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 😉 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 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.

Photo Credit: DanBrady via Compfight cc


My Musings: Why Arts Educators are Important

Where are our stars of the future coming from?

Up until now I haven’t really expressed too many deep seated philosophical opinions on the blog. I find it hard to articulate the immense feelings I have towards arts education and my role as an arts educator.

However, I now think it’s important that educators understand the subtle differences in someone who is an arts educator and someone who isn’t. I’m not saying arts educators are any better than any other educator. There are many things that are universal in teaching regardless of subject area or age. However, I would like people to appreciate how hard we work in the arts and why. Again, not that someone in another subject area works any less hard but arts educators are different. They are tapping into a different energy and it is vital this continues if we are to continue to have a holistic approach to education. Arts education needs to continue to be valued and sometimes I’m afraid people forget this and we are losing the fight.

This post isn’t a whinge-fest either. Far from it. I love what I do and wouldn’t change it for a second.

In high schools in particular there are teachers who are incredibly precious towards their subjects. They are unaware of the approaches taken in classrooms in different faculty areas. I know I’m taking a risk simply saying that. They are unaware that for some student’s and for some subject areas this is an effective approach and one, that if it is working, should be nourished and allowed to blossom. Now, I’m not saying these approaches are any better than any other but they are to be respected and appreciated for what they are. We need to engage kids in ways that keep them interested and learning something. If these approaches are working, why stop them?

This weekend I had an opportunity to attend the DEC’s, The Arts Unit, Schools Spectacular Stage Management Program. In the program we looked at the areas of production management, lighting and sound, risk assessment, stage management, props, costumes and set design and making all of which are needed to put a successful production together. Often all of these things are done by only one teacher and in addition to their teaching load. It was a time not only to refresh skills but to reflect on what I do as a drama teacher every day and the direction in which my teacher career is going.

If you have not heard of the Schools Spectacular it is the largest student arts entertainment program in the southern hemisphere. Over 3000 children from across NSW come together each year to perform at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. Showcasing music, dance, art and drama, audiences are dazzled by the array of talent of students from over 250 public schools. It is broadcast each year on ABC1 and ABC2. It is a huge undertaking supported by 100’s of teacher’s. Check out the clip below from a segment in the 2010 concert.

I had the opportunity to work on it for the first time in 2009 and I have to say it was one of the most positive, uplifting experiences of my teaching career so far. The joy and enthusiasm from the students is infectious and it is a refreshing, optimistic injection to your daily teaching life. Particularly when some of my daily struggles include disinterested kids, lack of drama classes, behaviour problems, challenging learning behaviours, lack of time, cultural and social constraints, budget and resources. You need a lift to get you through the moments when you feel like you’re just surviving.

It is at this time when I often think, “Why do I do this? Is it worth it?”

So why do I do it:

  • I love Drama. It is one of the most beautiful, expressive art forms that show the fragility of life in such a tender, creative way. I want to share that with everyone
  • It may be the only experience a child ever gets. Working in the kind of school that I do, one where arts education isn’t really valued and most students have never set foot in an art gallery or theatre in their lives, I see it as being my most important duty to ensure kids know something about the arts before they leave high school.
  • I love seeing the fruits of my labour. I’m a sucker for working hard and I love organising events. Especially ones where I know kids are going to appreciate the experience and there is a final finished polished product.

All of this I love sharing with other teachers. All, teachers, not just arts educators are trying their best to activate change in the communities in which they work. Every child wants to connect to something, find their home. The beauty of arts education and the importance of all those extra-curricular programs that are run by them after school and on weekends is that it provides more opportunity for them to explore and find what makes them tick.

I believe, without arts education humans as people are missing a vital part of living and connecting with a vital part of themselves. Now, with the school leaving age having been raised to 17 across Australia I believe these programs are even more important and parents, teachers, administrators need to acknowledge the need for these. Add to this the creation of the Australian National Curriculum and the need for hours to be allocated that validate the importance of this subject to that of a holistic education for all Australian children.

Why do you teach? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Image Credits: Twinkle Star, DaGoaty, Licensed Under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Perfect My Practice: The Drama Learning Space

I wanted to share my classroom with you today. It’s my office and it’s where I go to everyday to (hopefully) transform lives.

I’ve been thinking about doing this for awhile for a couple of reasons.

As much as I love my learning space, I also don’t like it very much. It’s a love/hate relationship. I have an ideal of  and how I would like my classroom to function and I often have to put it to the back of my mind but every now and then it resurfaces and reminds me of what I need to do to it. What I wanted to do was get feedback from readers on ways that I could potentially make this room a better space. A performance space as much as a learning space. As much as these photos may look like an OH&S issue waiting to happen, we seem to function quite well in here – and pass OH&S assessments 🙂

My classroom is actually a converted art room. It was painted black to resemble the inside of a darkened theatre. You wouldn’t believe how many kids ask me why it’s painted black. That’s how many of them have never been to a theatre. The windows open and close and the large black rostra I got one of my colleague’s construction classes to make. The seats open and close so we can store costumes, props, lighting equipment etc in them. I’m hoping to get another one built. The fans work but get stuck at a certain speed. It can be stifling in summer and in winter it is finger-numbingly cold. The heater is one of those gas numbers. Not good for our lungs apparently.

The kids created this “lounge” using the portable blocks. Portable blocks are fantastic for the classroom and can be used for everything whether it be creating minimal sets for performances or simply to use in classroom exercises. They are very practical. You can probably see a large, orange rectangle on the floor. That is where this giant cupboard used to be. I got our maintainence man to rip them it out last year and the space it’s created has made such a difference. I got the kids to paint it black for me. I’d ideally like to have mirrors along this entire wall and a curtain that can be pulled across it. I’d also like the curtains to cover the sides of the room and act like “wings” for the performance space. There are two metal bars on each side of the classroom that can be used to put lights on. What do you think?

I have a portable white board that I can move around the room. It’s even become a prop at times. We have been learning how to write expositions in drama. That is the scaffold written on the board. “Drama is a beneficial subject” was my statement for argument 🙂

I added some colour to my classroom by getting the elements of drama printed up on separate pieces of different colour paper, in different fonts and laminated. I then pinned them to one of the two noticeboards in the room.

This is the other noticeboard. The purple poster in the middle displays the different careers you can have if you enjoy “entertainment”. The other purple poster “Nail Every Answer” was a poster designed by our maths department to develop the practice of Newman’s Error Analysis. It is a step by step guide to reading, understanding and answering a question. Other things on display include something we call a “Senior Charter”, linking words when writing in Drama, and a reminder about not taking photos of video of others without their permission.

Now, for my eyesores in the room…

Ugh, a remnant from its former life as an art room. I’m tossing up whether to get rid of it. Should I?

This is part of the art room cupboards I could not get rid of because the previous teacher put in a three phase power supply here. I’m really keen to get something portable so I can get rid of this but from my research they are all very dear and my budget is only $600. Yes, $600. What do you think I can do about this?

Finally, this is my storage space. I share it with the art and photography teachers. I hate it. Many teachers and parents have shown me enormous generosity in the time that I have been a teacher at my school. They have donated props and costumes and anything they think could be a set piece they’ve given it to me. I’ve had to start saying no however because I have nowhere to put anything. I bought some horribly cheap clothes racks and they fell apart so now the clothes are in piles, or crates. I hate that I don’t have a definite space to have student’s come in and choose props and costumes to use and then put them back when they’re finished. Kind of like a library but without books. What can I do?

Do you have any suggestions on how I could improve my classroom? What is your learning space like? Do you love it/hate it? What would you change? Please share them with me in the comments.

Image Credits: The Drama Room, karlao, 2011