The magic of live theatre lives in its ability to effortlessly transport audience members to another time and place. But this magic comes with a price. And in the case of theatre, that price is actually a group of talented individuals working tirelessly behind-the-scenes to bring a show to life.
One of the hardest working individuals is the lighting designer who ensures that every moment happening onstage is not only seen; but is also lit in order to seamlessly convey scene changes and mood shifts. Lighting designers use creativity, technical finesse, and hundreds of specialized lights both on and off stage to bring every element of a production together in a cohesive and spectacular package.
For every stage production, hundreds of lights are individually placed on a large hanging structure called a grid. These lights will be directed on different parts of the stage and serve to frame each scene in a natural way that works within the confines of the world created by the playwright. There are multiple types of stage lights including movers (which can be programmed to follow particular actors around the stage) to specials (which are used to replicate natural effects, such as the sun rising outside of a window).
Sometimes the lighting plot overhead is not the only source of light needed for a production. Practicals are light sources that live onstage and are used within the environment of the play. This can include anything from working wall sconces that add realistic dimension to the living room set of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to a pilaster light that has become the most recognizable symbol from the title song in Singin’ in the Rain.
Stage lighting both onstage and off is essential to creating a high quality performance. Next time you attend a show, pay special attention to the lights above. They serve just a small part in creating the magic of live theatre.