Headset Etiquette

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I ponder if Emily Post ever considered writing about this subject.  It is very common for those producing the technical aspects of a show that we communicate via a headset system.  There are a million opinions as to how this should be done and also as to what rules should be in place to bring the communication to it’s best possible out come.  I have recently designed a production in an educational setting and clearly a reasonable headset protocol was not being followed and I pondered the question if it had been taught.  So this is my attempt to bring up the subject.  Hopefully this will be useful to many and freely shared.

The purpose of headset communication is for appropriate instruction to be given in a clear and concise manner.  For this to occur, people who are to receive this information must actually be on the headset and listening.

Here are some rules that I believe should apply.

1 – Always be on headset if you are to give or are to receive instruction.

2 – Have your microphone off unless you need to speak.  This limits the addition of extra unnecessary noise.

3 – If you are leaving the headset announce that you are leaving and announce when you have returned.

4 – If you are placing your headset down make sure that your microphone is off.

5 – If you ever have to unplug your headset, announce and make sure your microphone is off.  The unplugging can cause a very loud sound and damage the ears of those who are on.

6 – Be polite and use good judgment about not interrupting something that is being said that is important.

7 – If quiet is being called for, obey.

Just as in life, common sense of social interaction will go a long way.

Where to Start in Teaching the Business of Stage Lighting?

Here at the Stage Lighting Store we employ many talented people.  Some have talents in web design, some in salesmanship and some in things that have nothing to do with theatre, like shipping.  We do however welcome and encourage folks with theatrical knowledge to join us because I do find it interesting that it seems easier to train the other parts of the job but theatrical knowledge is not something so easily taught.  I believe this is simply because it is something that comes with experience.  The actual act of putting on a production teaches you so much more than talking about it.

I bring this up because very recently an actress that is with us over the summer has asked me to teach her a little about stage lighting as she wants to learn some about the “other” side of the business.  I, of course, love sharing my opinions and anyone who wants to hear them is welcome to do so!  So I have started thinking about what to tell her.

What subject should I start with?  Clearly she said to learn about Stage Lighting but her real goal is to learn the “other” side of the business.  I imagine for her, the other side of the business is anything that is not performing.  She came to me to learn about Stage Lighting as she felt that I had solid information to share.  I guess she would go to someone else for House Management, or Stage Management, or Box Office, or Marketing, or, or, or and or…  Heavens, there is so much that goes into a production!

Then my mind wandered and I began to think about the business.  I then had to clarify to myself, which theatrical business.  There are so many.  Certainly there is the group of people who produce shows to commercially make a profit.  Perhaps the most pure form of the “business”.  Pick a show, hire the right people to make a quality artistic product, get it into the space and then convince people to purchase tickets for as long as possible to then make as much money as possible.

Then there are the folks that make a good living providing services to the people who WANT to be in the business.  Businesses that provide lessons, workshops, intensives and so on.  That is a whole other business with a different set of skills needed.

Then there are businesses like us.  We sell Stage Lighting equipment to anyone who wants it.  That ranges from a high school, to Broadway, to car manufacturers and churches.  We give away our opinions on how to use the equipment or what is the right equipment for the job, but of course that is part of “our business”.

So, what is this soap box about?  Indeed, Theatre is a business.  Actually, it’s a pretty complicated business with so many different angles to it.  What am I going to tell her?  She wants to learn the other side of the business.  I guess I am going to try to concentrate and teach her first about the different sides of Stage Lighting.  You can make a living designing it,  physically making it happen as a theatrical electrician or running crew member, design equipment, manufacture equipment or even selling it.

My opinion is that to do any of that you need to understand the basic principles and goals of design.  What the equipment is and what it does and then YOU MUST GO DO!  Find a show that will let you get your feet wet and go ahead and design it, hang it, focus it, cue it and run it.  Do the whole thing!  Experience is by far the best teacher.  It might be smart to assist someone, first, who is doing Stage Lighting to get the basics down, but after that you have to go give it a try.  This is also great advice for those who think, “I’ll just go to college”.  The truth is that most of the good schools expect you to already have a knowledge base and experience.  There are only so many spots in their program and it will go to the best candidates.  There is no better way then going ahead and doing it.  Certainly you can read books on the subject and we of course encourage you to read our text-book on the subject (it’s free here online).

So here is what I am going to tell her.  Let’s go have lunch and talk about it all.  Mostly because I love having lunch 🙂  Then if she is really interested she should find a production where she can assist and then we have to find her a production to give it a shot!

Soap Box Louie louie_hancock




Louie Lumen

StageLightingStore.com Advisor

Head of HPL


Educational Theatre – It’s not just about the production – it’s about them.

Subtitle – Careful BalanceSoap Box Louie

I bet we all could agree that no matter the production you always want it to be as good as you can possibly make it.  If you do not agree, then I would ponder; why are you doing the show?

I also bet we all could agree that Educational Theatre should be successful in educating the students while creating a quality product.

A challenge – presumably the student does not have a lot of experience.  If they did, why would they still be the student?  How do you balance your effort upon making the show great and giving the students as much of your attention as possible.

High Brow Answer (opinion) – Sometimes you have to make choices that benefit the students more than your personal production goals.

This subject is near and dear to me.  For a very long time I have been involved in Educational Theatre, mostly from a guest artist point of view.  I did do a few years in a collegiate setting where I taught a Stage Craft class as well as a Lighting Design class.  I believe there are very different tactics that you take in those two settings.  In the classroom I believe it is all about presenting information in as many different ways as necessary to make sure the student understands and absorbs it.  Then you must do practical practice in class to make sure they did understand it and also for simple redundancy.  Just like learning dance steps, the word Again, Again, and Again is a great way to learn.  So for example, if I were to teach what a leko can do I would first demonstrate it, talk about it and produce a handout that lists it.  Then I would have each person come up and manipulate the light themselves.  Answer any questions and ask the big question…  does anyone have any questions?  When they answer no, I then say – OK 10 pt quiz on the handout the next time you come in.  Then on the next class session, start with the 10 pt quiz that really shouldn’t take more than five minutes and move on to the next lesson.  Fairly structured but has seemed effective.

Now teaching while doing a production is a whole different animal.  My belief that teaching by example is the best way.  My goal is to make it the best production as possible, but to share my thought process continually while I do it.  I also like to treat my student as a junior colleague.  I want to engage them so they care about the show as much as I do.  The more they want the production to succeed the more successful their educational experience will be.  There is another side benefit to making the show as good as it can be, pride.  If the student feels great about the work when it is all done, they will want to do that again.  There is no better feeling then knowing something you participated in did well and was thought of as a success!

Recently while doing a show at a college we hit final dress rehearsal.  All went very smoothly and the cast and the crew, especially the stage manager, did a perfect job on doing what we gave them.  Now that it all came together I saw at least forty cues that I wanted to add to make the show even better.  I really wanted to do it.  I didn’t do it.  It would not be fair to the crew and the cast to give them the burden of unrehearsed changes.  If it was a show that had previews, then yes.  But, in this situation I gave up my personal artistic desire so that they could succeed in the product they were performing.

I also believe that it is incredibly important to educate as many students as possible in your setting.  If your department has a student body of fifty or more, do not pick a play that has five characters in it.  Sure, it’s a great play, but did you really serve your department as a whole?  Practical production education is essential for every student in that department.

So I guess my soap box here is…  when doing Educational Theatre don’t get lost on the fact that while you are doing a production, you also have the goal of educating the students along the way.  If you are there solely for you and the show, you should be doing shows in a different setting.


Soap. Box. Done.

Soap. Box. Done.

Rose Week

Tech Week – Rose Week
Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?
This is one of those soap box posts.
I have often heard people call tech week, hell week.  Some speak of it in fear and others in a strange pride.  I am not a fan of this.  If our goal is to put on a complete production that marries the work of the performers and that of the physical aspects like scenery, lighting and costumes then why not do it in a pleasant way.  So here are some hints on making it pleasant.
1 – Does it really all have to happen in one week?  Plus if your show is going to open on a Thursday or a Friday do you even have one week?  Look at your schedule carefully and see if you can introduce technical elements into your rehearsal process earlier.  Adding them a little at a time helps build a solid production.
2 – Introduce elements that others need to work with first.  If you solve others needs first, they won’t be coming to you for it or upset that you haven’t supplied it.
3 – Be nice and respectful.  
4 – Sleep.  If you are over tired you are simply not efficient.
5 – Plan realistically.  Do not over promise.  Why cause a false expectation?
6 – Ask for help when you need it.  Not getting something done because you didn’t ask for help doesn’t help in getting it done.
7 – Do not believe in this false idea of Actor vs. Techie.  We are not putting on two productions.  We are working together to make one magical event.  
8 – Then when it is time to join all of the elements the performing side of the show has to be ready.  If it is still being blocked or choreographed then the technical elements won’t have the time to get it right.  Tech does not just magically appear.  It does need time to work out the issues that arise.
9 – Learn when to let it go.  It is better to do 50 cues really well then 75 cues not as well.
10 – Look forward to the challenge of creating on a time frame.  If that is not you, then perhaps a different art medium is for you.  Opening Night is Opening Night.  It is on a calendar and usually does not change.  The greatest lessons I have learned in life have been from doing shows.  Theatrical People have a very special work ethic.
What we do is wonderful, fun, enriching and touching.  Why would you call it Hell Week?Soap. Box. Done.louie_hancock

Design Journey, Part IV – GET ‘ER DONE!



If you’re just joining us, I’m lighting a local performance of The Drowsy Chaperone. I’ve been blogging my thoughts and experiences as a professional lighting designer. Click here to read from the beginning!



We are about to enter tech week;  a tech week that I elongated beyond the scheduled schedule!  Initially, it was tech on a Sunday and open on that Thursday. Five days!  That’s NUTS!!!  Not only is this a show with a lot of cues, it is also being done with a lot of followspot cues in a educational environment.  These are people that have to be trained to begin with.  So I am starting cueing the Tuesday before the Sunday. 

The first thing I am going to do is put some light on the stage and only play with the followspots first.  This way when I take light away in the moments where the followspots are working, it won’t leave the show in complete darkness.  I never expect a Director to have to direct in darkness.  It never goes well!

Soap. Box. Done.

Soap. Box. Done.

On to GET ‘ER Done!

To Do Lists, people!

Theatre is a process that needs to get things done.  You can dream and invent all you want, but until you get it done, you can not refine it.  Beginning from the initial design phase to your paperwork to the implementation of the design, the sooner you start, the better the show will be. If you want an agita free tech, then you have to make a list and get things done.





How is Lighting like your Best Friend?

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Well, it’s always there for support of course!

Welcome back!  This week we’re discussing lighting goal #4- Supporting the story.

This is an issue that is always up for interpretation.  Before you can decide how best to support the story, your team needs to decide what your production as a whole is trying to tell the audience.

For instance, say you’re lighting a rock concert.  The star of the show steps on stage and yells “ARE YOU READY TO ROCK (insert your current city here)?!”  The audience screams wildly as the lights start to rise.  You then look around the room and notice the horrified and confused faces of those who don’t understand your choice of pepto bismol pink lights and bunny gobos on the walls.  *GASP*  Maybe you made some questionable choices on how to support what we’re trying to convey.  Next time, ask yourself: What is this piece about, and how do I best support what we’re trying to tell the audience?  THIS is where your artistic decisions can really blossom.

So, how do we decide what we want to tell the audience?  Well, what level of reality makes the most sense?  Are you going for a realistic or abstract approach?  Here are some questions to help:

-How realistic is the set?

– Are there real doors and windows?

– Does this production use light to convey movement to a new location or setting?

You can read more about supporting the story with light here

So, what are some artistic decisions that you’ve made to help support the story?

Give us your thoughts by posting here or email us at Louie@stagelightingstore.com


How is Stage Lighting like a Soccer Game?

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Just like a soccer game, every good designer is always looking to achieve goals for a production.  Though lighting is a subjective art, here is what we believe those goals to be:

  1. To control what can and cannot be seen.
  2. To create the environment in which the action happens.
  3. To participate in collaboration in the style of the production.
  4. To support the story of the theatrical piece according to the chosen style and goal of the production.

Over the next few weeks we will explore all four goals; today we focus on #1- controlling what can and cannot be seen.

Seems simple, right?  It feels philosophically obvious that you can’t see things without light and that is absolutely true! Less obvious, though, is the fact that you can visually manipulate what can and cannot be seen in a number of ways.

For instance, If an object onstage appears too dim and adding intensity is not helping, it usually means that there is too much light on other items.  Adding light is not always the answer, taking away light can be more effective.  Another important consideration when controlling what can or cannot be seen is the use of dominant and submissive colors in light- but thats a subject for another blog! If you are too curious to wait,you can read more about that here.

Our SLS Advisor team also tells our clients  not to think, even for a second, that by simply not lighting something it will vanish.  There is always bleeding of light and something that is not purposely treated with light can still be seen.  Light is sneaky like that.

We want to hear from you!  What innovative ways have you controlled visuals onstage? What challenges have you had?

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See you then!

-Louie Lumen