Video transcript
Art Bites - Lighting - 04 Communicating a design

>> Back to video

[musical jingle]

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Hi, my name is Lincoln Gidney, and welcome to our fourth lighting design lesson. Today, we're going to cover how to document and communicate designs, as well as how to operate our shows from backstage. We'll discuss lighting plans, cue sheets, and the role of the stage manager. Our operating principle for the lesson is going to be the fact that someone with a basic knowledge of stage management and lighting design should be able to pick up your notes and plans and enact your design without any further input from you.

First, let's talk about lighting plans, also known as lighting plots. Last lesson, we created this design, Richard III's opening monologue. We used a lot of different lights and effects for this monologue.

So when we're setting up our lights, or if we have to recreate our design, we want to have a concrete map of what goes where. Our lighting plan is this map and is central to the work of lighting design. We start a scale drawing of our theatre space complete with the rigging bars, which we hang most of our lights off, power outlets, and various other bits of information.

Here's a blank lighting plan for the Rex Cramphorn Studio. You can see the scale clearly marked out at the top and each of the lighting bars clearly drawn. You can also see each power outlet on each of the bars is easily identifiable. The technician has also included a lot of other bits of valuable information. See if you can find some of them.

Depending on the space, you might have information like the white writing of the bars, how much they can carry, where the seating is, what the set looks like, and all sorts of other information. It really depends on the show and the space, but generally, the more comprehensive you can be, the better.

For our purposes today, we're going to use a very simple plan. That's just because our performance took place in a very simple space. With this blank canvas, we draw a symbol for each light we want to use and place it on the plan where we want it to go. We make sure that it is pointing in the direction where we want the real light to focus. There are some standard symbols for generic lamps, but it's best to make a legend specifying which symbol is which anyway so we can get a good idea of what lights we need.

Once we have the positions of our lights mapped out, we can start to add any other information we might need. This can include labelling the lights, grouping them if needs be, defining what focus areas they might have, labelling any gel colours used or if the light has any special gobos. It's also important to note if the light is set up in any unusual ways, like being on a stand or tree or hidden beneath something. With this complete plan, we have a document guiding us for an efficient and accessible setup.

With our lighting rig completely mapped out, you can also create what's called a patch list. This is simply a list of which lights are plugged into which outlets. So when we plug everything in backstage, we know what lights are being powered. It's also good practise to include the wattage of the lights on your patch list so we don't overload any of our circuits.

At this point, you can also DMX address your lights. If we recall how DMX addressing works, you start with number one, our first DMX address and say if the light on address one uses one channel. Next light will be on address two. If that light uses, say, three channels, the next light along will be on address five because the light on address two uses channels two, three, and four. A lot of modern lighting boards automatically do this arithmetic for you, but it's important that you're able to do it as well.

Now with our lights fully documented, we can start to approach our design in the performance. We'll need to have something called a cue sheet, which has a few different component parts. First is our annotated copy of the script.

We take the script of the piece and write in all the cues we want to happen. This includes sound cues as well. Generally, lighting cues are notated as LX and then the cue number, and sound cues are notated as SFX and then the cue number as well.

Remember this performance of Richard III's opening monologue from the last video? Well, the plans and patch sheet I've already shown you are for that simple design that we looked at. Here is the script for that piece. You can see each lighting cue written into the margins.

It's also a good idea to have a separate cue sheet with all the cues of the scene outlined and what happens for each scene. This can include, but isn't limited to, stuff like the fade times, what lights are on, and a description of the moment. This is so someone else can envision your design.

Here's what that completed cue sheet looks like for our design. You can see each cue, information about the cue, and a bit of a directorial or creative vision for each moment. Some designers choose to give a creative outline in their patch sheet instead, defining each light's individual purpose. However, as we reuse lights a few times, we opted for this format. Here are some summaries for each part of the design documentation process.

Now we've got all the information about the design documented, we should consider the work that actually occurs during the show. Almost always, a production will have a stage manager which, among many, many other duties, will call the show. This entails being on some form of communication, usually a headset, and calling to the various operators and stagehands when everything should happen.

They will listen and watch the show from backstage and call out something like, LX 10, standby, when the cue is about to happen, and then call, go, at the perfect moment. The stage manager is responsible for the complete organisation of the show and make sure that night to night, everything runs perfectly.

The stage manager is in charge of getting the show to run smoothly and has a really wide range of duties from the earliest rehearsals to the bump out at the end of the run. I talked to Sorie Bangura, a professional stage manager and production coordinator, to get an insight into the role.

SORIE BANGURA: My name is Sorie Bangura. I am the current production manager for Australian Theatre for Young People, and I've also worked as the stage manager for On Stage and Stage Drama Festival for the Arts Unit for more than the past eight years.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: I guess the first part is, how does-- say you've got a show coming up or something. How does that process start for you?

SORIE BANGURA: For me as a production manager, I get privy to the year ahead, and so I pretty much help create the creative team. Sometimes, I will double as stage and production manager, which is pretty tough at times, especially during production week. Not gonna lie, it's a pain, but it's pretty rewarding. For the Arts Unit, I just get contacted and saying, these are the dates, rock up.

And for those big festivals, it's a very quick process in terms of seeing it, taking it, and then calling the show. Generally, I would have seen the piece twice, and then the next time I see it, it's in front of an audience, packed house. And I'm responsible for calling the show then. So it takes a bit of memory work, and sometimes you have to quickly write notes as you go along. And then when you're calling the show, you read your notes, and you have no idea what it is that means.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Yeah, absolutely.

SORIE BANGURA: Sometimes, I'll read, boy goes downstage. And I'm looking downstage, and there's like four boys. I'm like, which boy am I talking about?

LINCOLN GIDNEY: On that first viewing of the show, whether it's in rehearsal or during tech week or whatever it is, what are you doing? What are you paying attention to? Are you writing notes?

SORIE BANGURA: So the way we generally work is I will see it once, and I usually have the lighting designer right next to me. I follow the script and watch at the same time, and I say this is potential. So I'll quickly mark it on the page where this moment is, keep going, where this moment is, where this is. And the director will go give notes to them while the lighting designer will start putting some cues together.

As we go along, I'll try and go, what was this moment? And I've got it down in the script they've given me. I circle it, they know what it is, they give you the cue number. The next time we run it, we run it as per show. So they will go, OK, we're starting.

The actors come on stage, I call lights, they start it, and I call the cue, OK the queue as we go along the whole show. And at the end, if there's any issues, we'll tweak a few things. If not, the lighting designer will be tweaking with the lighting operator while they're running. But I get major say so. If the next cue's coming up and also fixing a certain cue, I just get to call the next cue, and I'll go back to that afterwards.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: On sort of that tech week bump in period, what does your team look like? If you're stage manager, who have you got working with you and working around you?

SORIE BANGURA: This for a show or for the festival?

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Both. I'm sure it changes from--

SORIE BANGURA: Yeah, so as production manager, me, I'll have two to three helpers who are there. We do a pre-reading on Sunday and try to get as much of the set into the space as we can. Monday, it's continuing with the lighting rig, focusing, and then plotting as well as getting the set in completely. So then that leaves Tuesday for little fix-ups here and there and a cue to cue and a tech rehearsal.

And generally, we get the actors in in the afternoon on the Tuesday, and they'll have a run through in the space. Wednesday, it's playtime. Generally, we'll get the actors in, and we'll do a technical rehearsal with them. And then we'll do a dress run. And then in the evening, it's generally the first preview.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Great, and so we've gotten to show day, so to speak, or preview, even. And so what are you doing in the lead up to a show? So in a couple hours before from call time and during the show itself? Where are you, what are you doing, what are you keeping an eye on?

SORIE BANGURA: So before the show, generally I'm the first one there. So you open up the theatre, open up the stage door so the actors can come in. To power everything up, you do a lighting check, so lamp check to make sure the lights are on. Sound check, make sure everything's working. And then you just leave it as, give the stage a sweep.

You hopefully would have done the costumes the night before. If not, a quick Febreze, no one knows. Again, just generally setting up, make sure all the actors have arrived on time. Generally, we like them to arrive an hour and a half or an hour beforehand, always checking your phone because actors are notorious for being late.

Then you start giving them a countdown. So generally you tell them, OK, 10 minutes before the doors are open. You are all backstage ready to go. Actors will do their warm-ups. That's just your time just to relax, and hopefully, you've done your checks.

Then, I go once 10 minutes to doors opening are up. I run backstage. You do a quick once over. You ask all the actors have you got your props? Have you got everything in set? Great.

Then you contact front of house, tell them you're ready to open. And then pre-show state is up, pre-show music is up, and you're just in the [? buyer ?] box, waiting for the audience to come in. And then once you get given the thumbs up, you're in control and everyone's ready to go.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Once, it's sort of lights up, you'd be calling cues from then?

SORIE BANGURA: The process there, sometimes you're calling or sometimes you're operating.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: All right, is that dependent on how many people you've got involved?

SORIE BANGURA: Yeah. Depends on the budget as well. So with ATYP, stage manager operates. Some places, we have another operator, so you can split it up so they can do sound, you do lights, or vise versa. For the Arts Unit, I purely just call the show.

LINCOLN GIDNEY: Well, thank you so much for sitting down and having a chat with me.

As you can see, the stage manager does a lot and is a very important role, one of the most exciting opportunities in the theatre. I hope this has given you a good insight into the fantastic albeit sometimes unseen work backstage. This lesson, we've covered the process of defining, communicating, and enacting your design, and now you should have all the tools you need to create your own full lighting designs.

End of transcript