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The Art of Lighting Design Part V

In this article I would like to return to the process of turning the design script into an actual design. At this stage in the process we will assume that the following has already happened.

You have read the script several times through and developed a lighting script.
You have met with the director and scene designer.
You have figured out what your limitations are for this production.
In meeting with the director about “I Have Seen the Light” I learned that the setting was mainly any street in Israel at the time of Christ. All location changes would have to rely on lighting to indicate time and location. There were 3 small distinct areas separate from the main stage for special moments.

The scene designer for this production was also the director, not an unusual occurrence in a church. Often times, one person will wear many hats in the church or in a small theatre. Because this church had produced similar productions in the past they already had a basic set. He planned to modify this to suit the needs of this show without changing the basic lighting positions. We discussed all the parameters of the new set pieces and acting areas so that I would understand how the show was being blocked.

Blocking is a term used to describe the movement of the actors on the stage. Actors not only have to learn what to say or sing but also where to be on stage and how to get there. During the early stages of rehearsals one task that is being accomplished is to workout how everyone gets around onstage. At some point in the rehearsal schedule you should go and watch the to learn where people will be at various strategic points in the show, this information is critical to determining where to hang fixtures on the plot.

Now that I had the directors vision for the show and a scene design I could proceed to determine the last of my limitations. I already had worked in this space so I knew that there was nothing available to work with owned by the church except for one followspot. I asked for and received a budget figure to rent all the needed equipment.

As I stated in an earlier article the church was set up to provide lift points for 3 electrics. I also knew that they had 200 amps of 208/120v 3 phase power. If you remember from the article on electricity this would provide 600 amps of available lighting. Interestingly, they did not realize that they had this power the first time I worked for them. The year before I came they had rented a generator for their production. I came in and looked at the main electrical room and saw a 200 amp breaker for the baptistery heater. I looked at this and saw an easy source of power for lighting, because the baptistery was completely blocked and unusable while we were in the space. The moral is, always look at what might not be useable while your working in the space. Now I have identified all the limitations for this production, time to start designing.

The first step is to take the scene design plan and divide the space into acting areas that can be lit by a single instrument. This space is typically no more than a square 8′ to 10′ on a side, in the main acting area. You should identify all these areas by a letter designation or name, remembering to account for any special areas not contained in the main acting area. In this production we had 4 such areas, 2 side stages, 1 shadow box, and a lift.

At this time you should add to this drawing the lighting positions so that you can work out placement of fixtures in relation to acting areas. This is when you can go back and lobby with the director and scene designer if they have left out positions to hang fixtures.

After this I start to create a basic hookup. In order to understand this let me describe the basic paperwork elements of a lighting design.

Lighting Plot
The drawing that shows the placement of fixtures in the space.

Instrument Schedule
This paperwork is setup by position to provide a place to list all the information about the fixture. Such as Type, Color, Purpose, Dimmer, and Channel Typically setup in a numerical fashion starting on stage left and counting to stage right.

Dimmer Hookup
This paperwork is set up to show which fixtures are connected to which dimmer.

Channel Hookup
This paperwork shows which dimmer is connected to which channel. This paperwork is only used in large systems where the ganging together of fixtures by purpose is done.

The first step in creating a hookup is to define the number of available dimmers. Start by number a sheet of paper with that quantity. Now start listing the way you want to control fixtures by purpose. The best place to start is with any specials that you must have individual control over. After this, start listing the basic systems that you have available, such as front warm stage left, or back cool upstage center. As you add systems to the hookup, remember to calculate the wattage of the fixtures and not try to put more into 1 dimmer than it can handle. This is usually not a problem with specials but a real problem with systems. You may find that you can get more fixtures than you have available dimming capacity. Now the juggling begins. What to give up either in individual control or quantity of systems. At some point you may have to go back to the director and leave the decisions up to him. This may take some explaining and defining of capabilities before understanding dawns. Be persistent!

In the next article we take a look at the relationship between the hookup and creating the lighting plot.

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