Monday, September 24, 2012

Lighting design notes for "The Tempest"

These are notes for the stage lighting of The Tempest, performed at the Laurel Mill Playhouse, 2012-09-14 thru 2012-09-23, directed by Joshua McKerrow.

The theater is fairly small - with 60 seats for the audience. A diagram of the theater (U is Upstage, D is Downstage, SR is Stage Right, SL is Stage Left) is below:

A picture of the ceiling, taken from upstage center and facing the audience, is here:

Some of the spotlights (or "key" lights) are on, but the floodlights (over the stage) are mostly off.

Here is a picture of the lighting board. The sliders on the lower level controlled the lights:

You can see, for example, that under slider 8, there is a piece of tape with "DSC" written on it. That writing was totally unreadable during a show since the lights were basically turned off (except for a small red bulb) then.


Here is a table describing the lighting board controlling the lights.

slider number function
1 3 reds and 1 yellow (floods)
2 none
3 DSL (= DownStage Left), spotlight
4 r4 whites (floods)
5 none
6 USL, spotlight
7 USR, spotlight
8 DSC, spotlight
9 USC, spotlight
10 DSR, spotlight
11 none
12 4 blues (floods)

Different scenes got different lighting designs. Sometimes these were to punctuate the actors' lines. For example, Ariel's description of the tempest to Prospero (line 317 in Act I scene 2) was accented with some red flashes at the point Ariel said "...I flamed amazement." Other cases were to implement parts of the script (eg, lighting during a storm), or to distinuish the mood of a scene.

To begin, being a complete novice, I read some tutorials. The director, Josh McKerrow, told me he needed a detailed lighting plan written out. I typed up something like this:


Indicated are the lines where a specific lighting plan is to be executed, with a few words of the "cue line" indicated. After getting a reasonably detailed version of this (that the director could use if I could not make a show for some reason) I gave up on this process. I had to create too much shorthand notation and I was constantly correcting my own notes. What I settled on was to buy a book of the screenplay with lots of white space on the page then write in pencil the lighting instructions. Here is an example:

This seemed to work out well. Most of the lighting was really designed by Josh McKerrow, who knew the play much better and had ideas on how he wanted certain scenes light. There were five lighting schemes I named with a special term: "normal" (all keys were on, but the colored lights were not as bright), "storm" (for Act I, scene 1), "Caliban" (which had more blues and reds, and lower key lights), "love scenes" (for Ferdinand and Miranda), the "harpy scene" (Ariel's speech in Act III, scene 3), and "oscillating" (for Prospero's "magic spell" scene in Act V, scene 1). There were other lighting effects, but they were simpler (eg, "set master to level 2", or "USC and DSC only"), so didn't get a name. This naming of lighting schemes made it easier to label the pages of the script, and easier for me to track what lighting changes occurred as the play progressed.

I learned some interesting facts about lighting, but mostly I learned the play really well, thanks to the fact that I could read it over and over, Josh knew it really well, and was happy to talk about it.

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