5 Quick Stage Lighting Teaching Ideas

In teaching the Elements of Production I have shared with you some of the ways I have introduced the topic and also taught Costume and Set Design. I thought I would also share with you some of the things I do when teaching lighting.

The biggest constraint I have is that I don’t have any sort of lighting rig set up in my classroom. The same goes with my sound set up. In liaising with the music department I could arrange to have all the sound equipment set up. Likewise for the lighting rig that we use at Presentation Night. I do find, however, having these constraints forces you to be creative and still conveys the intended message of the lesson without having to go through lengthy set-ups and organisation. A few simple resources are needed and away you go.

Some things you might like to try in your classroom are:

1. What’s the Purpose?

Discuss with your students what they think the purpose of stage lighting is. There are generally speaking, four main purposes:

  • To help the audience see the actors clearly;
  • To concentrate attention on a particular part of the stage (focus);
  • To create a particular atmosphere (incorporate colour, lighting direction);
  • To create special effects (e.g. strobe, UV, gobos).

I break down some of the technical words here, like “gobo,” “strobe,” “specials,” “hanging plot,” “rig” etc. More often than not, students know what they are they just don’t know the technical term for it.

2. The Importance of Colour

I spend time looking at the symbolic meaning behind the use of certain colours. I ask the students to consider what mood or effect is created on stage when these colours are used. You may like to show clips to assist the students understanding of this. I have found, that teaching this in the senior school, many students have been learning about the meaning of colour in their visual literacy units in English when in junior school so their background knowledge is more often than not, more than substantial on this.

3. Experiment with Lighting Direction

One day I was rummaging through our resource room when I found a light on a tripod stand. I think it was meant to be used for photography classes. Suffice to say, I now use it for Drama lessons šŸ˜‰ It works well because it is light and portable. If you don’t have something like this, torches (flashlights) are also an excellent way to explain the effect of lighting direction and its effect on meaning. Choose a student to be your actor and have them stand in the centre of the space. Make sure your light has a reasonable extension cord attached to it and move around the room to show lighting the actor and its effect on meaning from:

  • Above;
  • Below;
  • Behind;
  • Front;
  • Side;
  • Upstage/Downstage Angle.

If you have more than one light/torch also try lighting the actor from:

  • High angle, side backlight, front;
  • Two high, front lights.

I also bring in coloured cellophane as a cheaper alternative to actual lighting gels to show the effects of lighting from these angles and the effect using particular colours has on the scene with considerations made in terms of colours, angles and parts of the stage to be lit.

Lighting is a real artform in itself. I tend to shy away from a lot of the technical and rigging aspects because I feel that fundamentally the students only need a conceptual understanding with which to support their directorial concept. It can become confusing for both teacher and student if you start to delve into types of lights, how to rig, colour combinations on the face etc. It’s good that you as the teacher have an understanding of that but it is not always necessary to share that with your students. If one of your student’s is doing Lighting for the Individual Project in the HSC, that is a little different however and some more in depth knowledge will be needed.

4. Light a Scene

Select a script excerpt, read through it as a class and ask the students to pair up and design the lighting for the scene. They should consider the parts of the stage to be lit, the colours to be used, the angles and the intended atmosphere and mood. They should also consider how their choices reflect the intention of the scene.

5. Cue and Call

In continuing the exercise above, students can fill out a lighting cue sheet and have one of their pair call the cues, whilst the other operates the lights. Get other members of the class to act out the scene on stage. I often break down the cue sheet into parts beforehandĀ  and use it as my scaffold to get the students to understand the purpose of the cue sheet so that they can very carefully and clearly fill it in.


I use the Lighting Cue Template in Matthew Clausen’s book Centre Stage.

This Lighting Guide has some good pictures of what the different lighting angles should look like. It looks like it could be printable.

This page is good for explaining the importance of colour.

And finally, this YouTube clip is quite good at explaining the process a lighting designer goes through in order to work out what lighting is needed.

Do you have any good strategies for teaching lighting? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: DanBrady via Compfight cc


Costume and Set Design Teaching Ideas

This is my second post in my elements of production series. Today I’d like to look at some ideas to get student’s looking at the process of set and costume design in a theatre production.

In my previous post we explored the idea that the main jobs of the creative production crew is to interpret a script so that it reflects the playwright’s intentions as well as the director’s creative vision. Primarily, the creative aspects intention is to capture and enhance the mood and atmosphere of the play. It’s important to instill in student’s that reading and understanding the play is a necessity as well as being able to effectively describe and analyse the character’s and their motivations.

Design is not the last part of a production process. It is not an afterthought. It should be integrated into the pre-production process with as much importance as any of the other areas in the production.

I theme my entire elements of production unit around musicals a) because I love them and b) they are really good at highlighting the elements of design and the way characters and ideas are exaggerated and brought to life.


In preparing student’s to look at the areas of costume and set design they first need to understand the seven basic principles used in design. I like to use the following anagram:

  • Drama (Direction)
  • Students (Shape)
  • Like (Line)
  • To (Tone)
  • Create (Colour)
  • Silly (Space)
  • Theatre (Texture)

To get student’s thinking about these have a selection of images that focus on or combine of number of the design principles. Discuss the effect of the image in capturing a sense of mood and atmosphere. Artworks or photographs would be great here.


There are a couple of fun “mini activities” that I like to do before knuckling down and really interpreting a script.

1. Toilet Paper Costumes – Have you ever been to a Kitchen Tea? One of those hideous pre-wedding rituals designed to make women squeal over kitchen appliances? If the answer is yes, then you’ve probably played the game where you’ve had to dress a guest in a wedding dress that is made out of toilet paper. I don’t get my student’s to make wedding dresses but I do get them to use the toilet paper to design and dress up a student as a priest, soldier, nurse, anything you like really. Without realising it the student’s are thinking about all the design principles as well as accessories, shoes, maybe even make-up. Give student’s a time limit too to keep the pressure on.

2. Crime Scene Cut Outs – Remember when you were a kid and you and your siblings would be given sidewalk chalk and you all lay down in your drive-ways and traced around your entire body as though you were marking a dead corpse at a crime scene? Try something similar with your students using large rolls of butcher’s paper. Each student gets a large piece of butcher’s paper, they pair up and one person traces the other and vice versa. You can then either have student’s use textas, crayons, paint (if you’re game) create a costume representation of their partner thinking about clothing, shoes, accessories, hair and make-up. Stick them up on the classroom wall as a celebration of their designs.

3. Select a Scene – Once kids are in the swing of thinking about costume design it is then that you can knuckle down and find a selection of scenes or stage directions from one or a variety of plays and get student’s to think about how they would design the costumes for those characters. I like to read scenes out because I think it gives away more clues as to character. I then give my student’s a template (here) and literally get them to pencil in the costume and colour it in.

4. Write About It – A writing activity that could be attached to this exercise is one where we get the student’s to explain which elements of design they have used and why. How does it link back to the character, the scene, the play as a whole?

Finally, here are some videos you might like to use in your classroom (all musical inspired of course!):


Here are some ideas that I like to use in my classroom when teaching set:

1. Look through the Director’s Kaleidescope – Similar to the introductory exercise above about the elements of design, this time I find pictures of actual sets (just Google your favourite shows) and print them out onto large A4, A3 pieces of paper in colour. I break student’s into groups and together they go to a “set design station” which has one of the pictures, a sheet with the elements of drama on it and a sheet with the elements of design on it. Underneath the picture I leave a bit of space for the student’s to add their thoughts about mood, atmosphere, any other elements of drama or elements of design.

2. Looking from the Bird’s Eye – I then do another exercise similar to “Select a Scene” but instead of drawing the cosutmes we look at drawing the set from both a Bird’s Eye View as well as a front on view. You might also like to explore the variou stage spaces around your school and discuss how setting this same scene would be different depending on where it is being performed.

3. Dress the Set – If you have the resources and/or a bit of ingenuity and creativity use what is available to you to get you and your student’s to actually create a real life set. Present a scene for a guest audience. You might even like to incorporate your costume designs from the “Select a Scene” exercise here.

Finally here are some videos on set design that I think could be great for the classroom:

mannequins / Kris Sikes / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Elements of Production Teaching Suggestions

Over the next couple of posts I am going to look at the elements of production. The series will look at teaching:

  • The Elements, The Production Process, Roles and Responsibilities
  • Design – Set, Costume, Poster/Promotion
  • Design – Lighting and Sound
  • Direction
  • Theatre Criticism

I have just started this unit with my class and thought it would be a good idea to share my classroom experiences in real time rather than quite a while later as I have done with some of my other posts.

So here’s a suggestion for introducing the elements, the production process and roles and responsibilities to your students.


  • To establish the idea that theatre is not just about the actor’s but a whole team of people;
  • That it is a lengthy process requiring considerable planning with people from various areas of responsibility;
  • That the team’s primary role is to interpret a text and bring it to life on stage.

Remember: Try to re-inforce the idea that this is a “directing” course, not a theory course.

There’s No “I” in Team:

  • Form student’s into small groups.
  • Give each group a photograph.
  • Assign each group member with a role: director, actor, costume designer, set/props and any other role you like.
  • Allow each group 5 minutes to recreate a scene from the photograph but they must change it in some way to make it original.
  • Whilst groups are working out what they are doing, walk around and whisper “commands” into certain people’s ears, e.g. “Refuse to do anything,” “Let the actor do whatever he/she wants.”
  • Have each group present their photograph performance.
  • Afterwards ask groups to talk about how well or perhaps how well they did not work together and what they felt would have made the team work even better. The pressurised time situation is bound to bring out some interesting responses. You could also link in a discussion about the workplace and any similiarities or connections seen from the exercise.
  • Use this as a lead in to discuss the concept of a production team and the various roles in that team. Have handouts at the ready here with lists of responsibilities for each role.
  • Get student’s to complete a “heirarchy chart” of the various production roles that looks at the areas of responsibility and who is “in charge” of who.
  • Lead into a discussion about the three parts of the production process: pre-production (70%), production (10%) and post-production (30%). Yes, that does equal 110%. As well as, of course, how could we forget, Murphy’s Law and the need to be prepared for anything that may go wrong.

Paint By Number:

  • Create a workstation for each student with newspaper, paint brushes, water and a selection of colours (I use the primary colours).
  • Give each student 4 sheets of A3 paper. Have them number them 1-4 and put their name on the back of each.
  • Select four differing pieces of music. You could base these on the Laban movements. So, something soft, flowing and melancholic, something short, sharp and up-tempo, something constant and rhythmic, something brimming with tension.
  • As each piece of music plays, have the student’s paint what comes into their minds using the various colours, mixing colours, using shapes, line and pattern.
  • You can leave the exercise here at this point or as an extension to this exercise you could have the student’s write about what they created and which elements of drama they were drawing upon.
  • Finish the lesson by reinforcing that what the student’s did was to interpret and utilise their imaginations to create an original work that could then become a set or a costume design.

Here are some photos of what my student’s did during their lesson this week.

Image Credit: karlao, Paint by Number Activity, 2011.