A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
overhead sidelight, then lower the curtain to the deck.
Once the curtain’s in place, the side shutter cut can
then be used as a signpost for the remainder of the
instruments in the same system.
Sometimes the main curtain has to be used as the
acoustic damper instead. Depending on air currents
and current trims, though, the descending main cur-
tain may strike the side shutter of the signpost instru-
ment. If this happens, it may very well change the
signpost line line cut. To avoid this, the common tactic
is to hold one’s hands up to the shutter cut while stand-
ing upstage of the curtain, and hold that pose while the
curtain descends. If the curtain knocks the shutter, no
matter. Once the curtain’s in place, place spike tape at
“hand height” on the curtain to signify the light line
shutter cut, and proceed with the focus of the sidelight
system. Not anticipating the need for this downstage
light line signpost can be most embarrassing, since it
may then be necessary to raise the fire curtain in order
to establish the first downstage shutter cut.
On the day of focus, I’m more aware of my wardrobe.
By wearing a light-colored shirt I provide the focus-
ing electricians with a higher contrast target to be
able to determine the relative location of the hot spot.
While focusing, I often wear a baseball cap. Other
than the fact that it protects my bald head, the visor
can be used like a barndoor. Looking into a boom side-
light to see the beam edge, for example, often requires
holding your hand in front your face to shade your
eyes from the source of the instrument. Using the visor
as a “hand,” I’ll merely tip my head down slightly, so
that the visor of the cap blocks the source of the light.
Without being blinded, I can see where the scallop of
light or the shutter cut is hitting the floor.
When I check a system wash for blending, I don’t
use my hand. I’ll walk between the focus points, and
look at the blend of light on white paper attached to
a clipboard, or the back of the light plot. I’ve found
that “dips” in intensity are much easier to see on
white, rather than on flesh.
If focus cues aren’t used, it still makes good sense
to reactivate the channel of the last focused instrument
in that same system to compare beam edge placement
or barrel softness. For example, after the first electric
has been focused, activating channels 21 and 22 simul-
taneously brings up the lavender pipe ends on both the
first and the second electric. This allows you to match
the softness and beam edge location for channel 22 to
channel 21 on the stage. If the matching beam edges
aren’t shuttered, this can reduce the task of positioning
the hot spot to merely making certain that the second
electric’s instrument is positioned in the middle of the
opening. If the beam edges aren’t supposed to match,
on the other hand, seeing channel 21 will still allow
the comparable barrel softness to be checked, along
with the upstage/downstage blending between the two
There are times when using props can expedite
a focus and reduce the lighting designer’s physical
labor. Any inanimate object can be placed as a sign-
post to define a focus point or a cut line. As an exam-
ple, when the first frontlight is focused, I’ll note where
the shadow of my head lands on the stage. While the
focus of the first instrument is being completed, I’ll
place a stool, a bucket, or a roll of tape where each
head shadow will land. This eliminates the need to
move to each focus point, and I can concentrate on
the blending or shaping of the instruments.
Sometimes, there are just not enough props avail-
able to temporarily mark the stage. When there is no
scenic stack in place, a shoe placed on each upstage
quarter line gives the FOH electricians a visual sign-
post to refer to for the top cut, and reduces the amount
of time I spend standing with my hands above my
head screaming “cut the top shutter to my hands.”
If the theatre doesn’t have enough clutter to be used
as focus props, I occasionally end up disrobing bit-by-
bit and leaving parts of my clothing around the stage.
Although this may reduce the amount of effort on my
part, these actions don’t go unnoticed by clever car-
penters who have screw guns and too much time on
their hands. This becomes apparent when you finish
the focus, walk to your shoes to put them back on,
and discover that they’ve been screwed to the stage.
Focusing More Than One Position
Occasionally, the combination of having enough skilled
electricians, lifts, and support are such that it becomes
possible to focus two lighting instruments, from two
different locations, at the same time. On the other
hand, the schedule may be running short and it may no
longer be viewed as a luxury but a necessity instead.
While the activity’s the same, it can be met with two
different mindsets. If you sense that the electricians are
on your wavelength and you’ve got support, having
the opportunity to focus twice the lights in the same
amount of time means the entire crew might be able
to break sooner for the night. If you feel like you’re
pulling everyone along, on the other hand, it can be
an energy-sucking experience. Either way, if this plan
is being seriously considered for an extended portion
of the focus process, an analysis is warranted to define
the amount of support that may be required.