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A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
When the lighting designer sees a single channel
by itself reading at a level of Full and can’t remem-
ber what it is, or why its currently turned on, this
format of the cheat sheet provides a more com-
plete explanation. If channel 118 is appearing on
the screen at Full with no other channel intensities
around it, the cheat sheet will inform the lighting
designer that it’s the shinbuster on the 4th boom
stage right. Since the shinbuster’s focus has no light
hitting the floor, that explains why the designer
can’t see it. And if the performer isn’t in the 4th
wing, the shinbuster has nothing to do with the rest
of the light cue. Channel 118 can be turned off for
this cue and re-recorded.
THE CUE MASTER
The third document required to create light cues is the
first core document created in the first stage of the light-
ing design, the cue master. Whether Post-its stuffed into
a score, dance track sheets covered with scribbles, doo-
dles on a script, or printed-out spreadsheets, this docu-
ment provides the lighting designer with the language
of the show, and an updated record of the placement,
speed, and purpose of each lighting change. No matter
how messed up this document may become during the
technical rehearsal process, the cue master needs to be
constantly updated to somehow reflect on paper what’s
being produced as light cues or changes on the stage.
The cue master is also often used to communi-
cate preliminary cue placement to the stage manager.
In most cases, the stage manager wants this infor-
mation recorded in his or her call book prior to the
first technical rehearsal. Otherwise, more time may
be spent in that first tech determining cue place-
ment rather than figuring out how to make them run
smoothly. Presuming the lighting designer and the
stage manager are two different people, the appear-
ance or structure of the cue master may need to be
coordinated. Time constraints may be such that a
meeting between the two prior to the first tech to
discuss cue placement may not be possible. If the
cue placement is recorded by the lighting designer
in some format that can be passed on to the stage
manager, the cues can be placed into the call book
without the lighting designer’s direct participation.
Coordinating the cue master’s format can reduce the
amount of discussion necessary between the pair to
transfer the information.
In the best of times, both folks will already know
the general placement of many cues, since with luck
they’ve watched run-through rehearsals together. In
that situation, if a discussion about the timing or place-
ment for a particular sequence in the show can’t take
place until the technical rehearsals begin, it won’t be a
major source of concern. When that doesn’t take place,
the stage manager may instead only get the designers
cue master the night before the tech to transfer num-
bers into the call book. While far from ideal, at least
some cue numbers and a sense of their placement can
still be sketched in before the long days of tech. If noth-
ing else, it’s still better than when the entire produc-
tion team assembles at the production table for the first
tech, and the stage manager asks: “So what number do
I call to bring up the preset?”
The Spreadsheet Cue Master
Figure 9.5 is the expanded spreadsheet cue master
for the opening scene of Hokey, version 5. While each
cue may still not yet be named, a general description
of each change or beat in the scene continues to be
notated and updated. Each cue is listed on a single
row with additional rows in between, giving extra
space to still write in additional information. Some
designers think it wise to triple space the cue master
during initial light cue level setting sessions and tech-
nical rehearsals, when productions are particularly
volatile or liquid. Rows will be eliminated in later
versions, once the show settles down.
For multi-scene productions, the first column
has changed from “Act” to “PG,” short for page.
For opera, an extra column could be added for
the score’s measure number. “SC” was eliminated;
“Section” remains, as the knowledge about the piece
has increased. The cue number and counts are now
much more filled in, and what was “Song,” “Folk,”
“Notes,” and “Block,” has now been converted and
expanded into “On,” “For,” and “Action.” The “on”
column indicates the moment at which the stage
manager says “the magic word.” The “for” column
indicates why the cue is happening. The “action”
column gives a brief description of what lights actu-
ally move in each cue. At this point the cue master is
based on meetings and descriptions. Many informa-
tional or descriptive points are still included that cur-
rently don’t have a lighting change assigned to them.
During run-throughs or the tech process, the points
may be eliminated from the list, but at this point,
they’re still useful to provide a sequential description
of the stage action, until it becomes more familiar to
everyone connected with the show.
This version of the cue master now includes
two new columns sketching preliminary thoughts
about followspots. While these cues aren’t definite,
they provide the lighting designer with an initial
idea about when the spots will be used. Including
this information is the lighting designer’s preference.
While some designers don’t want to include spots on

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