A Process for Designing Lighting for the Stage: Determining Lighting Areas (Part 1)

Once the Lighting Designer has made the determinations of the general decisions on the distribution (directionality, texture, etc.) and the broadest sense of color by creating a Lighting Key, and is armed with an accurate documentation of the set (particularly the plan and section of the setting) and accurate drawing of the theatre, she is equipped to begin creating the Light Plot.

Set Designer’s floor plan for Prima Donna. Notice that lighting positions are NOT indicated.


One note of particular importance is that issue of gaining access to accurate drawings of the theatre.  The designer needs to know exactly in space where available lighting positions exist and how those positions relate to the setting..  Often, the Lighting Designer relies on drawings provided by the house or by other collaborators.  If nothing better is available, then this may have to suffice.  However, nothing beats a site visit and personal observation and making measurements in person to assure that the lighting design is predicated on reality and not upon errors and omissions in some other collaborator’s documentation.  A Lighting Designer who neglects to assure themselves of the accuracy of the drawings, has nobody but themselves to blame if inaccuracies create problems for her on down the line.

A next step in the process of beginning to draw the light plot is for the Lighting Designer to determine how best to divide the space up into “Lighting Areas”.

There are a couple of strong reasons for creating lighting areas.  The foremost is based upon the intersection of the goal of “Selective Focus” and the requirements of the text, the Directorial and design concepts, and the actor’s movement and location on stage during important moments of the play. In the example above, we might need to isolate the center of the stage between the table and sofa because a lot of action takes place there.  Likewise the center of the apron.  The areas in front of each upstage door, the center balcony window, in front of each wardrobe, the sofa, the table, all might be areas that the designer might need to have the ability to light more brightly relative to the remainder of the stage.  Not all of this might be able to be accommodated with Lighting Areas, but a designer would do well to determine what is ideal for the production, before limiting herself to what is possible under the given circumstances.

Another important reason for dividing the stage into lighting areas is the fact that in order to achieve adequate level of brightness and even coverage of the stage from a particular axis (and to maintain that axis across the width and depth of the stage) the lighting designer will have to use several fixtures focused at different areas of the stage, but at the same angle to their respective areas.

The number and size of the Lighting Areas that the Lighting Designer will need to plan for is, in turn, dependent upon a few key factors as well.  We will explore those factors next time.

Meanwhile, in order to create the smooth wash of light from one area to another, adjacent areas typically overlap by a certain percentage as indicated in the diagram below  This takes advantage of the optical properties of the beam and field angles.  Whereas the beam angle is the cone of light that varies no more than 50 percent of the brightest portion of the light output, the field angle consists of the cone of light that diminishes to as little as 10 percent of the brightest area of the light output.

A diagram of three adjacent lighting areas

As a general rule of thumb, the Lighting Designer should plan on each lighting area being between 8 and 14 feet in diameter.  The diameter will, in turn depend upon the throw distances between the lighting positions and the stage and the beam spread of the available instrumentation.

See future blogs for subjects that address subsequent steps in the process of designing lights for theatrical production.

That’s enough for now! Have fun!  Be safe!

SJM

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