Think of the last time you walked into a theater. Do you remember the initial feeling you had when the curtain rose? Were you tense, happy, scared, excited, or relaxed? Believe it or not, the lighting probably set the tone for the remainder of the theater experience you had. In fact, psychological studies have shown us that color and lighting has a huge impact on our mood and overall well-being and that lighting experts have been using this knowledge for years to enhance our theater experience. Let’s take a closer look at the impact of lighting design.
At any given moment our senses are collecting hundreds of pieces of information about our environment. The colors, smells, sights, temperature, feel, and so many more components go into how we interact with or feel about the world around us. The same goes for our experiences in the theater.
Imagine you walk into a theater where there are dark shadows that cover the stage, shabby furnishings scattered around, and actors that are dressed in ragged clothing. Your initial impression may be one of concern, fear, or curiosity. Imagine the same theater, this time with bright lighting, colorful backgrounds, and actors who are singing happily. Your sensory input has dramatically changed, right? That is how the theater can use colors and light to change how theatergoers experience the show.
Direction of Light
One aspect that lighting design experts have to consider when setting a mood on a stage is the direction of the light. For example, if the lighting team is trying to create a scene with tension they may want direct light from above to shine on the main action on the stage while darkening the rest of the area. Another example would be creating low or dim lighting to add a sense of mystery, privacy, or intimacy. Lighting the walls, ceiling, and props can give a sense of spaciousness as well as direct your attention to the portion of the stage where the action is the greatest.
The Type of Lighting
Theatergoers know that the lighting team can create all sorts of emotions depending upon the type of light they use. For example, a spotlight can draw your attention right to the main action during a monologue to important action that is occurring on stage. Colored filters can be used with this lamp to change the overall mood as well.
A floodlight gives a wide area where action can occur on the stage. A strobe is a flashing light, that is used for special effects. It’s often used to give the effect of old movies. It produces a jerky effect on the movements of actors when used on its own.
Lights can be useful for defining different locations on the stage, creating mood and atmosphere, highlighting key moments of action, and directing the audience’s focus. Lighting can denote the time of year or day and can also be used in an abstract or symbolic way, such as using a red light to symbolize danger or passion. How does your theater use lighting? Give us some tips in the comments.