How Show Lighting Can Transform a Stage

How Show Lighting Can Transform a Stage

The stage is transformed by a lighting professional’s use of color, intensity and focus. Various tools like spotlights and gobos help shape and direct light, making it a powerful tool for conveying the right tone and atmosphere.

Picture an actor delivering a gripping soliloquy while a well-defined light shines down on them, focusing their words and accentuating their depth.

Colorful Lighting

Colored lighting can add vibrancy and excitement to a show. It can also create an atmosphere that sets the mood for the audience and evokes emotions like joy, happiness, and surprise.

Using colored lighting is done by placing pieces of coloured plastic, known as lighting gels, over the light source. These gels can change the colour of the lighting to create a certain effect, for example red and orange lights can be used to portray fire. These lights are triggered by verbal cues given from the prompt corner by the DSM on the book or stage manager over cans. This is called a “Colour Call”. Cueing of the lighting is then followed by the cues for high side, followspots and other technical effects. The rig is then ready for the show.

High Side Lighting

In addition to front lighting, a good show needs side and back lighting to help performers or scenic items show lighting stand out from the backdrop and look three dimensional. Back light creates a rim of light around the actor to distinguish them from the background, while side light adds definition and shape to actors or objects.

Side lighting is usually hung from overhead battens at about a 30-60 degree angle to really accentuate the shoulders, arms and mid-torso of the body (but can be rigged on booms to highlight dancers). It also helps sculpt the form of the person or object being lit. A complete system of high and full side lighting is often called a lift-light as it enables the lights to be lowered onto the performers when they are lifted up from the floor.

When all of the instrumentation is rigged, a crew of electricians led by a master electrician (or LBO) will set all of the individual cues and levels for the show. These are called “states” and are recorded into the lighting control console memory for playback. This process is known as a focus call, and it takes place before the audience arrives for the show. This is when the lighting designer communicates with the board operator via a headset or by physically typing the states into the console.


Followspots are narrow beam directional luminaires that allow show lighting designers to highlight performers with a bright pool of light as they move. The operator can control the direction of the spotlight and adjust its size and intensity to create a wide variety of eye-catching stage effects. The lights are operated from control booths, specially built aEURoespot rooms,aEUR on a catwalk or even inside a truss.

A skilled followspot light operator can make or break a show. The best way to learn the craft is through hands-on experience in a theater or performance venue. This will enable you to gain a practical understanding of the various types of follow spot fixtures and their control systems.

Ideally, the location of a follow spot room should be high in the auditorium and provide a 40-degree (from horizontal) illumination angle on the plaster line of the stage for best results. The room must also integrate cooling fans and be sound isolated.

Creating the ideal follow spot room can be complicated, as the aEURoethrow distance (the distance between the followspot and the furthest upstage pickup) needs to be carefully calculated in order to optimize the results. Once the aEURoethrow distance is determined, the lighting designer can then determine the correct output of the followspot to match the output of the FOH lights in terms of color temperature and brightness.

Strip Lights

Strip lights are the most common type of show lighting used in stage production. They’re a great way to bring in some bright, white light or add some cool accents to areas that you wouldn’t want to put more flexible rope lights.

There are many variations of LED strip lighting to suit your needs. For example you can choose from DC Flex LED strips that run straight off a low voltage (12-24V) and are able to be cut every 2 inches. They also offer a variety of color options and led stage bar light can be controlled with either a simple remote or more complex DMX control system.

Another option is High Output LED Strips that are a bit more rigid but also offer a much higher lumen output than the flex strips. This is due to the fact that they are packed with mid to high power surface mount LEDs on a single strip. Additionally, they are sorted (binned) post-production to ensure color consistency across the entire run of the LED strip.

You can even find a special strip that is specifically designed for use in horticulture applications! This duo features a mix of Nichia 757 Horticulture LEDs that have a wide output spectrum and is offered in both 3000K and 5000K. They are packed tightly so that they can be pushed into tight spaces and still provide flood lighting.

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