Stage Lighting

What Will You Need?

If you have a permanent stage or theatre you will probably already have a control system and bars to support the lights. But if you have no permanent acting area or you have decided to stage your production in a different setting you will need to check if you have a suitable power supply and somewhere you can safely erect stands or fix bars to rig your lights.

Exactly what equipment you need will depend on a number of factors. First consider the scale of the production. Any size show can benefit from a little well executed stage lighting. For smaller stages Fresnel type lanterns will be suitable for most purposes, but on a larger stage you are likely to need Profile lanterns for positions in the auditorium. Identify the key areas of the stage where most of the action takes place.and decide if you need an entire system or some extra lights to augment your own equipment.


For a variety or musical show lots of bright and colourful lighting will bring out the best in your costumes and scenery. Drama requires careful attention to period and season - create a dramatic effect with general overall lighting and more concentrated illumination in key areas. Generally a comedy production will require simple, even illumination. For dance, especially ballet, you can enhance the look of the dancers by using heavy horizontal lighting from the sides.

An essential element in maintaining the interest of the audience is eye contact so make sure your audience can see the faces of the actors properly.

Once you have decided on the style and identified the key areas decide what equipment you need, make a sketch of the stage and decide where you will need to put the lanterns.

One useful trick to improve the appearance of any production is backlighting. This is simply lanterns placed upstage, but pointing towards the audience, without actually lighting them up. Backlighting creates a halo effect across the shoulders and the top of the head of actors. This has the effect of separating the actor from the background, giving the stage a feeling of depth.

Setting Up

Refer to the lighting plan you have already made. To save time decide which lanterns if any will require gel, barndoors or other attachments and get them ready to put up at the same time as the lights. Keep safety in mind and remember to fix safety strops and chains to lanterns and attachments.

Start by rigging the lanterns that light up your main acting area. Roughly point them in the right direction and fit the gel or barndoors as necessary. Then add any lights for special areas or purposes, like the effect of moonlight through a window.

Do not worry if you need to make changes because the stage does not quite look like you expected or because the lights do not give the effect you anticipated. Sometimes the only way you can achieve the desired effect is experimentation.

Next take the plug from each lighting circuit in turn and plug it into a channel on your control system. Now you can individually focus the lanterns. Check the overall effect of your main lighting. It is not always necessary to use lights at full brightness, variations in type of lantern, the age of the lamp and its position will affect the brightness. When you are happy with the overall effect check your special lights and make adjustments as necessary.

Sometimes you may have items on the set that appear to be providing the light source, like a table or wall lamp, this is referred to as a Practical. Conventional domestic fittings can be used and either plugged in to a circuit already lighting that area, or a separate circuit if the light fitting is not always lit.

Lights, Action!

You will need to have a technical rehearsal to co-ordinate the lighting and other technical aspects of the production like scenery changes and sound effects. You will not need all of your actors, just those who are specifically involved in a technical item, for example if they do or say something that cues a change in the lighting. As you go along plot the required lighting settings on a simple chart along with the cues and other notes.

You will probably spend some time going through these technical items, but it is worth it, your next rehearsal will be with the full cast - and they will not be happy waiting for you to sort out technical matters whilst they are trying to rehearse.

After a couple of dress rehearsals you should be ready for your first performance.


There is no substitute for using common sense when working with electricity. Remember electricity is dangerous and you must handle the equipment with care. Make sure you know the mains is turned off when plugging in or opening lanterns to replace lamps. Lanterns become hot during use - keep them away from flammable materials and allow time for them to cool before moving them.