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Question about teaching lighting design

  • 1.  Question about teaching lighting design

    Posted 11 days ago
    I don't want to derail that awesome thread on lighting challenges, so I'll start a new one to ask a question.

    So many posts and comments recently seem to be about instrumentation and control, or about how kids seem to be drawn to the technology but not to the "artistic" (for lack of another word) side of stage lighting. So, how many of you teach design as a separate subject from technology, and how do you find the kids' responses?

    Back in college, we used Will Bellman's Lighting the Stage: Art and Practice, and a number of the die-hard designers used Jean Rosenthal's The Magic of Light as a text. Both of these are out of print (and any technology in them is totally outdated), but the principles of using light to create moods and atmospheres, as well as tension and other feelings, are still very much valid, since those haven't changed all that much.

    In those days, we had to learn the tech first, and work on several crews, as prerequisites for the design classes. Same with sets and costumes. And it was interesting that some kids didn't want to take the design classes at all: they were perfectly happy learning the tech side and going out to look for tech jobs in the industry.

    I'm just being curious.


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    George F. Ledo
    Set designer
    www.setdesignandtech.wordpress.com
    www.georgefledo.net
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  • 2.  RE: Question about teaching lighting design

    Posted 10 days ago
      |   view attached
    As a middle school teacher I teach a Theatre Design "Extension" class most years.  It is just 30 minutes twice a week for one trimester.  We tend to look at sets, costumes and lights, with a lot of looking at photos online.  We watch some videos of designers talking about their research, concepts and choices (NT Education ones, mostly).  The focus is on getting the students to "think like designers," gaining vocabulary to talk about visuals, thinking about and describing the mood/feel/style they are after.   We talk about the functions of design, and the tools of the designer.  I'm attaching the "cheat sheet" we use (and open to suggestions!).

    We do very little of the tech side, as our actual school tech capabilities are limited.

    I also sometimes  run a "Practical Tech Theatre" extension, which is much more getting stuff done for shows (spike the stage, program the light cues, make lots of lists).  There are definitely students who lean more toward one than the other.  I like teaching them separately.  If I saw the students for more time, then I would cover both with the same groups, but I think I would still start by teaching them separately.


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    Kristin Hall
    Drama Director
    Lincoln Public Schools
    Arlington MA
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  • 3.  RE: Question about teaching lighting design

    Posted 10 days ago
    Hi, Kristin,

    Thanks so much for posting your cheat sheet. I think it's a great set of notes. You said you were open to suggestions (always a dangerous thing), so I'll just make a couple, and I'll stay in the Scenic column since that's my field.

    First, I would change "Serve needs of the script" to "Serve the needs of the story." This goes right back to the discussions about stage directions and the occasional floor plan included in the scripts, and how often they were not put there by the author. It's not semantics as much as it is another way to think like a designer and to keep the story itself in first place. It's what helps us create a physical environment that supports the story.

    Second, I would change "Affect movement of actors" to "Support movement of characters," for the same reason.

    Third, I would add "Research" and "Volume" in there somewhere. Research is very important to us, and comes into play when we discuss with the director whether the story wants to be delivered "realistically" or not, i.e., whether the set/costumes/etc. want to be presentational or representational. And, an understanding of how to create volume on the stage is also important: how big is the space supposed to be, and how is it broken up.

    If you want to hear some great discussions with designers and others, check out the "Making of" documentaries that come on some movie DVDs. It's awesome to hear these people talking about what they do and why they do it, and to see how much fun they have with it even as they take their work very seriously.

    Best of luck with your classes!




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    George F. Ledo
    Set designer
    www.setdesignandtech.wordpress.com
    www.georgefledo.net
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  • 4.  RE: Question about teaching lighting design

    Posted 9 days ago
    "So, how many of you teach design as a separate subject from technology, and how do you find the kids' responses?"


    When I speak at high schools, I prefer to start with a short unit on design. Angles and colors haven't changed since Jean Rosenthal wrote The Magic of Light. Lighting technology changes, but design theory doesn't. So first, I focus on what most texts refer to as the "functions and qualities" of light. I show examples and lead a discussion of the lighting in a burger chain vs. fancy steakhouse, etc. Many students have an intuitive sense of light and design-I help them articulate what they already know and help them grow from there.

    THEN I'll move into equipment. Because it's all those above goals the equipment is designed to support.

    Finally, I'll move into design-I've given students the goals and the tools, so now they can get creative.

    PS-Capture Software is a GREAT way for students to see what their lighting ideas will look like without the time/danger of constantly re-hanging lights.


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    Benjamin Pilat
    Director of Education
    Stage Lighting Bootcamps
    Marina del Rey CA
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  • 5.  RE: Question about teaching lighting design

    Posted 9 days ago
    Great suggestions, George.  I made the changes!

    The only thing I didn't add was the research, simply because I teach it earlier as part of the design process.  We talk about reading the script multiple times, meeting with other designers and director, research (visual research!), design concepts/styles and more.

    I agree, tons of great videos out there - my current favorite is the National Theatre's "Designing Emil and the Detectives" for covering many areas of design, themes/styles/concepts, research ... and completely middle school appropriate :-)  And the 5 minute clip finishes with some comments about teamwork.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeARm369J08

    I'd love links to anyone else's design favorites that are under 10 minutes and middle school friendly!

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    Kristin Hall
    Drama Director
    Lincoln Public Schools
    Arlington MA
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  • 6.  RE: Question about teaching lighting design

    Posted 9 days ago
      |   view attached
    Yes, nothing much has changed in the concepts and principals of lighting design theory and practice, but technology has made great leaps. It was the same for me in university too - anyone could earn credit by coming and helping hang and focus lights or running the board, but then there were specific design theory classes for us LDs.

    Jean Rosenthal's book "The Magic of Light" is my almanac – I'm happy to say that I am one of the people who still has a copy. (I see that there are still some available on Amazon, but at a much higher price than I must have bought mine for!)  My own university lighting professor had the opportunity to know Jean Rosenthal, so I consider her my Lighting Grandmother!  (And on that note she in turn was taught by Stanley McCandless, who I consider to be my Lighting Great-Grandfather!)

    An article, recently published in the USITT magazine TD&T, titled "Lighting Technology Education in the 21st Century" by Autum Casey and Todd Proffitt, addresses these issues too.  Students these days just gravitate to the tech and have no concept of design. And, on the flip side, for those of us teaching these 'digital native' students, it mentions that often times, while we can teach the design aspects of the craft we are often behind in the technological advances.  I for one didn't learn how to actually patch an LED until a few years ago, even though I've been designing with them since they first started hitting the scene about a decade ago.

    And, back to McCandless…
    Because many Drama teachers (who are charged with teaching tech, despite the fact that their degrees are in literature, acting and directing!) aren't familiar with lighting either - design or tech – some have no choice but to just set the 'digital native' kids loose on the boards.  Then lighting 'design' becomes a case of 'oh, we have a dark spot over there, let's hang a light to fill it in'.  Then you get the situation I show on this page: http://www.presett.org/repplot.html - scroll down to Area Lighting Distribution – where lighting the stage just becomes even more of a confusion. When I am hired by a high school to design and install (if I'm local) their rep plots, I'm tearing my hair out too – and I know what I'm doing!  It takes hours of work to unravel the confused chaos and create something that the teachers and students not only finally understand, but continue to use.

    Lighting design is probably the most non- understood of all the theatre designs.  In your life you have probably used a hammer and saw on a piece of wood for something around the house or garden.  You have probably listened to a song on the radio or CD in your car and adjusted the base/treble, or "EQ'd it", as they say.  You have possibly also dragged out your sewing machine to make a costume for your kid or yourself, or at least sewn on a button. But other than replacing a "light bulb" (it's called a LAMP by the way!), or perhaps purchasing a lighting fixture, you probably didn't give much thought to what the light that comes out of the pretty fixture actually "does".  These life experiences, coupled with your fear of being zapped when working with electricity, have probably made you much more comfortable with – and somewhat familiar with - sets, costumes and sound, than lighting.  That's why you'll see an organized costume and scene shop in a high school theatre, but few organized lighting systems. No wonder teachers shy away from it.

    Kudos to Kristin for teaching tech in middle school – especially with limited capabilities!  I've found that tech kids of any age are pretty engaged, and of course, tech savvy. I even mentored the 5th/6th Grade Stage Lighting Crew at my own kids' school for many years (they had a nice little two scene preset board and 28 instruments for their little common-room stage), which the kids quickly picked up on running But, even at that age, I also  required them to attend a training on lighting design at the start of each year.  I wanted them to know why they were doing what they were doing.

    I too liked your chart – a few more suggestions…

    To Functions I would also add "motivated light" – for instance, when a character turns on a light switch and the board op takes the cue.  That light cue is "motivated" by something the character does.  Light can also be "motivated" by a sunset happening, or because a character moves from the front porch at night to a lit living room. There's also "practicals" which, as it sounds, are actual practical fixtures – table lamps, floor lamps, wall sconces, which the actors may turn on themselves and/or they are programmed into the cues.

    For Tools – speaking of McCandless - McCandless determined that there are four properties of light that can be manipulated to create mood and location, or to draw the audience's attention.  The 4 (some say 5) "properties" of light are: color, intensity, distribution (this can mean a soft or hard focus, and/or it can mean the angle at which the light is 'aimed'), and movement (taking cues, which manipulates the other three properties).  Your terms each fit into one of these properties.

    I also appreciate that you have your students analyze (my term for it) the script.  The script, along with the blocking, can tell you a lot of what needs to happen and why it needs to happen. As mentioned before, light cues should have "motivation".  I find a lot of students who are attracted to running a light board also seem to equate lighting technology with flashy lights.  Just because you can do flashy lights, doesn't mean the play calls for them.  For instance I recently saw a production – at a professional theatre! – of "Grease".  Totally calls for flashy lights. The same designer lit "Ragtime" – same flashy lights.  Totally did NOT call for flashy lights.  Just because he had all of the technology available to him, did not mean he should have created a "light show" instead of supporting the play.

    I'm attaching a 'tool' I give to students and that's also found in my books and online courses, which explains the typical process a lighting designer goes through – "The Lighting Design Process".

    There's also a great series of videos on YouTube called "In the Wings – Jobs in Theatre".  Check them out!

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    Beth Rand, EBMS
    Educational Lighting Designer
    School Theatre Operations Coach

    www.PRESETT.org
    - LIGHTING INSTITUTE FOR THEATRE TEACHERS - ONLINE MINI COURSES (ask for free syllabus)
    - HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE OPERATIONS ONLINE COURSE FOR TEACHERS (ask for free syllabus)
    - HIGH SCHOOL THEATRE OPERATIONS BOOKS and FREE ARTICLE DOWNLOADS
    - THE ECLECTECH SHOPPE

    beth@PRESETT.org
    Westminster, CO
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    Attachment(s)

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    Lighting Design Process.pdf   1.42MB 1 version