The Light Cue Level Setting Session and Technical Rehearsals
time to make the light cues and make sure that, if
nothing else, each scene has a base cue to get the
show into the dry techs or the technical rehearsals.
When the lighting cues are created, the lighting
designer attempts to simultaneously play the roles of
artist, programmer, and time manager. On the artistic
level, he or she needs to quickly transform the mental
images into concrete lighting states that achieve the
objectives of light, reinforce the production concept,
provide focus, and emotionally underscore the action
onstage. At the same time, the lighting designer is a
mechanic, understanding how to quickly assemble
those looks by speaking the proper console language
to the operator in order to construct the cue. Finally,
along with the stage manager, the lighting designer
has to keep an eye on the clock to be certain that
some form of primary light cues for the show are
created and recorded before the scheduled light cue
level setting time runs out.
General Cueing Concepts
Although the light cues and their step-by-step con-
struction are unique for every show, a number of gen-
eral cue concepts and the methods used to quickly
create them are consistent for many productions.
At almost every moment in almost every theatri-
cal presentation, the action on the stage is directed to
an area of particular focus. It may be the entire stage,
one whole side of the stage, or it could be a very tiny
isolated area. In the course of almost every produc-
tion, this stage focus shifts between different loca-
tions. One of the primary purposes of each light cue
in a production, then, is to telegraph these focus shifts
to the audience, and thereby reinforce the stage focus.
Since the eye is subconsciously drawn to the bright-
est point on a stage, one basic property of light that
is used to direct the stage focus is intensity. Although
the other properties of light play as much of a role in
each lighting design, the purpose for each light cue is
often initially constructed with that in mind; the area
of focus, in that light cue, is brighter than the rest of
the stage.
From that perspective, every light cue can be con-
structed based on contrast. A light cue can be built
up, by adding a brighter area of focus to a compara-
bly dim surrounding, or a light cue can be built down,
from a bright focus to a comparably lower intensity.
Most light cues are usually constructed using one of
these two methods.
Built-up light cues are constructed by first acti-
vating channels at lower intensities, and then adding
channels at brighter intensities to establish the points
of stage focus. Light cues for large group scenes often
illustrate this method. The general washes are layered
in first, to ensure visibility on the stage. Then brighter
intensities are added, to highlight the lead perform-
ers or otherwise direct the stage focus. Built down
light cues reverse that method. The bright focus of the
light cue is activated first, followed by adding washes
or specials in lower intensities to illuminate the sur-
rounding environment. This method is often used to
create light cues for highly focused or isolated scenes.
Not only is it important for the designer to under-
stand the focus of each light cue, it’s also technically
important to compare the contrast of that look with
the light cues that precede and follow it. Cues con-
structed without being compared to their “neigh-
bors” may not be as visually successful when viewed
in sequence during the production.
In some cases, light changes indicated on the cue
master just don’t have enough information filled in to
their rows. While it may seem that a change is needed
or justified, the lighting designer may ultimately be
unable to figure out what the change needs to be.
These are the cues that are often the easiest ones to
skip or cut. If you’re unable to figure out what visually
needs to change in the cue, then maybe that moment
in the show doesn’t need a cue there in the first place.
Tech rehearsals will provide clarity and either the cue
will make sense or be eliminated altogether.
General Cueing Tactics
From a mechanical point of view, time allocated to a
cueing session should be spent viewing and discussing
completed looks, rather than watching the lighting
designer trying to decide how they should appear or
how to construct them. Each look has been predeter-
mined in the lighting designer’s mind prior to the cue-
ing session, using some form of the cue master. What’s
left is then to tactically plan in advance how to con-
struct each cue as rapidly as possible. Some designers
pre-write recipes on the cue master directing which
groups to quickly activate to achieve the basic look.
Other designers pre-write base cues in off-line editing
programs in order to have something loaded in the
console before the session begins. Once the cue has
been constructed, it can then be viewed, discussed,
and modified (and often is) by the rest of the collab-
orative team. The point is to reduce the amount of
time that everyone has to wait before the next cue
can be viewed.
Even with pre-written information, one obvious
tactic to speed up the light cue construction process is
to use handles to paint the broad strokes. This is one
primary reason to program the infrastructure cues,
groups, or submasters. Another not-so-obvious tactic
is to recognize when the same number of keystrokes
have been made more than once. Type them in the

Get A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting, 2nd Edition now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.