Designing light for a theater production is a complicated process, and for a first-time designer, there are a number of unknown pitfalls that would be obvious to a seasoned lighting design veteran. Though truly skilled lighting design requires years of study of theater lighting technology and lighting design theory, you can trudge you way through a basic lighting setup with just a few tips to help keep you away from a complete theater lighting catastrophe.

The 5 Important Tips

1. Aim for a mark that can be hit.

Unless you have an unlimited budget, a superhero crew and all the time in the world, you are not going to accomplish those first wild dreams you had for the lighting design when you first read the play. Drop fantastical ideas and start deciding what is possible and practical early on, and a lot of time and disappointment will be saved.

2. Consider the costume colors.

Color and light does weird stuff sometimes. Don’t decide on a light color without the input of the costume designer. If a scene with red clothing ends up lit a dark green, the actors are likely to appear to be wearing black or brown. Choose colors that enhance, not clash with, the costumes in the production.

3. Be ready for changes.

Don’t hold any of your lighting projects dear, because the effect or the scene could be tossed out by the director at any moment. Concentrate on a level of subtle quality throughout the entire production.

4. Have extras.

Whether you are using GOBOs, gels, lights, lightbulbs or special effects machines, have a replacement on hand in case something goes out. Bulbs blow, machines go out and GOBOs disappear, but if you have another set on hand, it will turn what could have been a major issue into a minor fix.

5. Arrive early.

If you have ever worked a production, you know how needy the rest of the team can be, especially the actors. Arriving early allows you to survey the room and set things up without actors asking you for cues or directors requesting changes to the lighting program. Get up early and bring a cup of coffee, because it’s going to be a long day.

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