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A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
Up to this point all attention on light bouncing back
up toward the viewer’s eye has been concerned with
the angle of reflection. Now consider an exam-
ple of the angle of incidence. When viewing a light
cue from the audience, gaps in focus or irregular
blending are most notable in the frontlight. When a
performer’s face darkens while crossing the stage, it’s
easily noted that he or she is moving through a hole
in the coverage between two frontlights. If the focus
of a frontlight is too sharp, the sharp beam edge can
also be seen on the performer’s face while he or she is
crossing the stage.
It’s much more difficult, however, for the viewer
to see sharp beam edges or gaps in coverage from
sidelight or backlight without looking at the deck.
The lack of smooth blending or sharpness of the
beam edges is only obvious to the eye when the angle
of observation is the same as the instrument’s angle of
incidence. From the audience’s angle of observation,
this implies the following:
1. Frontlight systems need the smoothest coverage.
To achieve this, frontlight beam edges are usually
soft, rather than sharp.
2. In most cases, sidelights can be more sharply
focused, because only the side sightlines of the
audience will be able to see the reflected beam
edges from the same angle of observation.
Although these implications are illustrated using a
proscenium theatre as an example, they can be applied
to other theatre configurations. When the audience
views the stage from more than one perspective, like
a thrust, arena, or alley configuration, these observa-
tions should be considered. It’s prudent to consider
the law of specular reflection and its impact before
each focus session.
FOCUS TECHNIQUES AND NOTES
While focusing lighting instruments is an acquired
skill, there are techniques and tactics that are shared
here. It’s important to keep track of which instru-
ments have been completed, and which are in an
unfinished state. It’s also important to consider dif-
ferent ways to focus, and how to deal with environ-
mental extremes during the focus session. Here are a
few thoughts:
Paperwork Techniques
During the focus call, three documents are often
updated. The lighting designer marks the focusing
document, which may be a copy of the light plot, a
focus schedule, or an instrument schedule. Constantly
marking that document updates the progression and
state of the focus session. The work notes sheet, or
something like it, is marked to keep track of tasks to
be completed at some point in the future, in order to
make the light plot fully functional. The final docu-
ment, usually a legal pad, is used to write down con-
cepts, realizations, or any other notes not pertaining
to physical labor.
During the focus session, instruments fall into
three categories. Either the instruments haven’t been
focused, they have been focused, or they’ve been
“touched.” A “touched” instrument has been at least
turned on, but may be only partially focused. It will
require additional attention for its focus to be consid-
ered complete. Notes taken throughout the process
keep track of each instrument’s status. Some design-
ers employ different colored highlighters or pens to
indicate the current state of the focus. Other designers
make two different kinds of marks on their focusing
document next to each instrument: one indicates that
the focus is complete, whereas the other shows the
units that will require additional work. Often, both
the “focus done” and the “more work” marks are
made in pencil. In that way, when the “more work”
action is completed, the note can be changed. When
the page is scanned and no “more work” marks can
be found, the entire hanging position can be consid-
ered focused. On the other hand, when an error in
the focus is discovered, the “focus done” mark can be
erased, replaced by the “more work” mark. A final
scan of the hanging position displays the units that
require additional attention.
Occasionally, it’s necessary to change infor-
mation about an instrument. A change in purpose,
the planned electrical path, or other elements may
require alterations in circuitry, patching, color, or
focus. While these notes may be made directly on the
focusing document, they’re also recorded in the sup-
port paperwork. The cleaner the support paperwork
is kept, the easier it will be to later update the data-
base. Regardless of the system used to denote the
changes, they shouldn’t obliterate notes or informa-
tion about the instruments that have been completed.
Marking completed focus with a magic marker is not
advised. When the information can’t be seen, it can’t
be referenced later.
Keeping a separate work notes sheet, on the
other hand, singles them out for the attention
they deserve. Unless the note requires additional
focus, many of them can be accomplished with-
out the lighting designer’s direct involvement.
Throughout the focus, the electricians can attend to
the work notes, without interrupting the designer’s
concentration.

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