Audiences in Theatre

son0-003a“The horror of movies is that they’re always the same – they never acknowledge the audience reaction. What keeps theatre alive is that each experience is unique. Each audience does affect the material, it affects the way that actors perform. Clarity is particularly important to me. I want the audience to at least understand what I’m doing. And then, if they don’t like it, they don’t like it.”
-Stephen Sondheim, on audiences in theatre.


The Way We Light

After a few weeks away, let’s get back to the world of lighting. This week I take a look at the way the stage is lit. This is not about fixture types or what is normally placed on what truss. This week is about the different areas on stage you can place lights and how it can affect your show.

It is important to remember that shows will incorporate most of the styles discussed here. Not only that, but many the styles can, and normally are, combined together (front and back light, as an example). When you have the time, I suggest you play around with the different style and see what you like best. I’ll let you know my favorite style when we get there. Off we go…

Front-Light: Just as the name implies, this is light hitting your performer from the front. Most often this is achieved with follow spots and a downstage truss. This is the most common of all stage lighting. If you are in any bar with a stage, they will at least have eight or so par cans on the downstage so you can see the performers. Front-light is one-half of the nuts and bolts of a lighting rig.

Sammy Hagar - Lighting Designer Jim Greenawalt

Sammy Hagar – Lighting Designer Jim Greenawalt

Back-Light: The other half of the nuts and bolts of the lighting rig. This is most commonly an upstage truss. Generally you get more dramatic looks with back-light. This is where you get nice silhouettes of your artists and when you have haze (please have haze), you start seeing the beams of light from the fixtures.

Warren Haynes Xmas Jam - Lighting Designer Preston Hoffman

Warren Haynes Xmas Jam – Lighting Designer Preston Hoffman

Side-Light: Side-light can be placed anywhere on stage but most often it is in the downstage to midstage area. This is my favorite kind of light. You can achieve some amazing shadowy looks using side-light, especially low side-light (also called shin-kickers). I once had a tour with a very limited budget (that tour’s budget is much bigger now) and to really change it up I used a section of PRT with color scrollers on the downstage of each corner as my only non-back light. It gave the show a grungy, rock and roll look. If you have the ability to do it, throwing a song only lit by side-light is a great way to change the feel of the show.

Top-Light: As with everything else so far, top-light is self-explanatory, it’s light from overhead. Wait a sec, then isn’t every light in the air a top-light? In this case I am using the term to be a fixture directly over the artist’s head. Using just top-light leads to interesting shadows on the face of your artist. This happens a lot in venues where the downstage truss is actually over the stage. This also leads to cranky LDs because the truss went from being front-light to top-light. You may be able to tell that I am not a huge fan of this type of light by itself.

Selena Gomez - Lighting Designer Nathan W. Scheuer

Selena Gomez – Lighting Designer Nathan W. Scheuer

Floor-Light: Floor lights could almost be a post on their own. Floor lights can be used for aerial effects (we’ll get there), low side-light, and lighting backdrops and set pieces. Floor lights can be some of the most versatile fixtures in your rig. Some of you might be thinking, what about…yup, I’m going there right now.

Up-Light: These are also floor lights, but when talking about up-light, it is generally referring to a fixture on the floor right in front of the artist to light him up. This can be done with individual fixtures (such as par cans) or across the front of the stage (such as mini-strips). These are used on a lot on shows shot for TV.

Aerials: This is using the beams from the lights to make a pattern in the air. These looks are normally used to light the space around the artist and not the artist themselves. These are often done in symmetrical patterns and most LDs have a handful of go to looks they use.


Misc: A few of these are Truss Toners: lights that are used to light the truss. Set Lights: another from the self-explanatory category. Backdrop lights: often times these are cyc lights.

Like I said above, take time to try different styles and see how they work together. Find what you like best and what works best with the shows you light.

Until next time: “Lighting is an essential way to change the mood of a room, especially if you can use dimmers.” Of course! Dimmers are old school fun.


When the technical director asks the crew if anyone knows who used the last of the gaff tape and didn’t tell anyone

Everyone’s like


Color Part II: Color on Stage

I’m guessing I had to pry you away from practicing coloring mixing on your consoles to read this. What? The color picker? Sure you could use that, but that would be cheating now, wouldn’t it? For those of you that don’t know what the color picker is, let’s start there…

Color Picker: Most consoles have a feature that let you pick a color by just touching the screen to the color you desire. This is fun for about the first five seconds as you drag your finger across the screen and watch the lights scroll through colors. After that, I almost never used it. I just preferred to use the color wheels to get the colors I wanted. How many colors should you have for presets in your console? This is an age old question that goes back to the dawn of time (well, maybe not that far, but you get what I mean). I think you need one shade of each of the standard colors (red, yellow, amber, lavender, etc.) and then a couple of colors that have a few options (primary blue, cyan, dark blue). There are many, many LDs out there that need to have five different yellows and five different reds. That’s fine for them, just not for me.


You’ve got your preset colors in your desk and now it’s time to program, but what colors work for what type of songs? At this point many LDs will launch into cool v. warm colors and what works best where. I won’t be doing that. The fact of the matter is, you, as the LD, can take any color and make it work if you want to. If you want, you can take yellow and NC for a somber ballad by using shadows and intensity correctly. That is not to say that certain colors don’t work better for certain moods because we grow up learning to associate colors with moods (mood ring, anybody?). It’s about what feels right. And that’s what putting color on stage really is: feeling.
So, color on stage is about feeling.

Until next time…

Wait, that’s it? There has to be more, some other tips, tricks, insight, nonsense or otherwise, Right?

Fine, fine. There are a few things that are pretty standard, so I’ll go over a couple for you.

Listen to your artist. Color is where the artist tends to be the most picky. Normally they will have one or two colors they never want you to use (or in case of one artist I was with, only three colors I could use). I don’t care how much you like blue, if the popstar on stage says, “No blue,” you better figure out a new favorite color.

Have a congo, or dark blue stage wash ready between songs. Most acts like a glow on stage because they will trip and kill themselves if it’s pitch black (I had an artist slip on a piece of confetti one day. I can’t make this stuff up).

Red and green usually only work in a Christmas show. This is the toughest color combo to pull off because these colors have been drilled into our collective conscious to mean Christmas. So use at your own risk unless you are singing about jolly old St. Nick.

The jelly bean effect. This is caused by a large number of colors on stage at one time (like all the colors in a bag of jelly beans). Some people really enjoy this look, and for certain songs it does work (one of the best uses was HonkyTonk Badonkadonk). I prefer…

Widespread Panic. LD Paul Hoffman. Photo by Joshua Timmermans.

Widespread Panic. LD Paul Hoffman. Photo by Joshua Timmermans.

No more than two colors, please. As I progressed in my touring career I realized that I only like two colors (with some NC, maybe) for any given song. I had some favorite combinations (cyan and yellow, red and yellow, amber and blue) that I used pretty often. Instead of lots of colors on stage, I tried to use the fixtures and how they were placed to change the feel of the show.

Here Come the Mummies. LD Jake Tickle.

Here Come the Mummies. LD Jake Tickle.

The color wheel, friend or enemy? For you new programmers out there, learn the way the colors are lined up in your color wheel. If you are in yellow and you want to go to blue but there are three colors between them, you need to fade your fixture out or else you will see the other three colors before you get to the blue. Needless to say, this could be very distracting at times. With color mixing this is not an issue because of the way the CMY works in fixtures. Most fixtures can do a split color where you get half a beam of the two colors you split. While I don’t recommend you do this a lot, every now and again can be interesting.

Let’s end this week on something fun, the color roll. This is where the fixture just spins the color wheel going from color to color. You can set the speed as needed for the song. Once again, this is not normally something I use but, two of my favorite looks that I have personally been involved with use color rolls (one by Steve Campbell on the Newsboys and one I did on a Winter Jam tour).

Once again, I didn’t get into color temperature, lighting on video, or even talk about gels and scrollers (yes, scrollers). Another post for another week.

Until next time, “If you want 100,000W of red, the only way you can do it is with scrollers.” Howard Ungerleider talking about the Van Halen tour in 1998.


I feel this gif accurately sums up working on certain productions….



Our Lighting Board

Older Lighting Boards: Helping to Keep the Floppy Disc Alive [For the Time Being]



Yup, we still use a floppy disk int he booth to save all out light cues for each show!

Versions of Romeo & Juliet Throughout History

When you think of Romeo and Juliet, what first comes to mind: Shakespeare’s play, the 1968 film adaptation or one of the many beautiful paintings featuring the lovers? Or, perhaps, you recall sitting in high school English, Drama or Literature trying to decipher the archaic language while pretending to find the hidden meaning of it all.

rj1Before reading O, Juliet, becoming intrigued and doing further research, I had little knowledge of the legend at all. In fact, I assumed Shakespeare’s was the original. How wrong I was! This research has really opened my eyes to much, not just Romeo and Juliet related, but with the life of Shakespeare, or the person who may have published under the name Shakespeare… but that’s another story (and thoroughly researched article) altogether. Today, we are focusing on the origins of the legend of Romeo and Juliet:

Historically set in the early 14th century in Verona, the legend of Romeo and Juliet was not in fact officially recorded until 1531 by Luigi da Porto, an Italian writer who lived near Vicenza. rj2His book (translated from Italian) was titled Newly Found Story of Two Noble Lovers and is thought to have been inspired by a short story by Masuccio Salernitano (an Italian poet), though his characters were called Mariotto and Giannozza, while da Porto named his Romeus and Giulietta and added more characters that were adopted by later authors, including William Shakespeare.

Matteo Bandello, an Italian writer sometimes compared with Boccaccio, wrote several novellas which were basis for some of Shakespeare’s plays, including Romeo and Juliet. Quite obviously, Romeo and Juliet originated in Italy, though the author or orator of the original legend seems to be a mystery.

rj3The first English translation is a poem called The Tragic History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke and was published in 1562 followed quickly by another English version by William Painter in 1582 called Palace of Pleasure and a Spanish version in 1590 by Lope de Vega. The next borrower of the now famous tale became the most well-known since: Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare’s version appeared in the 1590’s though dates vary. Shakespeare himself played Fray Lorenzo in a 1596 edition, though several revisions occurred soon after. It is said that Shakespeare borrowed heavily from Brooke and Painter, as he himself never left England.


During the Restoration, one William Davenant, who claimed to be an illegitimate son of William Shakespeare and was in fact his godson, wrote a revision of Romeo and Juliet. He was a sometimes favorite of King Charles I and his court, though found himself imprisoned more than once for meddling in religious and political intrigues. rj5During the Commonwealth period, through influential friends, he was somehow able to open a type of theatre that featured toned-down plays to suit the new laws. Upon Charles II’s ascending the throne and the Restoration, he opened the Duke’s theater in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The diarist Samuel Pepys noted the following in his diary regarding Davenant’s Romeo and Juliet:

‘It is a play of itself the worst that I have ever heard in my life, and the worst acted that I ever saw these people do; and am resolved to go no more to see the first time of acting, for they were all of them out more or less.’

In 1679, Thomas Otway’s The History and Fall of Caius Marius depicted two Roman senators fighting for political control while their children, Lavinia and Romeo were lovers much the same as Shakespeare’s characters, though used less than 1/3rd of his lines. Because of the political agenda the play offered, alluding to the Catholic situation with the Duke of York, the play was immensely popular and rendered Shakespeare’s version absent for nearly 70 years.

The next version on the rise was by Theophilus Cibber in 1744 and used material from both Otway’s play and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. An oddity of his play was the fact that he played Romeo himself and cast his 14 year old daughter as Juliet. David Garrick, the next playwright/manager to take on the play was appalled at the performance, though he felt Jenny (the daughter) had immense talent.

rj6David Garrick, a British actor turned playwright/manager was first noticed for his portrayals of Richard III at Drury Lane. He changed the play considerably, taking out many of the rhymes and antiquated speech. Ironically, Cibber’s wife played Garrick’s Juliet and this version of the play ran for almost a century.

During the mid-1800’s there was a return to the poetic original of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. New theaters were built with gas lighting and the previous extravagances were abandoned. It was not unusual for females to play the role of Romeo, and in fact many actors turned the role down claiming it to be overly feminine.

Of course there continued to be many more plays, as well as, operas, musicals and ballet performances based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, however, the 20th century brought something new to the fold: motion pictures. IMDB (International Movie Database) indexes more than 34 movies based on the legend, the most popular being made in 1938, 1968 and 1996.


The most loved film is Frank Zeffirelli’s 1968 version starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey (raise your hand if you saw this in high school). The only controversial part is Hussey’s nude scene, as she was only 15 at the time, though, as my 10th grade teacher pointed out: they were married so it was okay – then wheeled the TV around and waited for the scene to be over.


rj9West Side Story is perhaps the most popular musical. It is set in 1950’s New York City and is based around rival gangs and intended to have cultural and political innuendos, as these issues were making headlines in the news at the time. It was made into a film in 1961 starring Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer.

The 1996 Film, Romeo + Juliet, with Leonardo DeCaprio and Claire Danes is another modernized version and used rival corporate businesses and guns instead of warring families and swords. Though the film won several awards and was financially successful, many Shakespeare fans shook their heads at such a leap from the original.


To wrap up this article I would like to ask you: Which version is your favorite? As for myself, I love Robin Maxwell’s novel O, Juliet, which can now be considered the newest in versions of the legend and quite original in the bargain!

rj11“Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father’s business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inpired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage into the Medici dynasty, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that takes flight in the privacy of her bedchamber and on her garden balcony.

Her life and destiny are forever changed when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars.”


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