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Author Topic: Lighting for a school play  (Read 570 times)

Johnny Bregar

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Lighting for a school play
« on: May 17, 2017, 10:41:34 am »

Hello,

First post.  I'm an audio engineer, but a total lighting newbie.  I don't know anything about anything.  I have done a little research, and I get the basic ideas about DMX, but for some reason lights sort of baffle me.

I have been tasked with procuring an inexpensive lighting system for my son's school.  They will use it for their 5th grade play, and also for a few events during the year.  Because I'm run a studio, they seem to think I'm an expert in all media.  :-)

I spoke with a sales guy from B&H, who recommended I start with two Blizzard PAR lights and a Chauvet Obey 40.  I ordered this setup, and it should be here Friday.  I can return it if it's not a good plan.

I am concerned that this will not really light up our stage.  It's about 30 feet wide, and maybe 30 feet deep or so.  We need lighting that will fill the stage and we need to be able to add colors and do some simple scene settings.  The lights will be 25 feet or so from the stage, one small rack on each side. I think I can learn all the scene/fixture settings on the Obey, but I'm baffled about light angles (these have 25 degree angles) and what we'll need to make sure we light up the stage.

We have 6 big ugly hot power hog lights right now, mounted on some yellow stands (which we'll repurpose for the new lights) which constantly blow our breakers, and the only way we can turn them on and off during a scene is to have two people on power strips on each side of the gym. 

What should we get?  Would two lights be enough?  Are the beams too narrow on these LED PAR lights (we do NOT need a spotlight)?  Would four lights be better?  There are tons of options online - I see some Chauvet SlimPAR 64 lights on Amazon for $99 each - if I added two of those, would I have enough for a basic setup?

Caveat:  This is a low budget school play.  We need JUST enough to get by and we don't have the money, expertise or staff to set up a big lighting rig.  We need the minimum number and type of lights so the kids can have a theatrical experience, and people can see their faces. 

Thank you in advance for any advise you can give.  We have one week from tomorrow to get this all figured out and installed.  What would you recommend?

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Jeff Lelko

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2017, 06:06:30 pm »

Hi Johnny, welcome to the forum.

This is one of those "it depends" kind of questions.  I'll do my best to provide some input and I'm sure a few others will chime in as well.  First of all, do you know which specific model of light fixtures you were sold? 

Light/beam/field angles have to do with how wide of a beam you can expect from a given fixture.  The higher the number, the wider the beam.  Some simple trigonometry will tell you how big your "spot" will be from a given distance to the stage.  Generally speaking, two fixtures (of nearly any kind) will be lacking when it comes to filling a stage, let alone properly lighting it.  In theatrical applications you generally want to light the stage from anywhere from 3-6 positions or more, depending on the "looks" you're hoping to achieve throughout the show.  Given the very limited scope of what you're trying to do I know this isn't an option, but just providing the details for background knowledge.  The trick is, given a limited budget and that each light costs money, it's really a case of you get what you pay for and trying to balance quantity versus quality.

What you've bought will put light on stage.  Will it be high quality light?  No.  Will adding very cheap units like $99 SlimPars help?  Well, it'll get you more light but still low quality light.  What I mean by low quality light is this - in the world of LED lighting, not all fixtures are created equally.  The lowest end ones generally use individual red, green, and blue diodes with the ability to mix them in varying amounts to produce different colors.  As you improve the quality of the light, you see more colors added such as white, amber, UV, cyan, lime, etc.  These colors are usually now also combined into a single diode (often called 4 in 1, 5 in 1, etc LEDs).  The more discrete colors you have the better quality of light you generally get.  Then there's the circuitry behind the fixtures.  Higher quality lights use more capable components in the circuitry, so you get higher bit mixing capability, much smoother fades, and no "flickering" of the unit, especially at low output percentages.  At the present time, most "acceptable" LED lights start in the $150-300/ea price range and go up from there.  The lights you see in professional applications cost over a thousand dollars each.  Now, this obviously isn't what you need for a basic elementary school play, but I hope is shows where you are on the spectrum in terms of what's on the market.  Most fixtures in the price range you're shopping are okay at the DJ/bar level, but not workable for theater.  This is mostly due to their low intensity, poor dimming, and harsh colors.  Not exactly what you want to stare at for an hour or two!

In your case, I'd opt to light the stage with conventional, non-LED lighting.  I'd start by first trying to sort out the issues with the lights you already have.  This might not be doable in the week until the show, but going forward those lights are probably worth more than what you're willing to spend on a replacement.  The issues you're describing could very possibly be due to improper lamps being used, too many fixtures on a single circuit, and just overall improper deployment.  Using a power strip to control them isn't exactly best practice either!  Conventional lights such as these need to be controlled via something called a dimmer.  It interfaces between those lights and your controller, and yes, the controller you just bought could control these if paired with a properly-sized dimmer. 

So what to do...  Well, if going the route of conventional lighting your most bang to buck will certainly be found with these.  I have 3 dozen of these cans in my inventory and a number of other members here use them too.  For the price you can't beat what they offer.  I use 250w lamps in mine which puts out quite a bit of light, though others are successful using much less power.  Now to use these properly, you'll need at least one of those dimmers I was talking about, such as this.  If you combine 8 Par 38 cans and 2 of these dimmers, you'll be all set with much more output and much better quality light than you would have had you gone the LED route for the same amount of money.  Regarding your controller, it's not my first choice, but it'll work.  You can read up on countless threads debating controller choice, but in your case it'll get you through the show.  In fact, you'll probably have an easier time controlling conventional lights with it versus LED lights! 

Best of luck with the show and hope all this helps! 
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Mark Cadwallader

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2017, 12:28:34 am »

Jeff makes excellent points.  Here is very basic lighting design theory:  The most basic rule of lighting is that the audience has to be able to see the actors.  If nothing else, you could light at least part of the stage with only one light.  Ideally, that light would shine down on the actors from about a 45 degree angle above the stage. (30 to 60 degrees above will work. Lighting from below will not.)

Light from straight ahead will let you see the actors, but it will flatten out their appearance. If you have two lights, aimed across the stage at a 45 degree angle right/left (and still from above), the actors will look much more 3 dimentional. To get adequate coverage of the stage (you only need to light the playing area) you may need multiple pairs of lights to cross light the area.  (With 4 lights, 2 right and 2 left, you can cross-light a wider area than with only 2 lights total.). With multiple front lights aimed to particular locations on the stage, you can shift the attention in a scene by making one area brighter than another.

With conventional (non-LED) lights, you can only have one color per light. To have a two color "wash" of general lighting, you will need a pair of lights in each lighting position. (It adds up in a hurry.). Multi color LEDs have the advantage of reducing the overall count of lights you might otherwise need.

After providing basic front ("face") lighting, the next place to add lights typically is to have a back light (aimed diagonally downstage, from above) to create a little more visual interest and attention by proving highlighting of characters.  Two back lights (one each stage right and stage left) gives you more options for different looks and/or colors.

That's the basic idea, anyway. At a minimum, light the kid's faces so the parents can see them. (That's why they are there in the audience in the first place!). Good luck, and have fun.
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Stelios Mac

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2017, 06:26:18 am »

You've already received some very good advice! :)

What exactly are those "6 big ugly hot power hog lights"? Are they just some old very rusty par cans, or something decent you could do some maintenance on and reuse instead?
If the latter, you could re-lamp them (if needed - Do they put out enough light? Lamps loose brightness over time. Maybe get some lower wattage lamps if they tend to pop breakers) and get a dimmer to run them off the Chauvet along with your LEDs.
If not, just get some new ones like Jeff suggested :)
Although it's old technology, conventional lighting is still very much in use today - Especially in the theater world.
You could then use the LEDs as backlights (Place them off to the sides to the stage and cross them - Try a frost filter if the beam still looks too narrow)
If it all goes well, you should be able to achieve a 3-point lighting setup (which is what Mark is describing) and a pretty good looking stage.

You probably can light up the stage with a pair of LED pars just by themselves (If they're powerful with a dark enough room, that is) - But it won't really look all that good.

Hope this helps, good luck :)
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Mark Cadwallader

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #4 on: May 18, 2017, 10:57:35 am »

A bit of terminology: a "PAR can" is a very simple lighting instrument that does not have any lenses or mechanical light beam shaping capacity. A "PAR" (Parabolic Aluminized Reflector) lamp is an enclosed bulb and housing (kinda like the old sealed headlights used on cars); the "can" is a simple metal housing for the lamp and lamp base. The can usually will have a way to attach a sheet of colored plastic (known as "gel") to the end of the can at the opposite end from where the lamp is.  PAR lights are measured in 1/8" increments -- a PAR 64 measures 8" across the lamp face. PAR 56 and 38 are common sizes for low-cost fixtures. PAR lamps are typically available in a narrow spot focus or a wide flood pattern. The lamps are often available in various wattages. Hence the above recommendation for using lower wattage lamps (or fewer of them) if you are blowing curcuit beakers.

PAR lamps throw an unfocused, soft-edged beam of light. For any given light output, it will appear brighter if it is narrower pattern than in a wide (flood) pattern.
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Steve Garris

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #5 on: May 18, 2017, 03:20:48 pm »

You're getting good advice here - take special note of Mark's comments about front wash angles. I too still use those same Par 38's - mine have 90W bulbs in them for smaller stages.

If you need high-output led's there is the cheap Chinese option. These lights have a ton of output, but with a few negatives:
Large & heavy - not a problem if to be permanently installed.
Sometimes they have noisy fans.
They are not serviceable, so if one goes bad you just toss it.
They do not have smooth dimming curves - may or may not matter.
They have fixed power cords - not a huge deal.
I've seen these in the field and they are really bright, with about a 30 deg beam. I've purchased a bunch of their smaller cousins,
and so far they've been great with no failures or bad diodes.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/4pcs-18w-rgbwa-uv-6in1-LED-Par-Fixture-10CH-Christmas-DJ-party-Stage-lighting/252251345172?_trksid=p2047675.c100005.m1851&_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIC.MBE%26ao%3D2%26asc%3D40130%26meid%3D5a6644e963704be78855d858dbc3801a%26pid%3D100005%26rk%3D3%26rkt%3D6%26sd%3D252611416562
« Last Edit: May 18, 2017, 03:24:07 pm by Steve Garris »
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Jerome Malsack

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #6 on: May 18, 2017, 04:00:53 pm »

He has shared the location with me but I did not copy it off.  Washington State,  I am in Maryland so cross country trip was not an option.  Anyone close want to visit.
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Jeff Lelko

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Re: Lighting for a school play
« Reply #7 on: May 18, 2017, 06:32:56 pm »

Another possibility that was alluded to above (and I probably should have mentioned initially) is to take a hybrid approach between LED and conventional.  As Mark correctly stated, conventional lights are usually restricted to a single color unless you start messing with scrollers, CMY mixers, etc.  That said, for front fill duty you are generally using a small selection of very soft colors that just help to add life to an actor's face - normally light ambers, lavenders, blues, and roses.  Even if I need to wash a stage deep red, I'll do the "red" with secondary fixtures but use my "light rose" fixtures at a low level so that you can still see faces and connect with the talent's emotion.  A pure red wash will look awful, or quite possibly like a club rock act...  In your case, you can use a few Par 38s gelled (colored) in one or two of your favorite facial colors and then use your LED Pars to project the deeper colors that will set the tone on stage.  You'll want to hang the light fixtures tasked with facial light as described in the posts above (around 45 degrees out and up from the stage, give or take), but you can get creative with LEDs.  Either hang them near the facial lights for supplemental purposes or try something completely different such as your other suggestion to hang them upstage and use them as backlight, or put them on the floor aimed at your stage's back wall or curtain to make some nice colors and texture effects.  The nice thing about lighting design is that it's as much an art as it is a skill, so there isn't too much you can do wrong from a technical point of view (unlike sound).  In your case, so long as all the parents can see their children you'll be good to go.  Anything more will just earn you bonus points!   
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