Theatrical lighting for church facilities is not only important for Christmas and Easter but is critical for weekly church services. The goal of every minister is to get his, or her, message across to the congregation as effectively as possible. This is not only imperative for the church to be successful, but also imperative to each church goer’s spiritual health. With the large size of many churches today, a good quality sound system has become essential for the spoken word to reach the audience to keep their attention. What is most often neglected is a quality lighting system that will help maintain this audio link and provide the best opportunity to pass the message to the audience.
Humans have many inherent physical weaknesses. The human eye, when faced with inadequate lighting, will strain to view the object. This is true if the lighting is very dim or if the shadows on the presenter’s face are unusual. To counteract the strain, the eye will automatically exercise the muscles by looking to another object. Once the eyes wander, the hearing will wander next, breaking all connection with the presenter. It is easy to understand how sound and sight are linked. An every day example is when hearing a loud noise; you will instinctively turn your head to view the source of the noise. Similarly, if your eye wanders from the pulpit to a child squirming in an adjacent pew, eventually your hearing will zone in to listen to the sounds produced by the child. If your eye wanders due to poor lighting the hearing will follow no matter how stirring the sermon. To maintain maximum attention from the audience, both the sound and the lighting need to be well designed.
The basic theories for theatrical lighting, when applied to church interiors, will provide this necessary lighting to help keep both visual and audio attention. It will also provide adequate lighting for the TV cameras that have become common place in many churches. The following is an excerpt from the pamphlet “Basic Lighting Theories for Theatrical Lighting and it’s Application”. The pamphlet provides an introduction to help the reader understand the general concepts and equipment necessary to fulfill proper lighting for any public stage or platform.
THEATRICAL LIGHTING THEORY
Indoor theatrical lighting is designed in a manner to emulate the natural highlights and shadows that are created by the sun, or similarly, the reflection of the sun by the moon. Without these shadows and highlights, the human eye will sense an incongruity, attempt to correct it in the mind and eventually tire and lose interest in viewing the object. Proper highlights and shadows at proper intensities attract and maintain longer audio contact. Below are several of the main components of this theory.
The Sun: The sun strikes the northern hemisphere at a relative 45 degree angle; this angle produces specific highlights and shadows that are considered normal through the constant viewing of this arrangement. The extreme intensity of the sun creates a strong highlight on one side of a three-dimensional object producing shadows on the remaining sides. Since the sun is so intense, it also generates a great deal of reflected (or bounce) light off the surrounding surfaces which then fill in the shadows. In a theatrical design this strong highlight would be termed the ‘key’ light. The reflected light would be called the ‘fill’ light. Sun light is actually a bright white light that, when reflected off a surface, picks up the coloration of that surface and fills in the shadows with colored light. This becomes the basic justification of colored lighting in theatre. It would be easy to simulate the sun, and associated shadows, indoors if we had one lighting fixture that could produce the same intensity. Unfortunately, this fixture is not available and we must use multiple fixtures to simulate the same effect.
The Moon: The moon provides a similar source and angle of light, but there are some significant differences. Moonlight is reflected sunlight, it is less intense and does not have the intensity to create the same bounce or fill effect. Nighttime lighting has much more contrast, or shadows, than daytime lighting.
THEATRICAL LIGHTING THEORY; STRAIGHT ON VIEWING
To duplicate the sun’s highlight and associated bounce light indoors, we must provide three lighting instruments as a minimum: one fixture to create the highlight (the key light) and two to create the associated fill light. Three fixtures can adequately illuminate a three-dimensional object on all sides.
Though positions can vary, the basic design would include one fixture placed at a 45-degree angle above and 45 degrees to one side. This would be the key light. A second fixture would be placed on the opposite side at similar angles for the first “fill” light. The third fixture, or second “fill” light, would be placed either directly above or at a sharp angle to the rear of the object (depending on its position, this is also known as a “downlight” or “backlight”).
These three fixtures produce illumination that when viewed by the human eye, is perceived to be similar to that of natural sunlight. The 45-degree angle is not unchangeable, but keep in mind that extreme angles create extreme effects. A flat angle will create a generally shadowless light on the object, which tends to flatten the features of a person and creates a generally uninteresting kind of light.
Conversely, an extremely high or low angle of light will create exaggerated shadows on the face, which the eye is not accustomed to seeing. For example, shining a flashlight on to your face from under the chin easily creates a monster effect. This causes reversed shadows and creates a very unnatural look.
The lighting for a night scene uses the same set up and the same fixtures since the moon creates a similar angle of light. However, the lighting should be less intense.
To provide more options and colors to your lighting setup, additional fixtures are hung using the same principle. First try adding additional back or down lights to increase the number of colors to fill from the back, then add fronts for more key and front fill possibilities.
A good dimming system is necessary to maximize the potential variations in color and intensities to show changes in time from day to night, or changes in location. The bounce light would be different from an interior scene to an exterior or from a field to a forest. These differences can be achieved by changing the intensities or the color of the key and fill lighting.
Well designed lighting is critical to maintain audio and eye contact with the presenter to help achieve the goal of getting the message across to the audience. This basic theory of lighting is then applied to each facility through the layout of lighting areas, selection of lighting fixtures, selection of color and the installation of outlets and dimmers. The pamphlet “Basic Design Theories for Theatrical Lighting and it’s Application” includes brief descriptions of all facets of theatrical lighting and is available for free from Mainstage Theatrical Supply, Inc. North Office -129 W. Pittsburgh Avenue – Milwaukee, WI 53204 – (414) 278-0878 or South Office 2515 W. Cervantes Street, Pensacola, FL 32505 – (850) 434-2080 in print, or as a download from the Mainstage website www.mainstage.com