May 16, 2020

Tech Rehearsals - Bodytraffic
During technical rehearsals, Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s lighting supervisor works closely with the artistic director and production stage manager to fine-tune the lighting for their piece Stardust in the Virginia G Piper Theater during the 2018–19 season. Lighting Designer: Michael Korsch

Lighting is an essential part of the live performance experience. It satisfies the need to see the performer and can subconsciously effect the audience’s emotions. The lighting designer might want you to notice their work by amping up the energy using fast-moving lights during a rock ‘n’ roll show. However, most of the time the goal is to be as subtle as possible while supporting the production. Have you ever wondered; how does that all come together?

Excerpt of house lighting plot
An excerpt from the Virginia G Piper Theater house lighting plot.

In our venue we have what is called a “House Repertory Lighting Plot,” it is the standard arrangement of lighting fixtures, colors, and angles for our venue. Most of our shows have dynamic and unique lighting with only some minor adjustments to this plot.

For larger productions, we work with the production designers to alter our entire lighting rig to accommodate their needs. This is done through a lot of discussions and exchanging large drafting diagrams of layouts. This is common for all of our dance shows, dramatic theatre performances, and for large-scale spectacles like February’s Cirque Eloizé show.

Complexions Lighting Focus
House head electrician, John Doyle, references lighting plot to focus lights for Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Photo: Zach Ciaburri

Whether or not we use our house repertory plot or a show specific lighting plot, we always have to go through a process called “focus”. A focus is when we turn on each light one by one, point them at a specific place, and then put a color filter in front of the light. The best way to explain the experience of this process would be watching your paintbrushes come to life. Over the course of the focus you see every single lighting unit, the color, and the shapes.

The final step before rehearsals begin is referred to as “cueing,” where the lighting designer “paints” the stage with various lights and records each version as a different cue number. There are many layers of what goes into creating a cue. The colors could be based on location, and the brightness could be based on time of day or the amount of shadows enhance an emotion.

The Ten Tenors Backstage Soundcheck
The Ten Tenors sound check. Photo: Zach Ciaburri

If you’re creating a nighttime scene, you might wash the stage in dark blue light and turn on a moonlight white light to complete the effect. If a different scene calls for a bonfire, you could remove the moonlight color and add a flickering amber from a low angle casting shadows all over the scenery.

Tech Rehearsals - Bodytraffic
Complexions Contemporary Ballet tech rehearsals. Lighting Designer: Michael Korsch

Finally, take a look at this image above. The lighting in this image is almost identical to the first picture, except for one major difference. In the first image, the pools of light are unobstructed, in this second image those pools of light had a pattern put in front of them.

That simple adjustment shifts the whole mood of the stage picture doesn’t it? The first picture gives the viewer a dramatic, powerful, and slightly unnerving feeling. In the second picture, there is a shift to a more romantic and elegant feeling.

What do you feel when you compare those two photos? Have you ever been impressed by the lighting during a performance at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts? We would love to hear about it! Email us at [email protected].

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