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Good general lighting for small theater

Printed From: Community Theater Green Room
Category: Producing Theater
Forum Name: Lights and Sound
Forum Discription: Technical discussion
Printed Date: 9/21/23 at 7:14pm
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 8.05 -

Topic: Good general lighting for small theater
Posted By: cubbieco
Subject: Good general lighting for small theater
Date Posted: 11/10/14 at 7:32pm
I volunteer for a community theater in our area. We have about 10,000 people in the county with the next area being 50+ miles away. Our stage is 33' wide and 20' deep and 15' tall. Currently we have 12 source 4 ellipsoidals above the audience, 12 fresnel lights above the stage and a couple of Par 64s. We don't have any kind of gels installed. I've tried to have two lights pointed at each area of the stage from different angles. Our theater does 2 Musicals, the Nutcracker, and then some dance recitals, pageants, etc.

So - I'm hoping we will have a few hundred dollars in the budget this year to add more lights. Obviously I'd have to get PAR lights for the price. My plan would be to get 2-3 more PAR 64 fixtures, hang them above the audience so there are a total of 16 front lights (curtain burners... lol) a few par 56 fixtures for general over the stage lighting and a few par 38 fixtures for backlights, fill in, whatever. With 16 front lights I can come pretty close to covering the front of the stage from 3 angles.

So - Am I on the right track with my plan? I obviously have to get the most bank for my buck.

Gels. I've been reading and there are a lot of opinions out there. I'm gathering that a general method is to shine a pinkish gel from one angle and a blueish one from another angle at each spot. I guess I'm asking for advice / gel codes that basically I can set and forget. If I want dark I'll dim all but the blues. If I want outside I'll do something... Basically a good flexible generic gel setup is what I'm looking to do assuming that I do cover the stage from 3 angles.

Right now our lights are bright, dim, off so any kind of gel will be an improvement.

Posted By: Majicwrench
Date Posted: 11/13/14 at 1:12pm
 I am no expert on light. Not at all.
BUT  most theatre lighting people dink way too much with gels. IF you really know what you are doing, you can do some neat things. If you don't know what you are doing, well......
 For most of our stuff, I stick a few pink gels in, usually more on one side.
Wiser men ( and women) than I might have a diff opinion.

Posted By: cubbieco
Date Posted: 11/13/14 at 1:26pm
That's the thing. Our only access to the lights above the audience is via a ladder which is painful. So I want to "set it and forget it." Is there a specific pink gel you use?

Posted By: Majicwrench
Date Posted: 11/14/14 at 11:57am

Nope, I just have a box of old gels, many of them faded (which is good IMHO) so don't know any particular number.

Posted By: bmiller025
Date Posted: 12/07/14 at 2:32pm
Hi. Sorry for the late response! I have been busy doing a bunch of theater! I don't think you can go too wrong here with what you are thinking, but I wanted to make a few suggetions. I think from out front, PAR Cans are not a great idea, unless they are used specifically for "curtain warming" purposes. There is no way to control the light coming out of a PAR can. It is very bright, so you can put a dark color in front of it, but you can't shape it or change the character of the light, the way you can with an ellipsoidal. The style of lighting you seem to be working under was first suggested in a marvelous little book many moons ago called "A Method for Lighting the Stage" by Stanley McCandless. It is a good starting point, but it is strictly a compromise, and is not closely followed in the present day. I think the idea that you should hit each area of the stage with three light sources is a good one, but that is overall, and not just from the front. You can create far more dramatic looks onstage by also relying on top, back and side light than you can by loading up on front positions. It likely will require changing the "plot" between productions to get as much mileage out of the system, but I think you have a really good start to a terrific system.

I could rattle on like this for days on end, and that is not my intention. The best lighting, using a small system like you have, need to come from the script of the play or musical, and from the music being used for and the style of dance being performed in a dance concert, etc. Some pieces don't require the sculptural look of 'warm from one side, cool from the other' to get the message across. A single front source, head-on, and a bright, high-back side angle, and a low side angle from the other side may serve the purpose of the play better than anything Mr. McCandless thought up back then. It all depends on the piece.

Color is a huge component of theatrical lighting. Gels should be chosen specifically based on the colors used in the set and costumes, and the mood and message of the piece. There is no such thing as a single good 'pink.' Gels aren't obscenely expensive, but they are an item that gets used up over time, and they are an expense to be reckoned with. I suggest finding a place where you can purchase them, and they will give you a swatch book from one or two of the major manufacturers. There are a lot of colors to choose from. Rosco, Lee, Apollo, etc. are all big manufacturers. Any one of those companies make a whole lot of variations on the color pink, or blue, or amber, or ... If you have the ability to look at a rehearsal when the set and costumes are finished, sit in the audience and look at the stage with the uncolored lights on at full, and hold the gels up to your eye, and see what happens to the action onstage. Some gels will make the set and costume colors 'pop,' and others will make things recede. There are no hard and fast rules regarding what colors should be used. When I light a show, I am very careful to get a good understanding what the set and costume designers intend to do with color, and get a good sense of what the director thinks is the basic message of the piece. These things all help me to formulate the color choices I make. I don't have to 'agree' with anyone, but that is the beauty of the subtle art of lighting. Such disagreements only very rarely result in arguments! Some colors can make an actor stand out from his/her surroundings, and others make him/her all but disappear into the background.

If asked what is my favorite color of gel, my answer is always a very pale green, such as Rosco 87. Not for what it does to skin tones, or how it makes set colors come across to the audience (the answer is not much!), but anyone who is hit in isolation with this color will seem closer to the audience than everyone around them. To me, that is the most exciting part of lighting - influencing how the audience sees the action onstage.

I will leave it at that. This is a big can of worms! Some of us love living in that can!


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