Getting To Grips With Stage Lighting By PG Stage, Part 1
It’s not until you need it that you realise just now important lighting is for enhancing a performance. For many people in theatre, lighting can often be an afterthought however it really can make or break a performance. Simply understanding the basics of lighting i.e. how it can set a certain mood, amplify the emotion and highlight certain elements of a performance can often be as important as finding the perfect cast and writing the script.
Whether you are new to lighting and looking to gain experience as well as a better understanding of the theatre industry as a whole, or if you are thinking of transitioning into a role where you have to use lighting in a professional capacity we have created this guide to impart our lighting wisdom on a sometimes forgotten about aspect on theatre.
Of course lighting design demands a high level of technical skill however the most important thing to remember about lighting design is it is completely reactive. Different scenes in a performance are looking to portray different emotions to the audience and so importance is placed on lighting design to ensure every mood and vision is portrayed correctly throughout every scene.
Now we’re not saying lighting designers have no creative reign over their work and it is wholly dependent on what the performers ask for. In fact, the technical skills lighting designers possess can often be the key difference between a messy, cluttered performance and an award-winning production. As we mentioned, lighting design can often be overlooked until the very last minute however the best productions will have lighting designers in place from the outset. It is the job of a lighting designer to not only perform on the night but to read the full script, attend all rehearsals and fully understand every element of the performance that has to be highlighted, using their judgement for which lights are required at each stage.
Additionally, for lighting designers, it’s not just about understanding the performance itself, it’s also about the venue – you need to know the space like the back of your hand. Understanding the set up of a venue, what equipment is available and even down to the electrical wiring of the venue is all key to getting the lighting just right.
Popular Lighting Equipment
It’s no secret that a list of lighting equipment could go on forever however we have rounded up four of the most common lights you are likely to need for getting the perfect lighting in both small and medium sized venues.
Floodlight – Commonly used on the football pitch, flood lights are also used by lighting designers for theatre performances. Providing a wide beam of light across large areas of the stage, floodlights can be great for adding light to cycloramas well as adding a soft blanket of light from above. Floodlights however should be avoided if your aim is to a create a natural setting.
Beamlight – As the name suggests, beamlights produce fairly intense beams of light through use of a parabolic reflector and no lens making this type of light perfect for sunbeams, torchlight and extremely precise lines.
Profile Spot – Profile spotlights tend to be used for both long-range coverage of the stage as well as lighting from the side of the stage. Profile spots are incredibly useful when it comes to highlighting certain areas of the stage or to shape light in a certain way. Using built-in shutters and masking devices you can manipulate the lighting to the requirements of each performance.
Fresnel Spot – Similar to profile spotlights, fresnel spotlights are extremely versatile lights that can be used for many purposes. Fresnel spotlights offer much softer lighting than profile spots and the beam can be adjusted using specialist shutters. Fresnel spotlights are perfect if you are looking to create a whole range of effects with only one light.
Fresnel spots come in a range of different wattages however in smaller theatres, 250 and 500 watt spots won’t be uncommon. In fact, in smaller theatres, 1000 watt fresnel spotlights might even be used for backlighting. Again, we can’t stress enough how important your preparation is as lights can be very versatile and depending on the size of the venue, you may decide to use different lights from what you had originally planned.
After covering the importance of preparation and popular lighting equipment for both small and medium sized theatres, next week we will be exploring lighting principles in more depth.
PG Stage is a lighting and stage installation company with a base in Manchester and clients across the whole of the UK including Manchester City Football Club, Scala Arts Centre and Cinema as well as The Met Independent Arts and Entertainment Venue in Bury. They specialise in stage design and lighting for theatres, education and broadcast studios and have more than 25 years’ experience in providing innovative installation. For more advice, inspiration and to keep up to date with the latest in lighting design and stage installation, please visit the PG Stage blog.