Light Choices Weigh Heavily


By: Joe Patti

In: Catch All, Productivity

When backstage technical staff have a negative interaction with performers, they will frequently mutter something along the lines of “if not for us, you would be shouting yourself hoarse on a bare stage in the dark,” noting that lighting, sound amplification and sets don’t happen by magic.

The technical elements of a show are often overlooked because short of explosions and things flying around,  if they are done well, you shouldn’t really notice them. Consequently, it is easy to assume these things are easily accomplished…

…until you actually try.

Those who provide technical support to productions in some colleges, schools and community performing arts groups often don’t have formal training in these areas. As a result, they may be just as anxious as the performers about whether they can do a good job.

Just Turn On All The Lights, Right? fir0002 | [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons
Just Turn On All The Lights, Right?
fir0002 | [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons
A couple companies that supply materials to performing and visual arts groups have created resources to help lighting designers and technicians pull it all off.

Apollo Design created what they term “Playbooks” for commonly performed plays.  The Playbooks provide a scene by scene breakdown of the play with suggestions about the mood one would want to create using different colored gels and gobos.

They are completely upfront that what they are suggesting are safe choices and generally only constitute a starting point for people.

Keep in mind that fixture placement, focus, or intensities are not addressed as they are based on an individual theater’s equipment list or rental budget.

The filter colors shown are “safe” colors in that they reflect the proper colors and moods of the scenes based on the indicated primary lighting sources from the script. Lighting design, being an art form in and of itself, is variable to suit the eyes of many people. If it is felt a recommended color is too deep or too light, change it.

They don’t have guides for every show you can possibly do. But if you are doing a light-hearted comedy set in a city, you can easily take a look at their guides for The Odd Couple or Barefoot in the Park to get a sense of the fundamental approach you might use.

Another company, Rosco, has put together a database of shows people have mounted using their products that include pictures and notes about the decisions each designer made. Their site includes about 750 examples of work people have done and you can search based on whether you are looking to design for a play, musical, opera, dance, concerts, worship service or in a club setting.

Because the materials are submitted by the designers themselves, the quality varies greatly. In some instances, the title of the show isn’t readily apparent and the comments just list the designers’ names. In other cases, there are detailed notes providing insight into the process and rationale the designer employed.

Even in the absence of lengthy notes, if you aren’t experienced in lighting design, the size of the database and the accompanying images provides a broad sampling of options for inspiration.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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