The very first thing that you need to know is that it is vital that you understand the goals for stage lighting for a theatrical production. There are only 4 lighting goals that you should remember. The first one is that you need to control what you can and can’t see. The next is that you need to create an environment where the action happens. The third is that you need to participate within the collaboration of the style of the production and lastly you have to support the story of the piece based on the selected style and goal of the production.
The next step to this is that you have to know your responsibilities based on each goal. These responsibilities were made to help create an environment that support the production completely and to help the audience to focus their attention on where it needs to be.
Starting with the first goal of controlling what can and can’t be seen. To put it simply, without light, you can’t see. The whole manipulation of this is actually going to be the best and greatest tool that any lighting designer is going to have. It is you job to direct the audience to where they should be looking and to move them away from where they should not be looking. So, in other words you need to focus on contrast equaling interest. You want the audience to concentrate on what is going on presently and not what is going on in the background. So, when you use extreme contrasts of bright light and dark voids, it helps to make the area of focus really pop out. The light manipulation is going to be pleasing and it will help the action move forward. So, starting with the simple idea that we are able to see what is light, but what really compels is that the light designer is also in control of what can’t be seen.
Moving on to the second lighting goal of creating an environment where the action will happen. This is a big part. The environment is going to make or break a production. So, you have to ask yourself, “what environment is the story taking place in?”, “What does this environment look like?”, “Is it a beach with a sunset or a moonlit forest with a camp fire?” “Is it a sewer where the only light that comes in happens to be from the grate above and it reflects within the water pools below it?” “Is it a prison cell that has the sun setting or rising through the window?” It is the lighting designers’ job to create and then manipulate the environment of a production. It is not in the job description to be conflict or emotion. Emotion is for the performer. You create the environment that is happens in.
The third lighting goal is about controlling the style. This is one of the hardest goals to describe. It is a style, almost like an essence. You are able to have the same environment done in multiple styles. In order to give you an idea, imagine that it is a jail cell that only has a small window that provides the only light source during sunrise. A more realistic style would attempt to make the scene look as real as possible. When it comes to scenery in order to create the realism, there needs to be real doors, real walls, and a real jail cell window. Just remember that realism needs to have tangible, and physical things to make it part of the reality. The lighting is just going to support the realism, using direction of lights and color choices.
You have picked out colors for your sunrise and now have it placed at the right angle in the window to create an environment. You have to think simplistically. Sunrise happens, and it moves from low to high. This movement is relative to the light position.
There are many different lightings that can be used for this particular scenario. It is all based on what the director wants and how the lighting needs to move based on what is needed for the scene. Then it all comes down to the question of just how real does this scene need to be? There are some needs that will have to be fulfilled, even if it means going against strict realism. So, there may be a single style, but there are many different degrees of lighting. Some people refer to strict realism as being naturalism, where the lighting doesn’t naturally happen in reality, then it won’t happen on the stage. There are many shows that have been really successful where the setting is in a naturalistic living room, and the only light that happens in the scene comes from realistic lighting sources such as fireplaces, windows and table lamps. If it is a small theater then these are great, but if it is for a large production like on Broadway, it just won’t work.
The last goal is going to be supporting the story. This is another issue that is all based on interpretation. What is the production about? Is it going to be something where there are hidden meanings that you have to try to get across? Is it just a rock concert that is about making things look cool and keeping the performer lighted? Maybe it is about a children’s character show about a large purple dinosaur where the lighting needs to be colorful and clear. This is where you will have to decide what the production as a whole is supposed to tell the audience and then you have to decide how you can support that. This is where collaborative teams and your decisions will take hold.
When it comes to achieving this goal as wells as the goal for style, it is best to consider the level of reality that is needed. This helps to show how individualized every production can be and how you will need to be adaptive in order to support the whole production.