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Correct Lighting Fixture Placement


Breaking Down the Stage

There are many schools of thought on the proper way to light a performance space. One of the most popular theories of lighting a stage was developed by Stanley McCandless at Yale. In his theory, the stage is broken up into smaller overlapping circular sections or Acting Areas; between 6 to 12 feet in diameter.

Severance Hall in Red

Placing the Lights

In the McCandless theory, each acting area is lit by two lights, each from a position 45 degrees above and to each side of the center of that area (a.k.a.front lights). The reason for angling the lights at 45 degrees is to place feature enhancing shadows on the actor and to draw the actor away from the background.If a fixture is placed directly in front of the actor, the result will washout all shadows, and make the actor's face look very flat. Ellipsoidals are ideal for front lighting.

To separate the actor from the background and provide a 3-dimensional appearance, downlighting and backlighting are important. Unless trying to achieve a special effect, this type of lighting is not as bright as the front lighting. Ellipsoidal and Fresnel spotlights or PAR cans are ideal to use for backlighting.

Another angle used to create a three-dimensional appearance is side lighting. Side lighting from both a very low angle and high angle is used to light many dance shows and musicals. Side lighting for dance takes on more importance in some designs than front lighting.

Key and Fill Light at 45 degrees

For general illumination, the McCandless theory will provide good lighting in most cases. Different angles, however, will give interesting effects. So, if time allows, try experimenting with alternate placement of fixtures. After you've highlighted each of your acting areas, fill in the rest of the areas with washes so that none of the stage is lost. It is important for the light here to be even from side to side and front to back. PAR cans and Fresnels are better to use here than ellipsoidals.