Shining a light onto Lighting Design

Getting students to work with lighting can sometimes be very daunting and difficult. There is a big jump between simply designing what you want from a lighting design on a piece of paper, to actually using the lanterns and creating lighting states. Here are five activities that will help you make the jump into getting students to work realistically and productively with lanterns and lighting states.

Activity 1: Getting to know what lights can do

It is really important to understand the kind of effects that can be created by using lights in a performance and what they can do in the performance space you have got.

Start with a number of examples taken from stills of productions and shows and discuss the effects of the lighting on the stage. Ask what atmosphere is trying to be created here and what the lighting designer / director is trying to communicate to the audience. Try to do this is a variety of different productions and shows to get a good contrast.

How does this lighting state contribute to the communication of the scenes mood and atmosphere? How can you recreate this same lighting state in your performances spaces to emulate this production?

Think about the lanterns that you have in your performance space and adapt them so that they create a similar atmosphere to the images you’ve chosen. They won’t be like for like, but that can also create an interesting discussion point on how different they are, why they are different and how the different technologies work to create these same effects.

Activity 2: How light effects action

Choose a scene that you, or another group of students, have been working on and know instinctively (and without scripts). Ask them to perform the scene times, but each time under a different lighting state – you could use the same lighting states that you’ve created for Activity 1. Ask the students to respond to the lighting by changing the way they perform the scene to suit and match the atmosphere created.

Sometimes this will work, and sometimes it won’t. That is the purpose really. Lighting has a massive impact on the way a performance looks and feels by the audience. What is important is to make those mistakes on purpose so that the discussion can be had about why some lightings states didn’t work for the scene and some did.

Activity 3: Projector play

A projector is just as an effective way of lighting up a stage as lanterns can be. Although the projector doesn’t have the finesse as a lantern, you can use it to light up a whole stage area in any variety of colour using a program like PowerPoint.

Try create a series of slides with different colours on them, then adding a slow transition between the slides. Act out a scene while these transitions take place and observe the different atmospheres they create as the actors perform.

Activity 4: Annotate the script

As a lighting designer, you are thinking about how best to create a lighting state that will match and enhance the mood and atmosphere of the scene and help communicate to the audience the intentions of the action.

As the actors sit and read the script, they will annotate the script for motivation behind their lines. Sit in on this read through and discuss with the actors and director the overall mood of the action and when that mood changes. Just as the actors annotate their script, you will need to annotate yours. Annotate it for when the mood and atmosphere changes, what that mood is, how much it changes and what is the driver of that change (most likely, either the introduction of a particular character or a change in direction in the dialogue).

You can use these annotations when you are designing your initial thoughts for the lighting in each scene, when the lighting should change and how much that change should be.

Activity 5: Time and Season

Lighting doesn’t just communicate mood and atmosphere, it can also communicate the time of day or the time of year. This can be a lot of subtle use of lighting and often more associated with Naturalism.

Use some photographs of different times of day and times of the year and discuss the atmosphere and the mood. Focus on how it is created by the way the light of the sun reflects, focuses on and generally lights up the images.

How would you recreate this wintery atmosphere using the lighting in your Drama Studio?
How would recreate this early evening skyline using the lighting in your Drama Studio?

Think about the lanterns that you have in your performance space and adapt them so that they create a similar atmosphere to the images you’ve chosen. Perform a scene on them and see how the scene changes depending upon the time of day or year.