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😉 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:
- 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 beforehand 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.