“All the world’s a stage,” as William Shakespeare puts it, “and the men and women merely players.” The stage is special because it can transcend the limits originally given to it, and engender a singular kind of magic that unites performers and their audience as participants. This applies not only for theater productions, which are still widely enjoyed all over the world in destinations like the West End or Broadway—the magic of the stage also extends to music concerts, dance performances, and the like.
The elements we quickly associate with the stage are the individual performers, the set design, and the sound design. But one more element is responsible for bringing the stage to life, and that is stage lighting. Though its power may go unnoticed to the ordinary audience member, lighting is crucial to the success of a stage production. It is the soundless, but clear communicator of character, mood, and atmosphere; a quick play on the presence or absence of light could change our entire experience of a song, dance number, or scene.
In the parlance of technical theater, lighting for the stage involves mastery of the four major controllable qualities of light: intensity, color, direction, and movement. The freedom to manipulate all of these qualities at whim, and to get creative with them, is every lighting designer’s dream. Here’s why that freedom and creativity matter in stage productions, and push the boundaries of enjoyment for any one show.
The level of available lighting technology brings excellence to the show
We need not think of stage lighting systems as limited to bulky hanging lanterns that project one color of light beam each. Nowadays, modern stage lighting technologies give a whole new dimension to stage productions. Moving headlights with stepper linear actuators, for instance, ensures lighting angle accuracy, proper beam spread, light stabilization, and precise lens movements to deliver awe-inspiring lighting effects for each scene. This level of technical excellence is a boon for stage producers, who can promise their audiences innovative new experiences worth their money.
Good lighting affords accurate focus and visibility of the chosen subject
If you’re a rock concert attendee, one of the moments you probably live for is when the spotlight shines on the band members and the song begins. Lighting is a matter of drawing and withdrawing our attention to given subjects on the stage, and good stage lighting fulfills this task by making that moment powerful and exciting to the audience.
Rich texture and variety are achieved by good lighting
A stage production of any kind is successful if it is a feast for the eyes. Lighting designers know how much the audience appreciates varied light colors, movements, and textures—and what formula of each will seem authentic and natural to the show. Playing extensively with these visual elements makes the show feel more dynamic.
Good lighting adds depth
Stage light can be directed from above, below, or anywhere within the boundaries of the stage. The master light designer knows how to manipulate light and shadow for each performer, prop, and set design piece on the stage. That makes the stage seem like its own little world, and not a flat, static one-floor area.
Good lighting sets the mood, and can even be a character unto itself
Lighting is meant to dictate the atmosphere of a show, and can thus be thought of as a stage element that all others play off of. But if you’ve recently enjoyed a play, a musical performance, or a dance concert, try to isolate moments that the lighting stood out for itself—a dramatic fadeout, a sudden powerful switch between colors, or a sudden shift in movement. It’s then that you’ll realize that lighting is indispensable, and can engineer big moments onstage as well as highlight them.
The next time you sit back and watch your favorite actor, musician, or dancer perform, remember the importance of this stage element, and contemplate on how something seemingly so simple can generate such deep emotions and even create entire worlds you’ve never imagined.