A Process for Designing Lighting for the Stage (Part 6): Creating a Preliminary Magic Sheet

Once you have a firm grasp of the throw distances and fixture capabilities and have made the choices of lighting areas and vectors, many Lighting Designers will begin populating the light plot with symbols representing the fixtures in the locations that they intend to use.  I often take one additional step first.  That step is to create a preliminary Magic Sheet or (sometimes called a Cheat Sheet).  The Magic Sheet is a representation of each area and lighting axis and serves during the cuing and technical rehearsal process as a very quick way to access all of the channel numbers for each area and axis.  Many designers don’t create the Magic Sheet until immediately before they need it in the auditorium, but I find it useful in organizing the channel setup.

There are two basic formats that a Magic Sheet can take in my experience.  The Graphic method is shown below.  It consists of a graphical representation of the lighting areas of the stage organized with arrows indicating the axis of the light beam, and a number corresponding to the channel that controls light from the illustrated axis and into the identified areas.  These are grouped by function or axis as indicated below:

The 2 pages above lay out a scheme for assigning channels to each instrument from the 8 major axis from the Lighting Key.  They also now include color numbers, though this is not strictly necessary at this stage.   The designer’s choice of color will be partially experiential, partially experimental and partially instinctual.  The designer’s choice of colors for a given project will also be relative to conceptual matters as well as practical considerations of textual reference and colors of settings, costumes and cast complexion.

To finish the graphical magic sheet(s) for this production, one also has to make decisions on color and angle of the chandelier effect and motivational light, the backdrop illumination, specials  and any incidental light that might be needed.  Below is that third sheet:

With this preparatory work complete, I am ready to begin populating the light plot with symbols representing the fixtures that I intend to use.

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

SJM

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