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A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO STAGE LIGHTING
is directly affected by the contrast between that light
and the surrounding environment. The surroundings
may range from beams of light from other instruments
to the relative color and texture of the objects being
lit. The color of light can change the emotional per-
ception of a scene. It’s been stated that warm colors
are often associated with comedy, while cool colors
are associated with tragedy. It’s also been noted that
desaturated colors are typically perceived as more
realistic, while saturated colors are associated with
more dramatic or stylized stage moments. The form,
angle of origin, and coverage all refer to the distri-
bution of the light. The speed at which any of these
three properties of light changes from one moment to
another is referred to as the movement of the light.
The faster the change occurs, the more likely that it
will be consciously perceived.
Objectives of Light
Most lighting texts also agree that stage lighting is
said to have four objectives. The first is to achieve
visibility. Since the eye is naturally drawn to the
brightest point of a picture, a successful lighting
design provides the proper visual focus for the view-
ing audience. It’s often said that what can’t be seen
can’t be heard, so the visual focus is often directed
to the acoustic source, such as the speaking per-
former. Conversely, the lack of illumination in a
lighting design deflects attention from areas or ele-
ments of the performance that should not concern
the audience.
A single low-angle frontlight source can result in a
flat perception of the stage. Since most of what might
be shadows is “filled in,” all objects often appear to
be flattened against the backdrop, compressed onto
a single visual plane. In contrast, a scene utilizing
numerous sources from a variety of angles provides
a plasticity, or a sense of form and mass, which sets
the performer apart from surrounding scenery. This
illustrates the second objective of lighting, providing
illumination in a three-dimensional form of light
and shadow.
Visually painting the stage with intensity, color,
and distribution of light achieves composition, the
third objective of light. Any number of paintings
created by the great masters demonstrates success-
ful composition. The successful integration of these
objectives creates mood, the fourth objective.
SUMMARY
This concludes a basic review of the various orga-
nizational and conceptual elements that attempt to
complete the basic framework of practical knowl-
edge required for a lighting design to begin to take
place. Coupled with the practical information
outlined in the beginning of this chapter, this review
is now complete. The rest of the text will apply this
combined framework of knowledge towards creating
and constructing the lighting design for an imaginary
production. For our purposes, the name of that show
is Hokey: A Musical Myth.
Before diving in, consider the amount of infor-
mation that needs to be acquired in order to create a
lighting design. In order to create a design, it must be
part of a whole; a lighting design can not be created
out of whole cloth; it’s part of the director’s vision,
and one of the design elements of that production. In
order to produce of that design element, the first step
often taken is to produce two basic lists.
One list is all the information that needs to be
gathered and analyzed to understand everything that
may, in any way, contribute to, or affect the creation
of, the lighting design. The second list includes every
document that communicates what has to happen in
order to create the lighting design. The more often
you do it, the more you understand how many things
need to be included on each list to make it work for
you. And it’s a good bet that the things included on
each list will change for every show.

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