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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Lighting Design: Using Lights to Shape People, Objects, and Space

  • Author(s): Tsai, Chao-Yu
  • Advisor(s): Burrett, Alan
  • et al.

“Light is architectural. It is structural.”

- Robert Wilson

Lighting is a vital component of three-dimensional design. Not only does it provide the visibility required by live performance, but, if deployed efficiently, also highlights the specific characteristics of the illuminated objects and conceals their imperfections. Moreover, different angles and sources of theatre lighting can create the pertinent atmosphere and plasticity according to the particular genre, style, and dramatic situations on stage. Psychologically, through visual cues lighting often establishes the mood and impacts the audience perception. Sometimes it even foreshadows and prompts dramatic actions. Therefore, theatre lighting design, much more than data calculations, should be able to incorporate dramatic content, dance, spatial relations and embodiment, the cognitive needs of the audience, and collaborate with other design departments, including scenery, costume and sound, to construct an aesthetically coherent theatrical world.

Besides the functional purposes, it is significant for the lighting designers to take serious considerations of the palette of colors, choice of equipments, and other logistical matters.

Even though lighting is often the last element in the design process, a lighting designer must envision beforehand what effects different lighting angles and colors will generate on performers while ensure the lights will fit the atmosphere of a specific plot point. To me, what colors and angles can do visually and psychologically is extremely diverse and elastic. In Rhinoceros, for instance, my use of intense white light created the illusion of enlargement of the theatre space. As the plot advanced, however, by gradually reducing the illuminated area and switching colors, I successfully enabled the perception of the change in size of theatrical space and emotions. In Native Son, utilizing the lights in the trap space below to fabricate a fireplace and sculpt the actors and stage amplified the sense of three-dimensions.

Furthermore, lighting design is more than simply recreating the real world we experience every day, but a persistent attempt to realize the theatrical reality, that is, reality after meticulous dramatization. Lighting design is an endless road to the unknown.

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