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.

The Importance of Assistive Hearing Systems in Public Spaces

The Importance of Assistive Hearing Systems in Public Spaces

Hearing loss affects millions of individuals globally, significantly impacting their ability to participate fully in public life. In the United States alone, 15.5% of American adults have some degree of hearing impairment. This reality presents a unique challenge in ensuring that public spaces are accessible and inclusive for everyone. One of the key solutions to this challenge is the implementation of assistive listening systems. These systems are not just a means to comply with legal requirements but are also crucial in fostering an environment where every individual has the opportunity to engage and participate without barriers.

What is an assistive listening system?

Assistive hearing systems (AHS) are specialized audio solutions that aid individuals with hearing loss in various public settings. These systems work by enhancing sound clarity and reducing background noise, improving speech understanding and overall auditory experience. There are several types of AHS, each suited to different environments and needs:

  • Induction Loop Systems: Utilize electromagnetic fields to transmit sound directly to hearing aids equipped with telecoils (T-coils).
  • FM Systems: Employ frequency modulation to send audio signals to portable receivers worn by the user.
  • Infrared Systems: Use infrared light to transmit sound, ideal for confidential settings due to their limited range and inability to pass through walls.

Each system offers unique benefits, making it suitable for various settings, from theaters and classrooms to conference centers and public gatherings.

Are assisted listening devices required?

Legal Compliance with the ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates that public spaces provide accommodations to ensure accessibility for individuals with disabilities, including those with hearing impairments. This includes the requirement for assistive hearing systems in certain venues such as:

  • Theaters and Auditoriums: Must provide a certain number of listening devices based on seating capacity.
  • Classrooms and Conference Centers: Require systems that facilitate clear communication for all participants, including those with hearing loss.

…plus hotels, stadiums, museums, and more. Compliance with these regulations is not only a legal obligation but also a moral one, ensuring that public spaces are welcoming to everyone.

Technological Advancements in Assistive Hearing

Assistive hearing technology has seen remarkable advancements in recent years, significantly enhancing the user experience for individuals with hearing impairments. These technological improvements have not only made these systems more effective but also more user-friendly and adaptable to various environments.

  • Sophisticated Sound Processing: Modern assistive hearing systems now come equipped with advanced sound processing capabilities. This technology allows for clearer sound quality, reducing background noise and enhancing speech clarity, which is crucial in busy public spaces.
  • Wireless Connectivity: The integration of wireless technology has been a game-changer. Systems can now seamlessly connect with a range of devices, including smartphones and hearing aids, offering users a more personalized and convenient experience.
  • Discreet and Comfortable Design: Recent designs of assistive hearing devices focus on being less obtrusive and more comfortable for the user. This shift not only improves the user experience but also encourages more widespread adoption.

Looking ahead, we can expect further integration with digital technology, such as AI and machine learning, to provide even more personalized listening experiences. The potential for cloud-based systems could also allow for real-time adjustments and updates to systems, further enhancing their effectiveness.

The Business Case for Assistive Hearing Systems

These advancements are making assistive hearing systems not just a compliance tool, but a significant enhancement to the user experience in public venues. By accommodating individuals with hearing loss, venues can significantly expand their audience and customer base. Providing assistive hearing systems shows that a venue is considerate of all its guests’ needs. This inclusivity can lead to increased patronage and revenue, as well as enhanced brand image and customer loyalty, making it an accommodation that makes sound business sense even when not required.

Implementing Assistive Hearing Systems with Starlite

We recognize the importance of accessibility in event technology. Our expertise in audiovisual and lighting solutions extends to assistive hearing systems, where we are committed to providing the best experience for everyone involved. Our team is well-versed in the latest technologies and stays up-to-date with the latest trends and advancements to ensure our clients have access to the best solutions available.

We understand each venue has its unique challenges and requirements. Our approach involves working closely with you to assess your specific project needs and space. Whether it’s a theater, a conference center, or an educational institution, we tailor our systems to provide optimal performance.

Starlite’s experienced team is dedicated to helping our clients create unforgettable audio-visual experiences. Contact us today at [email protected] to discuss your next project.

Trenton Makes Bridge Featuring New LED Lighting

Trenton Makes Bridge Featuring New LED Lighting


Owner: Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission

The iconic “TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES” message on the Trenton Makes Bridge, formally named the Lower Trenton Toll-Supported Bridge, was recently upgraded from its 1935 red neon tubing to LED lighting. The LED lighting offers a more dependable light source which is energy efficient and less costly to maintain and upgrade. The color of the letters can also be changed, allowing Trenton to sync the color of the iconic message with holiday or event-themed colors.

This article was originally published online by Urban Engineers on April 16, 2019.

Rigging Safety and Responsibility: Better Safe Than Surprised

Rigging Safety and Responsibility: Better Safe Than Surprised


By Brandon Creel ETCP, CTS-D, Former Starlite Director of Engineering

When you’re outside your worship space, grab a pen and paper and make a list of everything you can think of that’s hanging over head. Then walk into the sanctuary and look up. Did you miss anything? Odds are you did. And odds are even greater you’re not sure that everything up there is hanging safely.

What is hanging over head at your church? Do you know without looking? From outside the sanctuary, grab a pen and paper and make a list of everything you can think of. Now, walk into the sanctuary and look up. Did you miss anything? Speakers, video displays, light fixtures, chandeliers, trusses, acoustical clouds, suspended ceiling, curtains, pipe grid, pipe battens, chain hoists, cameras, scenic elements, and a cross are some of the items you might see. You probably have more than you realized. Churches of any size are likely to have at least a half dozen of these items. Now I ask, how are these items hanging? Safely? If so, how do you know?

The “Guys”

Every church has a sound guy, at least one. He or she mixes the audio at every service, funeral, wedding, or event. The sound guy typically is not alone and next to him is the video guy, who switches and shades cameras, puts up the song lyrics on the screen, or cues a video.

Another position is the lighting guy, a position of which the congregation is sometimes not even aware. He or she brings up the lights on stage, cross fades to change the focus over to the choir, then the band, and then highlights the preacher. The lighting guy uses a console or software that the congregation has never heard of and every once in a while, someone will ask them to turn down the music … because it is too loud.


Satire aside, we should agree that there is much that goes into the technical side of a church service. Regarding lighting, how did those lights get there anyway? Someone climbed up the ladder, clamped a fixture to the pipe, plugged in power/control and then focused it. There was much thought that went into where to put the light, what type of light, what the wattage of the light is, what circuit to connect it to, and what type power is required (voltage, dimmed, constant). And multiply this by the number of fixtures in the rig. It could be a few, or a few hundred.

Whatever the size of the church or the lighting system, the users must be knowledgeable, trained, and qualified to do whatever work they are tasked with. Or minimally, under the direct supervision of someone who is. How can church management ensure this is the case? Certification is one method that is working well in our industry.


Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA) is a non-profit trade association based in North America. It runs the Technical Standards Program, which creates, develops, and maintains the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards for our entertainment technology industry. ESTA is the co-organizer of the now annual New World Rigging Symposium – a conference dedicated to entertainment rigging. In addition, the group administers the Entertainment Technician Certification Program (ETCP).

ETCP has been running for almost 15 years and offers four certifications that are recognized industry-wide: Rigger – Theatre, Rigger – Arena, Entertainment Electrician, and Portable Power Distribution Technician. These certifications are voluntary, and ETCP is the nongovernmental organization that grants recognition to an individual who has demonstrated mastery in a discipline. In other words, certification is a highly credible and reputable achievement where the technician has proven his or her capabilities.

Going back to church management, requiring technicians, or at least supervisors, to be certified is strongly encouraged. Knowing that certified personnel are responsible for the church’s systems, including safety, should help mitigate risk.

Going back to church management, requiring technicians, or at least supervisors, to be certified is strongly encouraged.


Electricity is dangerous (can be life threatening) but, in an installed system in the United States, we have the National Electric Code (NEC). In short, the Code is here to protect us all. Engineers design to (minimally) meet the Code, contractors install to meet the Code, and authorities having jurisdiction inspect to the Code. For example, the Code requires over-current protection like circuit breakers to prevent overloading of the wiring and receptacle. It specifies what type and size of wire to use in a given application and arc flash labeling of panels, which inform the worker what level of personal protection equipment (PPE) they must have on in order to open or work on the panel.

Unfortunately, we have no such code for rigging. We have voluntary national standards and structural engineers, like the one that designed the building’s structure. Engineers can tell us the capacity of the beams, joists, walls, floors, and roof, which we need to know in order to proceed with rigging.


Rigging is a broad but specialized topic and starts with the building structure. These structures are unique and vary in strength, material, construction, and size. The most common structures are joists (steel or wood), purlins, glued laminated (glulam) timber, and steel beams. Rigging systems are complex and vary depending on application. Some examples include dead-hung, pipe grid, counterweight, clew-winch, motorized hoists (chain or wire rope). Rigging has to be coordinated carefully with the ceiling structure, duct work, architectural lighting, sprinklers, plumbing, basketball nets, and acoustical ceilings. When rigging from above is not an option, we turn to floor-mounted structures, which may be scenic only or structural to support audio, video and lighting.

Is your system rated? Is the capacity known? When was the last time the system was inspected? You should know these answers! The rigger’s job is to keep everything and everyone safe. Numerous manufacturers, guidelines, and standards all tell us that we need to have our systems inspected (at least) annually and have a written report to document the deficiencies. Having an on-staff ETCP rigger is a great place to start with implementing and/or facilitating inspections, repairs, and maintenance. All of which should be documented with logs kept on file. If you do not have enough rigging or electrical work to keep certified personnel on staff, you can search for a technician, using the search function on the ETCP website:

Final Words

Just about every church is unique. It has its own personality and character. The size, shape, and finishes all contribute to define its individuality. From large open spaces to small intimate ones, tech-heavy to minimalistic, all have some form of audio visual and lighting aspect. Management should share concerns about safety of the building, systems, and their people. Lighting and rigging are dangerous and can be fatal, if improperly used, which is why the users must be knowledgeable, trained, and qualified–or better yet–certified.


What certifications apply to churches?

  • ETCP Entertainment Electrician, includes Portable Power Distribution Technician and lighting controls, fixtures, and special effects.
  • ETCP Portable Power Distribution Technician, subset of the Entertainment Electrician focusing on portable power cabling
  • ETCP Rigger – Arena, everything rigging unless your venue has counterweight rigging
  • ETCP Rigger – Theatre, emphasis on counterweight rigging in a proscenium venue


This article was originally published online by Church Production™ on November 26, 2018.