Stage Lighting: The Functions of Stage Lighting

Stage Lighting: The Functions of Stage Lighting


We will now take a look at one of the most elusive and fascinating processes in the art of theater: stage lighting. Lighting for a play production is challenging and will have a remarkably dramatic effect on the appearance of a play. In many respects the stage lights function best, when the audience is unaware of them. When the stage lights are functioning at their peak, they will have a subconscious effect on the audience. It is usually when something goes wrong with the lights that the audience even becomes aware of them. In this unit we will consider the theories and practices of stage lighting, and see how the lighting designer can influence the overall effect that the dramatic action of the play has on an audience. We will consider the basic functions of stage lighting. We’ll look at the controllable factors of light and see specifically how a light designer can control light. Then we’ll identify the most common lighting instruments in the theatre, and see how a lighting designer utilizes these. Finally, we will take a step by step look at the process that a designer goes through, to create an effective and aesthetically pleasing lighting design. First, we’ll look at the functions of stage light. Precisely, what are the primary purposes that a lighting design serves, and how are these accomplished in a lighting design? The first function of stage lighting that we will consider is: visibility. Naturally, one of the primary purposes for having stage lighting is to make it possible for the audience to see the action on stage. If the audience is unable to see the action, or if the lights are set at a level where the audience needs to strain in order to see the action, then all of the other functions of stage lighting are rendered moot. A lighting designer needs to have a strong sense of how much light must be directed into an area in order to give the proper illumination to the space and any object that may occupy that space. Too little light and the audience will need to strain their eyes to keep up with the action. The visibility is too low the audience will eventually lose interest in the action. Conversely if there is too much light directed into an area this will have a similar effect. The strain will be the result of too much light reflecting off an object. A good lighting designer understands the range of intensity that is eye-friendly and knows how to adjust within that range in order to serve the other functions of stage lighting appropriately. Another of the functions of stage lighting is to establish the proper mood. This is an area where the lighting designer can do their magic. Is the scene one with a dark foreboding mood? Is the play a bright and upbeat musical comedy? A lighting designer will adjust the lights intensity and color to match the mood of action on stage. We’ll take a look at how this is done by manipulating the controllable factors of light in the next section. Also, the lighting designer can assist creating the proper focus of a play production. When we discuss the art of stage direction we will see how the stage director stages a play in such a way that the audience’s attention will shift from one point of focus to another on the stage. The lighting designer can assist in this process by the way he designs his lights. He may focus one light on a character and lower the intensity on the others. The use of a follow spot can be used to focus attention on a character even when he or she moves around on the stage. Besides creating proper visibility, establishing the appropriate mood, and assisting in creating the proper focus, an additional function of stage lighting is referred to as composition. The stage directors task in a proscenium-arch production is to create a series of stage pictures. In this way they are creating a composition that reveals the overall nature of the scene. The angle from which the lights are directed into the stage picture will affect the overall composition of the image. Composition relates to the proper distribution of light and shadow in a lighting design. How the lights are arranged will affect the composition. And finally, stage lights may also function as special effects. Say you are trying to create the illusion of a thunderstorm on stage. You may use the controllable factors of light to strobe the lights. This will create the illusion of a lightning flash. You may also employ what is referred to as a chase effect to further the illusion of the lightning strikes at different locations in the sky. We will take a look at how you can create the special effect that was used to create the bat-signal. This was done by using a lighting device known as a gobo. Also laser light effects have become very popular in recent years. So when a lighting designer prepares to create a lighting design for a play, he needs to be acutely aware of how the factors of stage light will be used to serve the primary functions of stage lighting. Visibility, mood, focus, composition, and special effects In the next section we will take a look at the controllable factors of light What factors of light can a designer control? And what devices does he have in his disposal to control these factors in the service of a play production? For now go to your task for this section and when we return we’ll continue our look at the art of stage lighting.


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