Getting To Grips With Stage Lighting By PG Stage, Part 2
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 PG Stage have created this two part guide to impart their lighting wisdom on a sometimes forgotten about aspect on theatre.
When you have visited the venue and have a firm idea in your mind of the lights you will need to enhance the performance, the next step is considering how you can get the effects you want from them in terms of how intense the light should be and the angles required for each scene.
Dividing the Stage
Before you start dividing the stage and deciding where things are placed, accurate, to-scale drawings can help you massively in deciding how many lights you will need for the full performance. Many lighting designers break the stage into squares and use their judgement of how much light they expect to hit each square to decide which light would be best to set the required mood. On average, spotlights tend to illuminated an area of 10 ft in diameter however only between 6 to 8ft of this light will be full intensity so this must be considered in selecting the most appropriate lights.
The Perfect Angle
No matter how many lights you have, the angle is by far, the most important thing. Getting the perfect angle is important for creating the right shadow which can make a significant difference to mood. If (through a lack of preparation) you don’t get your angles perfect, the performers could be left half lit up on stage when the performance required a floodlight and this isn’t great for the audience’s overall experience.
As a rule of thumb, a good angle for stage lighting should be around 45 degrees. Not only is the steep enough to prevent long shadows but it is low enough to illuminate the face. If you are relatively new to lighting and aren’t particularly comfortable (or experienced enough) playing around with different intensities, the best thing to do is use two spotlights, 90 degrees apart and each at a 45 degree angle. Knowing where the performance will appear on stage will help you understand where to place your lights – it all comes down to preparation remember.
Intensity of lighting may be different for each scene and the intensity will be decided on the number of lights you have chosen to use, the angle they are situated at, the colour of the lighting and the reflective quality of the set itself.
By understanding the performance and considering every factor you can think of will help you decide on the intensity. Lighting intensity has incredible effect from the smallest of changes and it’s all about having a deep understanding of both the performance and the venue and learning as you go along. You really will learn something new every day and we urge you to not be afraid of going out of your comfort zone – you will become a better lighting designer for it.
So you have read the script, visited the venue, met the performers and mapped out how you expect to light the stage for the performance. But be prepared for a lot of this work to change completely when you get to rehearsal stage. As we mentioned at the beginning, lighting design is completely reactive and as the show progresses you may find yourself changing your lighting plans altogether. But don’t stress about this, it happens more often than not. Don’t throw away your beautiful lighting ideas though, you never know when they might come in useful for another performance.
So, after our very basic guide to lighting design, we’re not saying you would be ready to hit Broadway but we hope it has given you an insight into the basics. If you are curious to learn more or are just starting out in the industry, please contact the PG Stage team and we will be more than happy to give some more advice.
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.