Let There Be Light
Lighting is one of the key elements in any performance. Lighting can be used in a number of different ways and even express different tones and emotions. Seems like a strange concept, doesn't it? Turns out there are several different functions that lighting plays.
Visibility: Being able to see what is happening on stage.
Revelation of Form: Changing the perception of certain elements on stage.
Focus: Shifting the audiences attention from one part of the stage to the other.
Location / Time: Creating the illusion of certain locations or times of day (sunrise and sunset, moonlight, etc.)
Plot: Changes in lighting can indicate changes in the plot or story of the performance.
You can see many of these functions in a lot of the Las Vegas headliner's performances. Each one will employ these techniques in different ways. For example, David Copperfield will use lights much differently than say, a concert featuring a heavy metal band. Even attractions like the Bellagio fountains take special care when it comes to using lights.
Bring In The Lighting Designer
Now that you are familiar with the functions of light, you are probably wondering how it is all put together. The individual responsible for creating the complex network of lights and cables and how it is all displayed in relation to the performance is the lighting designer. The lighting designer works directly with the director, set designer, costume designer and sound designer in order to create proper lighting for the piece being presented.
There are two points in the production process when the lighting designer is utilized the most. In the pre-production phase, they read the script very carefully and make notes regarding the functions of light (as discussed earlier) and how they relate to the script. This can include: scene changes, important scenes such as a fight, death or revelation of important plot points; locations and time of day. Once notated, the lighting designer will then sit in on production meetings with the rest of the team and try to convey how he (or she) wants the lighting to look. This process can often take a long time and be a bit on the confusing side, so it important that everyone involved is on the same page. To better give the production team an idea of what needs to be done, storyboards, pictures and drawings are often used. These are used to project the placement of the lights, colors being used and other elements. Once the designs are agreed upon, the team moves into the next phase: installation.
During the install, the lighting designer typically works with the light board operator, lighting technicians and the electricians to ensure that the lights are installed, positioned and focused properly. We will focus a little bit more on this part of the process in the second part of the series as there are several detailed steps that go into this part of the process. Installing, along with technical rehearsals can often take several weeks but once the process is finished, a beautiful stage production now has incredible lighting, adding another level of artistic expression to the directors overall vision.