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The Qualities of Light

We have described six functions of stage lighting. Next, we need to define some of the qualities used to describe light.


Light has intensity and can be described as bright or dim. The intensity can be adjusted using equipment which will be described later.


Light also has color. How many colors are evident in a sunset? Many to be sure. What color is light from candles with no electric lighting? What color is sunlight at dawn? Answers to these questions and your decisions about color are often very personal and subjective. If you are designing Romeo and Juliet, what color is the sunlight coming through their bedroom window on the morning after their secret wedding? Or, what color does the "envious moon" in Juliet’s garden cast? A discussion on tools for coloring light, and suggestions for the beginner will follow.


Distribution describes the direction of the light (or lack of direction if it is soft and diffused). The distribution of stage lighting is represented differently on stage whether it is direct sunlight, a living room or a castle's dungeon.


Does light have movement? Sure, and we're not talking about lights that pan and tilt. Imagine how the stage lighting "moves" at the end of Act I of the opera Madame Butterfly by Puccini.

Cio-Cio-San (Madama Butterfly) confesses to Pinkerton (her bridegroom) that yesterday, alone and in secret, she climbed the hill up to the Mission as she adopted the religion of her bridegroom. With the wedding ceremony completed, the guests toast the couple. The atmosphere is very happy and bright. Suddenly Cio-Cio-San's uncle, the Bonze (a Japanese priest) bursts upon the scene with her extended family, cursing the girl for having renounced her ancestors' religion. Pinkerton furiously orders the Bonze and family to leave. Alone at last with his bride, Pinkerton reassures Cio-Cio-San and dries her tears. As they stand in the moonlit garden gazing at the stars, they discover their love for each other. The familiar and beautiful love duet Viene la sera ("Evening is falling") ends Act One.

The lighting can be described as moving, or progressing, from afternoon, when it is happy and bright.