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Author Topic: Stage and background lighting advice  (Read 581 times)

Carson Berry

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Stage and background lighting advice
« on: January 13, 2020, 06:07:23 pm »

I am part of a non-profit and we have stage programs with kids performing dances etc. on stage. The stage is about 30 ft wide and 15 ft deep and has very minimal lighting. We really do not have any  lighting professionals or experts with us. Our goal is to light up the stage so that performers can be seen bright and clear both live and also in videos and photos. At the same time, we also want to light up the white background curtain/cyclorama with bright led lights so that the background looks beautiful. Something like this: https://www.d.umn.edu/~mharvey/intensityhighmarrathon.jpg We are on a budget and also would like to have a set up that we can easily put together and take apart, since we cannot permanently leave the lights there (we do not own the stage). How do we go about achieving this? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. To sum it up, here's the requirement:

- Light a 30x15 stage evenly
- Background lit up in multi-colors
- Easly to set up and take down

Thanks in advance!
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Jeff Lelko

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2020, 08:17:27 pm »

How do we go about achieving this? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

You need to change your displayed name to your actual full name per the forum rules you agreed to when signing up.  No one will be able to help you until you comply with this requirement.
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Carson Berry

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2020, 09:03:03 pm »

You need to change your displayed name to your actual full name per the forum rules you agreed to when signing up.  No one will be able to help you until you comply with this requirement.

Thanks. Didn't know that. Done.
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Jeff Lelko

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2020, 09:38:58 pm »

Thanks, and welcome to PSW!

So honestly, this is one of those situations where hiring a professional will work wonders for you.  What you are seeking is not trivial and will easily require a modest investment to get light on stage, let alone something dazzling.  Doing a bit of research on theatrical lighting design techniques will provide more input than what youíll receive by asking an open-ended question, so I strongly recommend reading up on that when you can.

For lighting a stage properly, the most important fixtures to get right is your front wash.  If nothing else, you want to get some fixtures around 45 degrees up and out to each side of the stage.  You also want to hit any given location on stage from at least 2 different angles, otherwise youíll get excessive facial shadow, though supplementing from the sides/top/back is very common.  Thereís a reason why you see so many lights in a theater!  Itís not uncommon for me to use upwards of 100 fixtures to light a stage of your size for a proper theatrical application. 

The lights you describe on the back wall is called cyc lighting.  While simple in concept it can be tricky in execution to get an even fill without hot spots or holes.  While something basic like a bar/strip light will get color on the cyc, proper cyc lights will be what you want to pull off the look in the picture you shared.  And this is assuming you got your front/side fills right so as to not throw shadows or excess spill on the cyc and ruin the colors.

And then thereís the issue of lighting control...and designing the lighting to look good both live and on film/video per your post...

Done right youíre easily talking a mid-5 figure investment for the minimum.  Have you looked at hiring in a company to handling your lighting needs?  Youíll get much more for your money here compared to buying your own unless you have the funding to invest in what you need and hire someone that knows how to use it.  Hope this helps!
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Mark Cadwallader

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2020, 11:24:57 pm »

Carson, Jeff has good advice and a lot of experience.

That said, what sort of lighting support infrastructure is in your theater space?  Are there overhead battens (pipes) for hanging lights?  How high are they above the deck of the stage?  Are there any lighting positions on the house side of the proscenium?  How far are they from the center of the stage?  Where you can hang lights can help you figure out what you need for the optical characteristics for the lights.

At the risk of telling you what you already know, here is very basic lighting design:  In the worst case situation, if you only have one light to use, you put it dead center downstage of the proscenium, so it shines onto the stage from about 45 degrees above towards the performers.  It won't look good, but you can get light on the faces of the performers in the center of the stage, and your audience can see them.   If one light isn't giving you a wide enough pool of light, then you need to add more lights until the entire width of the stage is lit.

Different types of lighting fixtures have different characteristics. The most basic characteristics are the "beam" and the "field" angles. An entertainment light will shine in a given arc width of beam angle, such as 20 degrees, 36 degrees, etc, projecting in a cone shape. The beam is the main, brightest part of the light, while the field (always larger than the beam angle) is the less-illuminated "spill" area outside the beam.   The further from the light source, the greater the area that is illuminated.  With a little math, you can get an idea of how big an area will lit if you know the beam and field angles, and how far the light is from the place on the stage that is lit.

But there is no free lunch:  the wider the angle, the less illumination falls on the stage. The further the light travels, the dimmer (less intense) it is, too.  For the same source output, the narrower the beam angle, the brighter (more intense) the area that is being lit.  The closer the light is to the stage, the greater the intensity, but less area is illuminated.  Hence my questions above about where can you place the lights.  There are a lot of compromises you can make given a fixed budget and a variety of lights you can choose from.  How bright is "bright enough" depends on the circumstances, too. More poserful lights tend to cost more. Too bright a light can be dimmed, but you can't go above 100% of full output.

There's alot more going on in lighting design than just getting "some" light on the performers; just getting "some" is the minimum requirement.  But that's a start for you.  Look at your space and see what and where you can hang lights, get the measurements in three dimensions, and then you get some reasonable advice.

One final thought:  you will need power and control cables for the lights, and a control method. Don't forget those costs when thinking about buying lights.

Best wishes.
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"Good tools are expensive, but cheap tools are damned expensive."

Carson Berry

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2020, 07:01:47 pm »

Thanks a bunch, Jeff and Mark. Based your feedback, I think I am going to go look for a stage that already has a good lighting system. Like I said earlier, we are on a tight budget and the stage we are currently using is a Middle School auditorium. That's the reason I wanted to check if you could do it ourselves. But from what you both have suggested, it looks like this is something that a professional should be doing. Will talk to the board and get a bigger budget allocated for something that has better lighting.

Thanks so much for your detailed reply. It was really helpful. Much appreciated.
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Jeff Lelko

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2020, 07:29:01 pm »

Glad we were able to help you Carson.  I really think this is the best route forward that will give you the results youíre looking for.  Using a venue that has a proper system installed with the crew to run it means that you can focus on other things and not have to worry about troubleshooting, repairs, and other ongoing costs associated with owning a system.  Best of luck with your project!
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Tim McCulloch

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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
« Reply #7 on: February 03, 2020, 08:26:12 pm »

Hi Carson-

Welcome to the forums.

You've had some good advice, so now it's my turn to fix that!  8)

Getting out of the middle school auditorium and into a university theater, well equipped community theater, or civic performing arts center will likely take care of most of the concerns expressed.  The middle school is likely a false economy.   If you're paying, say $500 a day for a mostly unequipped auditorium and hiring a production company is $1,500, but you can get it all at your city's PAC or university for $1000 a day, you're money ahead.  If you think renting lights is cheaper, you still have to get it all there, set it all up and make it work, take it down, pack it up and return to the vendor.  Unless you're working for free, remember these are additional expenses.  If you have to move in a day early to do this, you're paying another days rental on the venue.

Dance takes LOTS of artificial light to look like "natural dance light" that illuminates and flatters the dancer's form and movement.  Add in lighting up scenic elements like the cyc in your linked jpeg, and the needs go up.  If you were to go out and buy what is needed to begin replicating the look shown you'd be spending north of US$25,000 (maybe double that).  You'd also need a place to store it all, a way to transport it and set up a fairly sophisticated (more than 8 lights) show, and have someone to keep it all working.  Even if you were able to come in under US$25,000 that money still buys a lot of rental days in a sufficiently equipped venue.

I'm not saying you can't accomplish your goal in any other way - I'm sure there things I've not considered - but TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  What you save picking up donated lights, as an example, will be spent to refurbish, relamp, buy cable (please, no orange, 16ga extension cords), packaging for transport and storage, etc.

Here's my suggestion - find someone to come up with a design your dance show, run the numbers and then decide if owning lights, renting lights, hiring a production company, or booking a sufficiently equipped venue makes the most sense.

Good luck and let us know what you end up doing.
« Last Edit: February 03, 2020, 08:31:22 pm by Tim McCulloch »
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Re: Stage and background lighting advice
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