Theatrical Lighting 101: The Basics

Theatrical Lighting 101: The Basics

The magic of a theatrical performance is not just in its compelling script or talented performers; it’s also in the ambiance created by the lighting. Theatrical lighting is an art form that transforms a stage into a canvas, where light and shadow play crucial roles in conveying emotions and setting the mood. Starlite understands the power of lighting in bringing a production to life. With years of expertise in providing theatrical lighting solutions, we’re here to shed light on the essentials.

Understanding Theatrical Lighting

Theatrical lighting refers to the practice of using light and lighting effects to enhance, support, and integrate with the performance of a theatrical production. It’s a crucial element in creating the atmosphere, mood, and visual impact of stage plays, musicals, operas, dance performances, and other live events. Theatrical lighting goes beyond merely illuminating the stage and actors. It is an art form that contributes significantly to the storytelling and emotional experience of the audience.


Why is lighting important to any theatrical event?

Lighting plays a pivotal role in theatrical events for several reasons, each contributing to the overall impact and success of the production:


Visibility: At its most basic, lighting ensures the audience can see the performers and the set. Good lighting makes it possible to focus attention on the main action and ensures that facial expressions and movements are visible, even to those seated far from the stage.


Atmosphere: Lighting is a powerful tool for setting the mood of a scene. It can evoke emotions, from happiness and tranquility to tension and fear. For example, warm, soft lighting can create a soft, intimate atmosphere, while stark, harsh lighting can convey a sense of danger or unease.


Guiding the Audience’s Attention: Lighting directs the audience’s focus to where it needs to be at any given moment. It can highlight a single individual, a group, or a specific part of the set, guiding the audience through the story.


Enhancing Scenic Design: Lighting can complement and enhance the scenic design, adding depth and dimension to the stage. It can create the illusion of different times of day, change the perceived setting, or highlight specific aspects of the set.


Creating Special Effects: Lighting is essential for creating various special effects on stage. This includes simulating natural phenomena like sunrise, or sunset, and creating abstract effects that contribute to the storytelling.


Enhancing Performance: Good lighting enhances the performers’ work, allowing them to convey their characters’ emotions and intentions more effectively. It can also influence the pace and rhythm of the performance.


Technical and Safety: Proper lighting is crucial for the safety of performers and crew members. It ensures that everyone can see clearly, preventing accidents and ensuring smooth scene changes and movements on stage.


What lighting is used in theatre?


A variety of lighting types are employed to achieve the desired artistic effects. Each type of lighting serves a specific purpose and contributes uniquely to the overall production. 

  • Ellipsoidal Spotlights: These lights, often called “lekos”, are versatile and can be focused to create a sharp or soft-edged beam. They are often used for their ability to shape light using shutters and to project patterns (gobos).
  • PARs: These are versatile, easy-to-use lights that produce a variety of looks from a concentrated beam to soft, blended washes. They can be used for general stage coverage or lighting scenery. In addition to theatre, they are often used in concerts and dance performances.  
  • Intelligent Lighting: These automated lights can be programmed to move, change colors, and alter patterns. They are used for dynamic lighting effects, quick repositioning of “specials” and projection of gobos and effects. 
  • Striplights: These linear fixtures can be placed either on the stage floor or hung from a pipe batten. They are often used to light cycloramas and other backdrops. Some units have asymmetrical optics, providing even lighting from top to bottom. 
  • Followspots: Followspots are instruments that are manually controlled by an operator.  The operator has control of movement, color, and beam size. They are primarily used to highlight actors, but can also be used to highlight props or specific areas of the stage.


While many of these fixture types were traditionally lamp-based, LED lighting has become increasingly popular in theatre. Some of the advantages of LED lighting include: 

  • less maintenance
  • low heat emission 
  • increased energy efficiency


Lighting Design Basics

How do you light a theatre stage?

Lighting a theatre stage is a complex and creative process that involves a combination of technical expertise and artistic vision. Here’s an overview of how this is typically done:


  1. Understand the Vision: The first step is to understand the narrative, emotional tone, and specific requirements of the production to ensure that the lighting supports the overall vision.
  2. Develop a Lighting Plan: This plan outlines where lights will be placed, the types of lights used, and how they will be used to create different effects. 
  3. Choose the Right Equipment: Selecting the appropriate lighting fixtures is crucial. Choices depend on the desired effect – for instance, whether the scene calls for sharp focused light, soft washes, or colored lighting.
  4. Set Up and Position Lights: Lights are positioned based on the lighting plan. This involves placing lights at various angles and heights – front, back, side, overhead – to achieve the desired illumination and shadow effects.
  5. Rehearsals and Adjustments: During rehearsals, the lighting crew adjusts the lighting as needed. This phase often requires fine-tuning to perfect the look and feel of each moment of a performance.
  6. Safety Considerations: Throughout the setup and operation, safety is paramount. This includes securing all fixtures and cables, ensuring the lighting does not create hazardous conditions, and complying with all relevant safety standards.


Lighting a theatre stage is an art that combines technical skill with creative vision. This is achieved through various lighting setups, each designed to evoke specific emotions and enhance the storytelling. The use of color in lighting is particularly impactful. Different colors can dramatically alter the audience’s perception of a scene. Warm colors like reds and oranges can evoke feelings of warmth and passion, while cooler colors like blues and greens can create a sense of calm or sadness. Color choices can also have a significant impact on the appearance of costumes and scenery.  This application of color theory is crucial in designing effective theatrical lighting. 


Another important aspect is the balance between light and shadow. This balance is key to creating visual depth and dimension on stage. The strategic use of shadows can highlight certain elements, create mood, and add a sense of realism to the production. It’s not just about illuminating the space; it’s about shaping the light to enhance the visual storytelling.


The process of designing theatrical lighting is highly collaborative. Starlite specializes in providing custom lighting solutions tailored to the unique needs of each production. Our team works closely with clients to understand their vision and create lighting designs that bring their ideas to life. Our recent projects, which can be explored here, showcase our diverse capabilities and commitment to innovation in theatrical lighting.


Our commitment to quality, innovation, and customer satisfaction sets the team at Starlite apart. We’re ready to assist whether you’re looking for a custom lighting solution or need expert advice on your next production. Contact us today to bring your theatrical vision to light, and let us help you create an unforgettable stage experience.

Your Guide to Projection Mapping

Your Guide to Projection Mapping

Allow us to take you on a journey into an increasingly popular and cutting-edge technology —projection mapping. As experts in audio, visual, and lighting solutions, we understand the transformative power of this innovative technology and are dedicated to helping you bring your unique vision to life. Our first stop? The basics. Let’s go over the most common questions we hear about projection mapping.

What is meant by projection mapping?

Also known as video mapping, projection mapping is an advanced technique that involves projecting images or videos onto a three-dimensional surface. Unlike traditional projection methods that project onto flat screens, projection mapping allows for a much more versatile and dynamic experience by projecting onto any surface, from buildings to sculptures, and even people.

For example, take a look at our work at the Greensboro Science Center. Through projection mapping, we brought their building to life with imagery for their Winter Wonderlights holiday event. This created a visually stunning experience for visitors that helped give them a more engaged, sensory learning experience.

How is projection mapping done?

Projection mapping is made possible through sophisticated software, media server(s) and video projectors. The software is used to map the projection onto the specific surface, taking into account its unique geometry and shape. . This allows the image or video to be perfectly aligned with the surface. The process can be broken down into four main steps:

  1. Surface mapping: Map the projection onto the specific surface, taking into account its unique shape and characteristics.
  2. Content creation: Add additional elements like 2D or 3D video content, animation, or special effects to enhance the overall visuals and create a dynamic experience.
  3. Projection: The projectors are positioned and adjusted to ensure that the projection is properly aligned. If multiple projectors are used, they are blended to create a seamless image. The projections may be “warped” to compensate for field variations.
  4. Synchronization: To create a seamless and integrated experience, the projection is synchronized with other audio visual elements, such as sound, lighting, and special effects. This is done using specialized software that allows for precise timing and control.

What are the types of projection mapping?

There are several different types of projection mapping, each with its own set of capabilities and applications. Some of the most popular include:

  • Object Mapping: Projecting onto a specific object, such as a product, exhibit, or sculpture. Audiences are usually close to the object, so the visuals need to be impeccable.
  • Exterior: Transforming an exterior structure, like a building, using projections.=
  • Immersive: The audience is “immersed” in a virtual or augmented world of visuals, making them feel as if they’ve been transported to a completely different environment. This can be achieved with blended projections that can be on the walls, ceiling and floor.
  • Theatrical: Creating realistic and engrossing backdrops and scenes for theater audiences.

What do you need for projection mapping?

Projection mapping requires the following equipment and tools:

Projector: A high-quality projector with a high luminosity and resolution. Type and specifications depend on the size of the surface and the level of detail you want to achieve.

Surface: A three-dimensional surface to project your images onto. This can be anything from a building facade, a sculpture, or even a stage set.

Software: Projection mapping software is necessary to map the surface, control the projection, and synchronize it with other audio visual elements. This software requires an understanding of color calibration, alignment, and distortion correction in order to execute a project mapping project.

Computer: A powerful computer that has a high-end graphics card and processing power strong enough to handle the required calculations are necessary to run the software and project the images.

Audio visual equipment: Depending on the scale of your project, you will need equipment like speakers, lighting, and special effects that can all be synchronized to create a seamless and integrated experience.

Technical expertise: A team of experts who understand projection mapping techniques and technology. This includes technicians, designers, engineers, and project managers who can bring your vision to life and ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Projection mapping is a complex process, but with the right equipment and expertise, it can be an incredibly powerful and impactful tool for creating stunning visual experiences like this one for the Lankenau Hospital’s 150th anniversary celebration. For this event, we transformed their event space into a display of light to showcase its rich history and legacy.

If you’re interested in exploring the world of projection mapping for your next performance or project, the first step is finding the right provider. Whether you’re looking to create a one-off event or an ongoing display, Starlite can help you bring your vision to life. Our team of experts is committed to creating unique and innovative experiences that can help you turn your vision into a reality.

At Starlite, we’re dedicated to helping our clients create unforgettable audio visual experiences. Contact us today at [email protected] to discuss your next project.

Starlite Collaborates With Local Artist During Papal Visit In Philadelphia

Starlite Collaborates With Local Artist During Papal Visit In Philadelphia


Starlite and local artist, Meg Saligman have an extensive history of working together on one-of-a-kind projects – and this project was indeed unique and challenging.

The challenge was threefold:

First, we were tasked with projecting high-resolution images incorporating the iconic architectural features of the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul on an extremely oxidized copper dome (i.e. aqua).

We chose the Barco HDQ-2K40 projector which, with its 40,000-lumen output we were reasonably confident that it would do the trick, even though getting the 462-pound projector to the top floor would be a bear.

Next, projecting on a domed surface required the use of pixel mapping, which Starlite handled via it’s Hippotizer V4 media server.

Lastly, we had to locate the projector some 400 feet away from the dome, on the top floor of a hotel across the street, which was in the midst of a renovation…and just to make it a bit more challenging – where the Secret Service were positioned!

The content featured a 15-minute video reel consisting of various religious imagery and symbolizations that played on a loop every night of the World Meeting of Families.

While a project of this caliber requires weeks or months of planning and coordination, it is exhilarating to see such a historical go off flawlessly.