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A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
it can be referred to as overhead sidelight (or high
sidelight, or high sides). Instruments lower to the
stage, on the other hand, can be referred to as low
sidelight, or referred to by their hanging position as
boom sidelight.
Overhead Sidelight
Sidelight systems are often used to provide dimension-
ality on performers’ bodies, and three-dimensional
scenery. When walls are involved in the scenic design,
overhead sidelight can gain even more importance. If
other systems behind the person can’t reach particu-
lar areas of the stage, the overhead sidelight may be
the only system that can prevent an area from look-
ing “flat” (the result of being illuminated only with
frontlight). In many situations, overhead sidelights are
often plotted like another system of area frontlight,
with a pair of instruments, one from each side, focus-
ing to the same focus point.
When the stage is more open and has less scenery,
several overhead sidelights can be plotted to provide
a single-zone full stage wash from either side. An even
sidelight blend in a single zone is often achieved using
only three instruments focused to the far quarterline,
centerline, and the near quarterline. With careful
beam spread choices and hanging placement, these
three instruments provide an even blend of sidelight
coverage from one side of the stage to the other.
When the batten isn’t long enough for the near
quarter instrument to match the focus angle of the
other two, the far and center instruments may remain
hung on the overhead electric, while the near instru-
ment is shifted to a sidelight boom in the same open-
ing. The boom unit’s vertical location on the boom is
measured to the proper height in order to duplicate
the focus angle of the other two overhead units; the
same angle of light is projected onto the near quarter
line of the stage.
Another style of overhead sidelight plots only a
single instrument at the end of a batten to create a sin-
gle light wash only onto the opposite side of the stage.
Instead of plotting additional overhead instruments to
complete the wash from the near side, this manner of
plotting relies on boom sidelight to “fill in” the cover-
age from the near side instead.
When overhead sidelights are used in scenic
designs involving side walls, providing coverage at
head height invariably implies that the beam will
also be splashing onto the opposite wall. Though a
top shutter cut can reduce the amount of light on the
wall, the beam is usually softened, so that the edge of
the beam “fades out,” rather than abruptly stopping
with a barrel focused to a sharp edge. A stage with-
out scenery, however, presents a different challenge.
The instrument focused to the far quarter line also
splashes light onto the black masking legs. To reduce
halation and retain as much light as possible, the bar-
rel is often focused so that the shutter edge is sharp.
To reduce the amount of light hitting the legs, the
upstage shutter is then cut off of the black mask-
ing leg that defines the upstage side of the opening
containing the overhead sidelight.
Producing a high angle sidelight from an overhead
electric often results in the instruments being hung as
far offstage as possible at the end of the batten. This
common hanging location has become another name
for the system. Overhead sidelights hung at the end of
a batten are also referred to as pipe ends.
Boom Sidelight
Adding formalized sidelight booms to light plots is
generally credited to a woman named Jean Rosenthal.
While reviewers of the day had little appreciation
for the look low sidelight produced on performers
(making them look more dimensional or “plastic”),
the angle and placement of the lighting system has
become recognized as one of her many contribu-
tions to the craft of lighting. Low sidelight is now
a cornerstone of every major North American dance
company’s light plot, and used in countless produc-
tions around the world. A boom sidelight system is
typically comprised of a series of instruments, one in
each opening, that are mounted at matching heights,
equipped with matching colors, and focused in match-
ing ways. A successful boom sidelight system is gen-
erally viewed as an even wash of sidelight that covers
the entire depth of a performance space and illumi-
nates the sides of performers’ bodies (or dimensional
objects) from the audience’s perspective.
While the instrument type and focus designation
assigned to boom sidelights are unique to every show,
there are some general guidelines. Usually, the farther
the actual throw distance, the smaller the beam spread
and the higher the mounting location on the boom. For
example, instruments mounted at the top of a 21-0
boom are often assigned to focus points between the
centerline and the opposite black masking leg. Since the
actual throw distance to their focus points is the great-
est, their beam spreads are comparably the smallest,
often having beam spreads of 12 to 30°. Instruments
mounted between 10-0 and 15-0 above the deck are
often assigned to focus points between the two quar-
ter lines. Their beam spreads usually range between
30 and 40°. Units mounted below 10 feet are often
assigned to focus points between the near black mask-
ing leg and centerline. The beam spread chosen is
often selected to fill the depth of each near opening,
so that the performer passing up- or downstage next

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