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Controlling Your Lights

Imagine all of the lighting fixtures being at full brightness on your stage: not only would the actors pass out from heat exhaustion, but the colors of the set would be washed out (not to mention how much electricity you'd waste). Also,the audience would not know where to focus their attention. In order to achieve the desired look and intensity of lighting for your production, it is necessary to use dimming and control. Almost all theatres and performance spaces have some sort of dimming and control system. But portable dimming and control also exists for temporary applications, outdoors or alternate area performances.

Most lighting systems consist of four major components: control console, dimmers, distribution and fixtures (see previous discussion on Fixtures).

Control Console

Control ConsolesAlso known as a light board; The control console is the brains of the system. It takes input from an operator, transforms it to signals that the dimmers can read and sends it down a control cable to the dimmers. Obviously, it is important that the console and dimmers are able to speak the same language(although it is possible to convert between some languages with the addition of a convertor box). Some common control languages are "control protocols" are AMX, DMX or a simple analog signal.


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Control boards can range from small shoe box sized boards to large microprocessor based consoles, which can drive hundreds of dimmers or moving light attributes. Some have manual control, some automated playback and some combine both.


Dimming SystemsDimmers plug into the main power at your performance space and send out various amounts of power through the individual dimmers. The control console's signal is what determines how much power goes through which dimmers and when.

Dimmers are available two different ways. Dimmer Racks are mounted dimmers, which are usually for larger systems and permanently mounted in the performance space. Dimmer packs tend to be for portable or semi-portable applications and can generally be carried by one person.

Distribution System

Distribution EquipmentThe distribution system is the wiring that takes the power from the dimmers to the fixtures. This system can consist of wireways, plug-in boxes and connector strips, or can be as simple as a set of extension cords if conditions permit.

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