Lighting a Show

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					Lighting a Dramat Show
Lighting is an area that is often overlooked by directors to the peril of the production. Simply put, if a show is unlit or lit poorly, the actors cannot be seen. On the other hand, interesting lighting can brighten up an otherwise dull. At the very least lighting should be effective- it should light the actors and set. This guide is intended for lighting a show in the Granary Theatre but should apply to lighting shows in general. The Lighting designer is in charge of lighting a production and will work closely with the director from early on in the rehearsal stage up until opening night. Usually a director will either have a very specific idea of how the lighting should look, in which case the designer figures out how to practically achieve it; or the director will leave the lighting up to the designer and ok the final design. If the latter is the case, it is possible to identify five different stages of lighting design; Designing, Planning, Rigging, Focusing and Plotting. Designing Designing is thinking of the different ways a show might be lit and picking the best one. A good understanding of the script is absolutely necessary and the lighting designer should also attend a few rehearsals before sitting down to design. Before starting, a lighting designer should have a clear understanding of the set and which way it is pointing. Furthermore, a lighting designer should consider each of these artistic choices that have to be made:           While the design depends completely on the play, for most plays, one can use a dedicated lighting state to denote the stage and light the playing area. This is known as general cover. It is possible to change the colour of the light through the use of gels. One can vary the tint slightly or project an entirely new colour. Lights with no gels in them are called open white. As well as general cover, it is possible to create a wash. This is a state that concentrates less on lighting actors but more on lighting the set. Lights can set the scene. For example, a green wash may indicate outdoors, a blue wash, night time. It sounds basic but it has worked for centuries Lights can be used as effects themselves. Dedicated lights that serve a particular purpose are known as specials. Lights can be used within the set. This includes lamps, torches, televisions, electric fires or faux fires, candles etc. Stage lights are controlled through a dimmer and therefore have a range of intensity (or brightness) from nothing to full While most lights hang above the set, it is also possible to set up lights on floor stands. This method is generally best kept for specials. Actors should always be lit. If an audience cannot see an actor they lose interest after about 1 minute. It may be tempting in certain plays to do a scene in the dark but it is risky. Remember: a light doesn’t necessarily have to just be a light. Consider using them to represent other things such as the sun, stars, cars, vortexes, trains, eyes etc.

It is important to remember that the show must be lit from the moment the house lights go down until they come back up (blackouts are still lighting). A lighting designer must know how the show will be lit for this period of time. It is advisable to go back over the script and note how each scene should look. When this is complete and you’ve discussed it with the director, it’s time to work out how to actually do it. Planning Planning is transferring the theory of the lighting design into a practical lighting plan. There will invariably be several correct ways of doing this, but also several wrong ways that will result in patches of shadow or unlit actors. Again there is much to consider, this time more practical.  Firstly, familiarize yourself with the layout of the space. The granary tech. spec. is available online from their and our websites so download it and find out the layout of the space. You will need to talk to the technical manager, Kath Geraghty and get a diagram of the grid, an up-to-date list of lamps available and possibly a stencil. Next decide which lamps to use. Each lamp has its own characteristics and some are better suited to certain jobs than others (see appendix A for a full list). Decide where you will hang your lights. It is advisable to use more than one light to light actors so that they can be seen from either side. Also make sure to consider the steepness or shallowness of a light. A very steep light won’t light an actor’s face but a shallow light will light the back wall of the space. See figure 1.1. Lights can be hung from the grid, the handrail and the kickbar.

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Assemble or get the producer or stage manager to recruit a lighting crew. You will need one person to rig from the talloscope, two people to push it, crew to rig on the gantry (there are three harnesses available but two people or even one will get the job done).


Draw up a schedule for your get-in allowing enough time to brief your crew, rig, focus and plot. Remember to use your time and crew wisely and incorporate an hour lunch break (it is advisable to confer with the production officer in charge of the get-in so that the lighting schedule matches the set construction schedule).

Rigging Unless the lighting designer is also a member of the crew, which admittedly is common in Dramat productions, this part requires the least input from the designer. If your crew is competent and your plan is clear, there should be few problems. There are some extra steps you can take to ensure it runs smoothly  Take some time to brief your crew in detail. Have a photocopy of the lighting plan for each crew member and explain what each light is for, where it is pointing etc. If there are any questions or if anyone is confused, it is best to sort it out before starting. Ensure that everyone has the appropriate training for their position i.e. scope, harness, scope-pushing. If they do not, the technical manager or someone with the appropriate experience will be delighted (or at least willing) to teach them, efficiently, professionally and free of charge. Get the talloscope in as soon as possible. Once that is set up and going, the gantry crew can rig at the same time. Pick the gels you are using during the rig and have them ready in time for the focus. Leave lights on the ground and in the scene-dock until last for ease of movement of the talloscope and set-builders but don’t forget them because they must be included in the plot. Patch as you go and keep a clear record of what’s plugged in where. If someone finishes early, get them to bring the lighting board down from upstairs but check with the technical manager first. Do a flashthrough.


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Usually, the rigging will take between 1 and 4 hours, completely depending on how messy the grid is to start with and how many lights are in the plan. The completion of the rig is generally a good time for the lunch break. Give them an hour and then begi the focus. Focusing As the name suggests, Focusing means adjusting the lights so that the point where you want them to and light what you want them to. In addition this is where you adjust the size, shape and tint of the beam, as well as adding any gobos you are using. Some things to note:    Focus each light one at a time. Do not move on to the next light until you are happy with the previous one. Get someone else to man the lighting board so you This will probably be the only time you will be able to focus these lights so don’t be afraid to be exact about how they are focused.

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Focus on something or, preferably, someone. If you are focusing general cover, get them to walk around the space, always facing you and judge the light’s consistency from their skin tone. Feel free to examine the lit spot from different areas in the space and audience. If in doubt about shadows, get a second opinion. Kath has an excellent eye for this. Feel free to change your mind and refocus a light. However, remember that it can be extremely uncomfortable in the cockpit of the talloscope so don’t keep a crewmember up their any longer than you have to. If you have two lights lighting the same area, make sure to check how they look when they are both on. If feasible, get some of the set in place as something to focus on. By feasible, I mean a part of the set that is ready and doesn’t impede the movement of the scope. You can expect a certain amount of setbacks in the form of blown bulbs and badly rigged lights. In addition, the blacked-out space and quiet atmosphere can be quite tense. Be patient and concentrate and your crew will do the same. Do not allow people to move through the space while focusing, apart from the safety risk, it disrupts concentration and communication. As you are talking to your crew, sometimes to someone on the scope and usually in the dark, make sure that disruptions to communication (such as someone drilling or shouting in the scene-dock are kept to a minimum. It is a long day and if not everyone in your crew is doing something feel free to dismiss them. However, it is advisable to retain one person for the scope, one for the gantry, one for the board and one person to focus on.

At the end of the focus, the main body of work is complete and the job of the lighting crew is done. It is a good idea at this point to load paired lights on to submasters on the board and to check with the director that he/she approves. You can begin the plot as soon as the set is in place, either on the night of the get-in or the following day. Plotting Plotting means programming into the computer the different lights you want to turn on and when. This is done in the form of cues, with each cue representing a different lighting state. You capture a channel or channels, select the intensity that you want them on at, program in how fast you want them to fade up and fade down and save it. Then, when the lighting operator sits down, all he/she has to do is press the go button and the dimmers will play the cue. Plots generally start on cue 0.5 as the opening state (usually either a low level or blackout) and continue through using whole numbers. Plotting is a time-consuming process but it is easy to get the hang of and states are often repeated.    You can use your submasters to bring up certain lights without having to capture each channel individually. You can pick the intensity of each light and it is an excellent idea to experiment with different intensities and light combinations at this point. In order to get the timing of lighting changes exactly right, you may need the actors to rehearse cue lines a few times on stage.


While it is practically impossible to re-rig or re-focus lamps on the grid once the talloscope is taken out of the space, it relatively simple to change a cue so don’t hesitate to tweak one, even a few days into the run.

Once the plot is complete and the director is satisfied and barring any adjustments to the plot, the lighting designer’s job is finished. The stage manager will find a lighting op. and the director should be capable of training him or her, leaving you free to enjoy the show. In terms of Dramat plays, a designer should always keep a copy of his/her lighting plan with gel numbers written in as well as a script with the cues on it. If the play is selected to compete in the ISDA festival, you don’t want to have to design from scratch. Lighting design is an excellent way to get involved in theatre behind the scenes while retaining an artistic input in the project. The sheer multitude of choice available to the designer ensures that each design he/she does can be different, interesting and vivid. At the same time, the get-in and plotting ensures that the designer remains a practical member of the crew. I hope you enjoy the experience.

Barndoors- parts of the lamp that can be moved during focusing to adjust the pattern and size of the beam. Blackout- An extinguishing of all stage lights, often to distinguish different scenes. Capture- To select a channel on the lighting computer so one may adjust it. Channel- Like a socket, each light is plugged into a channel which is connected through the lighting board to the dimmers. Some channels have twin inputs which means two lights can run through the same channel Dimmer- A device that varies the current through an electric light in order to control the level of illumination. Flashthrough- Briefly turning on and off each light individually and systematically to make sure they are all plugged in the correct channels and working. Gantry- The walkway around the top of the space that connects the lighting box to the dressing rooms. This is where you access the handrail, kickbar and the outer rail of the grid. Gel- A transparent coloured material that is placed in front of a light to change its colour. General Cover- Lights that illuminate the playing area. Often an overlap of warm and cold wash. Grid- The network of railings suspended from the roof directly above the space for the purpose of hanging stage lights on. Gobo- A thin circular plate with holes cut in it to create patterns of projected light Handrail- The rail at waist-level around the gantry. You can hang lights here for a shallower angle. House Lights- Lights that illuminate where the audience is. In the granary, they are built-in and controlled from the lighting box. ISDA- Irish Student Drama Awards. An annual competition for student theatre in Ireland, the best Dramat plays are sent to the host college to compete. Kickbar- The rail that runs around the base of the gantry. You can hang lights here for the shallowest angle available short of a floor stand. Lighting Desk- Connected to the dimmers and the channels, this controls the lights Patch- A patch plan is a written record of which channel a light is plugged into. As lights are plugged in, the channel number is blacked out with pencil.

Pattern- The shape the light creates on the stage. Open White- A light with no gel. State- One or more light shining on stage for a period of time Submasters- Dials on the lighting desk that can be programmed to control a particular channel or channels. Special- A light used for a specific purpose rather than being part of a wash or system. Talloscope- A moveable ladder on wheels that allows access to the grid. Technical Specification- A plan diagram of the lighting grid including the kickbar and handrail. Wash- A set of lights colouring the stage

Appendix A- Types of Light
Lights can broadly be split into two categories: floodlights that spread light over a wide area and spotlights that have a more concentrated beam, although some lights are not so easily defined.



Flood. A large light usually used for work lights. Rarely used in productions because it is difficult to control the pattern.


PAR Can. A large car lamp in a shell that throws light in an oval. Often used with gels as part of a wash. No barndoors so it’s hard to control the pattern.


Cantata P.C. A large light that is generally used for general cover and washes. Fitted with barndoors for better adjustability.


1 kw Fresnel. Equipped with a fresnel lense, it is a softer light and is often used for back light.


½K Fresnel. Half the size of a 1 k.



Followspot. Mounted on the handrail and generally used to light a moving performer or object onstage


Source Four. A revolutionary lamp that has far more adjustability than other lights while weighing less. Generally used for specials.


1832. The heaviest light, it is also used for specials.

Appendix B: Useful Links
   The Granary Theatre – Lighting 101 - Wikipedia -

The Granary is the first stop shop for your all-important technical specifications and the second link is amazingly detailed.

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