A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
While it may seem obvious the show should have
several run-throughs before moving to the stage, that’s
rarely an option. Oftentimes the rehearsal schedule is
just too tight to allow more than one run-through to
take place. When that’s the case, everyone connected
with the show can only shrug, and work with what
they’ve got. When more than one run-through takes
place before the move, many lighting designers per-
ceive that as a gift.
On those good days, viewing multiple run-throughs
translates into several chances for the lighting designer to
see the show, update the cue master, and refine the plot’s
focus before the focus or cue setting sessions take place.
On bad days, the single run-through may not take place
until the middle of the focus call. When that’s the case,
sadly, unless there’s an assistant that can focus the show,
or someone to videotape the run-through, the ability to
pre-cue the show is going to suffer. In non-union situa-
tions, lighting designers often ask that the run-through
be videotaped, so that it can be slowly analyzed, broken
down, and played through numerous times. In union
situations, Actor’s Equity doesn’t normally allow run-
throughs to be taped without special or extenuating
circumstances. Those are the times that having a really
smart stage manager, who knows the rules for many dif-
ferent unions, can come in very handy. In times of des-
peration, however, one personal tactic that’s proved
successful is to take the stage manager out to dinner and
have her act out the entire show at Chi-Chi’s using salt-
shakers and chips as substitutions for the performers,
based on the promise of free margaritas and a taco.*
In any event, whenever the opportunity to watch a
run-though is offered, the savvy lighting designer will
take advantage of the invitation. Although the show is
still coming together, and no doubt things will change
once the cast gets on the stage, every chance to see the
show provides the lighting designer with several oppor-
tunities. With each viewing, the lighting designer can
improve and define the cue master, clarify the follow-
spot choreography, discuss any number of thoughts or
Prior to Attending the Run-Through
run-through are still going to take place.
is located and how to get in.
If there are re-writes, arrange to have them
prior to, or immediately upon your arrival. It’s
always embarrassing to be following your script
and then the performers start saying things that
don’t match your script, leaving your cues in a
puddle on the floor.
script/score/movement chart is up-to-date.
phone, laptop, etc.
the phone number for the lighting rental shop
and the production electrician.
the doofus who walks in and asks someone to
go out and get him or her a sandwich.
General Run-through Tactics
scheduled run-through has changed, been adapted
or aborted and you’ve just missed the memo. It’s
always embarrassing to find out just before the
rehearsal that, instead of the run-through, they’re
instead going to beat the dead horse over that
piece of business involving the dinner plate. And
then you have to somehow collect your gear and
subtly get out of the rehearsal room unnoticed.
or music stand so that you can write and take
notes. It’s counterproductive to try to update
the cue master or make any notes juggling the
production notebook on your knee.
Invariably there will be questions. The director
may want to sit next to you as well; you should
certainly be polite and ask the director of his or
her preferences. This may also be hinged on the
number of times you’ll get to see a run-through.
their characters; write notes about their names
and any descriptive features.
your production book, make notes on a pad, or
update documents on the laptop. Don’t be the
“needy” doofus designer who wastes the stage
management team’s time getting him or her
settled before they can start the run-through.
they match with where you think the scenery has
appeared on the groundplans provided to you.
*It’s worth noting that this particular stage manager, after years
of tolerance, agreed to become my wife.