Theatre Stage Lights: What Do I Need for a Basic Show?5 min read

Stage in the abandoned theatre
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If you’re running a small production – like a community, school, or church show – it’s easy to become overwhelmed by choice. The sheer number of theatre stage lights on the market is often astounding, particularly if anyone creating their first basic production.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a setup that’ll meet your needs with relative ease. By understanding how certain theatre stage lights work, you can choose a few options that cover the critical bases.

The Three Types of Lighting You Need for Theatre Stage Lights

Generally speaking, there are three main types of theatre stage lighting. Each one covers a critical function, ensuring you have the right mix to handle any lighting need for your production.

Here’s a look at what each one brings to the table.

Spot Fixtures

etc sourcefour spot shining white spot light on gray wall

With spot fixtures, you can light very specific areas on the stage or create dramatic shadowing. The lighting is highly directional with distinct, hard edges. You can use spot fixtures to highlight one part of the scene, apply gobos for lighting effects, or use them at angles to create harsh, deep shadows.

Usually, for stage productions, you’ll use Leko lights or moving head lights to cover this category. You might also consider manual spotlights, as you can use those to follow a performer across the stage or force the audience to do a quick shift in focus along a specific line.

Wash Fixtures

Robe lighting BMFL wash beams shining green light

In many ways, wash fixtures are a counter to spot fixtures. They offer up a soft edge and solid diffusion, allowing you to bathe an area in light instead of focusing on a single object, one performer, or a small section of the stage. Traditionally, wash fixtures are used for backlighting or set lighting washes, though it’s possible to use them for front lighting, too.

There are a few theatre stage lights that fall into this category. Par, fresnels, cyc, strip, and moving wash lights are all available. However, fresnels and moving wash lights are likely the most common in theatre productions, so if you have a smaller show and limited lighting budget, you may want to start there.

Beam Fixtures

Beam lights on truss shining white and red lights

If you need a very narrow light beam, then beam fixtures are your go-to solution. They make it possible to pinpoint an area. Essentially, these highly focused and directional lighting fixtures create a strict tube of light. It’s all about dynamic lighting that imbues a sense of energy and excitement into a show.

In many cases, smaller shows can view these lights as optional. They lean a bit edgy, so they might not be necessary for more subdued productions. However, they can be an interesting addition to high-energy musicals or similar shows.

Moving Theatre Stage Lights: Do Small Stage Shows Need Them?

While they were original designed for high-energy concerts, moving theatre stage lights can have their place in small productions and plays. Moving lights are incredibly adaptable, allowing you to get several functions in a single fixture.

With these lights, you can achieve a level of lighting agility you may otherwise struggle to accomplish. You can harness several lighting attributes at once, including altering the shape, intensity, color, and direction of the light with relative ease.

The main drawback to moving lights is the overall complexity. Since the number of options created by these theatre stage lights far exceeds what you’ll find in more streamlined fixtures, it can make settling on choices surprisingly tricky. But that does mean you have more possibilities, which could be ideal if you want your show to be especially dynamic.

Choosing the Right Theatre Stage Lights for Your Show

church stage lighting setup before show

If you want to make sure you have the right theatre stage lights for your show, your first step is to envision how you want each scene to look. Consider how you need to direct the attention of the audience, set a mood, or otherwise use lighting to augment the rest of the production. Often, those points alone can serve as a basic guide.

However, you can also dig deeper. Take the time of day various scenes occur into consideration, as well as the number of performers on the stage, how they will move through the space, and whether they need equal audience attention at various moments. It’s also wise to consider if you ever need to use lighting to simulate movement, such as a chase, or create other effects.

Once you have those points figured out, you can usually start narrowing down your theatre stage lighting options. Refer to the overviews above and select lights from each of the categories you’ll want to use. That way, you can have everything you need for a stellar production.

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