the audiences feeling. You are trying to make them happy or sad, maybe a romantic mood. You can create moods by the careful use of colour or lighting angles. Also could be referred to as atmosphere. This is very important if you want the audience to feel anything towards the play

Element of Composition – here you are relying on the use of colour, light and shade.  You can use the distribution of light to affect what the audiences sees. A production viewed from the front can look a little flat. Therefore the role of the lighting designer is to bring back that 3rd dimension. This can be achieved by lighting from the sides or the back. generally light in theatre does not come from the front. In fact lighting from different angles can lend a certain solidness to the production. It can make it more “real” or make it more surreal. The best way to find out more is to experiement with lights from different angles and observe what happens. And then you can add the use of colour.

Using these basic aims you should be able to create on stage something that is going to look good. Finding the right balance is going to take time and practise. But good lighting is the art of complementing what is happening on stage without distracting from it. When you achieve this you have done a great job.

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