Fundamentals of Stage Lighting

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In the modern Church environment an appreciation of the dramatic potential of lighting begins with an understanding of its basic functions. That is: to provide the required degree of visibility; an indication of time and place called motivation; a visual emphasis of selected elements called composition; and an overall atmosphere called mood.

Visibility
This is the most basic function of lighting in any application but it can be used effectively to enhance the experience for those attending any type of service. For the congregation to hear and understand they must be able to see. Visibility can be controlled to reveal details or to leave objects and areas of secondary importance obscure.

Motivation
Motivation or naturalism is the term given to the expression of time and place. As soon as we moved indoors and artificial light from crude lamps had to be used, designers realized light could be controlled and started experimenting. Stained glass windows have brought dramatic light into churches for a thousand years. Today we can bring drama and meaning through the use of modern theatrical luminaires.

If a presentation is realistic, the audience expects naturalistic lighting whereas with a musical or Holiday presentation, time and place are less important. Motivation is often at odds with visibility and the lighting designer must weigh the importance of each and effect a suitable compromise.

Composition
Composition is revealed artistically through the proper use of light and shadow. Warm light and cool light give plasticity and composition to the Visual effect. Spotlights, floodlights, cyc lights, striplights and automated luminaires have all been developed as tools of the designer, who should strive to master their characteristics in order to get the greatest performance from each.

The concept of the production in the case of a seasonal presentation as indicated by the author and chosen by the director determines the approach of the designer using light with its natural characteristics as an integrated visual expression with the building, scenery (if used in a Holiday presentation), and projected images.

This composition in lighting is the revealing or concealing of objects and areas in proportion to their importance. Light has space filling properties, which contributes to composition as the speakers, or groups move through the space. In fact, when the designer determines the intensities, colors and forms in terms of the best dramatic composition, he may even extend the static art forms of architecture, painting and sculpture and move into the realm of music and poetry by presenting a dynamic sequence of dramatic portraits. Correctly controlling these concepts creates composition.

Mood or atmosphere, as created by the total visual effect, brings the 3stage2 into focus with the meaning of the play. The broad use of the term 3dramatic2 seems to apply most readily to this important contribution of lighting. When the integrated visual effects of other functions have been worked out, the proper mood or atmosphere results. Intangible as this function is, the congregation has come to expect a convincing and thoroughly integrated atmosphere to be produced by lighting today.

The Realities of Lighting
The final visual effect is provided by equipment, which has been chosen by a lighting designer because it supplies the desired output of light in terms of intensity, form, color and movement. Various types of instruments: Fresnels, Spotlights, Automated lights, etc. are designed to give a practical range of each of these qualities, as a dynamic, dramatic effect requires a change in one or all to accompany the presentation.

Intensity control is extended by the use of various types of instruments, lamps, mounting positions, color media and, of course, by altering the level of illumination through the use of dimmers. Precise consistent dimmer control is essential for establishing various levels of intensity.

The intensity of the light on a subject also relates to the distance of the instrument from the area to be illuminated and the wattage of the lamp employed. Color media can also be used to vary the intensity proportionally to the density or saturation of the filter used. For example, a light pink color filter utilized in front of a 575 watt Leko will appear much brighter than a primary blue used in the same instrument.

The reflection of light from the setting, costumes (if any) and presenters also determines relative intensity. The eye reacts very quickly to changes in intensity. A dim night scene will initially appear to be very dark if it is preceded by a bright daylight level. However, too little light or a rapid succession of intensity variations can cause the audience members to become confused and tired. The eye, by instinct, will be attracted to the brightest relative area on the stage. Intensity also affects mood. A brightly lighted scene, increasing visibility, tends to make the audience members more alert.

Form meaning the density, spread and direction of the light rays, calls for a wide variety of types of instruments and mounting positions. The particular quality of light distribution given by each type of instrument determines its use. Hard or soft edge beam, narrow or wide spread angle, smooth or mottled field all distinguish the various instruments, which are the building blocks of any lighting effect. The positions of the instruments are determined by the directions desired. Appropriate angles give height and majesty to composition. Positioning of each light source is important in terms of the nature of the cast shadows, which may or may not be desired. The spread or focus of light is one element in the establishment of form. A line or shaft of light may be all that is needed to give attention to an area.

Color in lighting design is used to accent, enhance, distort and motivate the scene. Color is controlled by means of dimmers plus separate filters in front of each source. A tonal quality can be obtained by the additive mixture of two or more sources. If a change in color tone from warm to cool is desired on an area, the warm equipped unit is faded down and the cool color faded up in intensity.

The requirement for color change within a design is the reason for the inclusion of specials, washes or alternate area lighting units within basic layouts. Three sources: red, blue, green, the primary colors in light can deliver any shade or tint by varying the brightness mixture of the three units. In a blending and toning unit such as a cyclight a fourth color such as amber may be used to obtain tints with brightness in a more efficient way. In stage lighting, colors are referred to as being 3warm2 or 3cool2. Colors in the blue range for example, are considered cool, while amber and red are warm. However, warm and cool are relative terms. Warm colors and tints are usually associated with comic productions while cool and highly saturated colors would be associated with serious dramatic productions.

Movement consists of a change in one or all of the qualities of light. Aside from a manually operated follow spot or an automated luminaire, this is accomplished by means of dimming individual units rather than by directional movement. Movement in lighting during a production must be carefully handled. The rhythm, timing or tempo of the movement relates to the dynamic change within the action of the production, and this dramatic rhythm relates directly to the lighting designer1s most important task of setting cues and timing the lighting changes to elevate all visual aspects of the production. Movement of light gives a dynamic quality to the lighting of any presentation if it follows the formula of good composition in the musical and visual sense and good showmanship in the theatrical sense.

The Methods of Lighting
In order to carry out the lighting for any type of production in any type of presentation area, certain general methods can serve as a basic guide. Their application varies with each production.

Area Lights consist of a special group of units devoted to lighting each part of the church space separately. Lighting for the choir and orchestra is separate from the pulpit for example. Architectural details such as a pipe organ may also be treated with special lighting areas. They generally consist of framing spotlights for areas from the front and Fresnels and framing spotlights directed to areas at the back of the altar.

Toning and Blending Lights are used to provide atmosphere in terms of color tone over the altar area. The effect may be produced by par lights or fresnels above. They are designed to give virtually shadowless illumination in a wide range of colors.

Backlights, as the name implies, provide light sources above and behind the presenter. Light falls on the head and shoulders, creating a halo impression that separates him from the background. Back lighting is particularly important for televised services to prevent the image from appearing 3flat2 and two-dimensional with no depth to the picture.

Followspots guarantee that an individual will be lighted no matter what other lighting may be taking place. It is important that operators practice with followspots to insure smooth operation and avoid creating a distraction.

Special Lights include emphasis lights, door or furniture accents, motivating lights such as sun and moonlight beam projectors and practical lamp and firelight sources. Automated lighting units of all varieties fall into this category and provide a wide range of dynamic effects and a high degree of lighting control.

Because visual awareness on the part of the audience has increased, the lighting designer is able to use light as an obvious medium to extend the meaning of a service. Dynamic visual meaning and impact are now the responsibility of the lighting designer above and beyond mere illumination, composition and mood. Superimpositions of light for a service are considered desirable for revealing inner meaning.

A part of this movement within the total lighting design is the static lighting 3pictures2, but more important are the transitions between visual scenes.

Designers are responsible for pursuing the qualities of light which are plastic and multi-dimensional in their search to fulfill Robert Edmond Jones1 dream of 3livingness of light2 Physical and mechanical encumbrances are a thing of the past, and we have moved into a 3new11 New Movement in terms of lighting design in churches.

Indeed, technological advances in light sources, instrument design and the capabilities of lighting control systems have enabled lighting designers to create that which they see in their minds. Until recently, even the best designers were hampered and limited in the creation of fluid movement by the restrictions of the control systems that were available. With the advent of sophisticated, reliable, flexible lighting control systems that integrate conventional and automated luminaires, the lighting designer has been set free.