Choices in Cyc Lighting Have Really Changed



The Greeks had the Sun. Dickens had candles. Moulin Rouge had foot lights. The Rat Pack had tungsten fixtures. We now have LED Technology!

Technology keeps giving us more options.  Recently, I have been seeing show after show change from traditional cyc lights or strip lights to LED technology.  There is the obvious difference of having more color options, but there is another artistic difference as well.  Previously, we were used to adjusting the color and contrast ratios with cyc units from the bottom and the top.  This gave us the ability to have either the lower section or the higher section of the cyc be brighter or more saturated in color, with whatever you wanted to do in-between.  This has now been elevated with LED Units.  The reason for the elevation is that the LED units use many more channels and you can often cue each individual cell.  This means that you are not limited to just having your “blue” all across the bottom. Now you can have a rainbow of color going across.  The choices are only limited by your imagination.

This video from Chauvet shows what I am talking about as far as being able to control individual cells.

In general, these sort of units are fixtures you would mount close to the cyc itself.

If you are looking for a more traditional cyc, here is a video from Altman Lighting that shows the comparison and changeover from a traditional Sky Cyc setup to almost a seamless LED situation.  This is a very effective and straightforward way to reproduce the way you may have been doing your cyc but giving you a much more expansive color palette.

This video is specifically about the Altman Spectra Cyc 200 that shows an incredible amount of light output.  This is also a great unit to swap out older style Sky Cycs with.

This next video is of the Altman LED Spectra Strip.  Where this differs from the units above is that you can have this unit sit closer to the cyc for its blending.  You can get it in color changing options or in complete white and then use traditional gel.  If you need height but space is limited, this is a great option.

If you want to see some amazing usage of cyc manipulation with LED fixtures and you are in NYC, go checkout If/Then.  Ken Posner, the lighting designer, has one of the most sophisticated eyes on Broadway.  The way he turned the cyc into a continuation of the scenery was wonderful and deserves the price of the ticket just to see his work.  Of course the show itself blew me away!

Here is a fun video from the Heathers website that gives a great example of how you can move LED light across the stage.  Sadly Heathers is closing or when you have read this have already closed 🙁  Fun Show!

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 Advisor

Head of HPL


How Would You Create this Spooky Sky?

3 Comments on How Would You Create this Spooky Sky?

Here is something new we are adding.  I would like to begin a discussion of ideas on how to accomplish some visual pictures. I will post an interesting photo that incorporates scenery and lighting and throw out my ideas on how to accomplish it.  Then I invite others to make suggestions on how they would do it.  There is never one way of do something.shutterstock_112193774

If I was challenged to either recreate this image or simply use it as inspiration my first thought goes to, what are the layers?  I ask myself this question because different layers will be treated differently both with lighting and physical placement.

  • SKY –  The furthest most upstage part of this picture is the sky itself.  There are a few ways that I would ask for this to be done.  Either the look is painted in and I simply have to backlight the drop to give it luminescence or it is a dark blue piece of fabric that I then use some large open patterns with some light and middle blues to blend the mottled look.  I would play with some Roscolux 63, Roscolux 65 and Roscolux 381.  I would also play with some of the gobos of this style…
  • MOON – The moon wants to be a frosted piece of plexi with some craters sandpapered (scraped) into the surface.  I would love to put a hole in the backdrop and be able to really pump some N/C light through that hole illuminating the moon.  You may find that you would want a circle of light from the front of the moon at about 20-30%.  I really hope not but until you play with it you really won’t know.
  • HAZE – I’m hoping the light that bounces off of the moon from behind and with haze in the air gives those straight lines of light in the atmosphere.
  • THIN BRANCHES – I would love to see these a few feet downstage of the moon and real actual branches spray painted black.  Not treated with light just left to the silhouette.
  • LARGE TREES – Flat cutouts further downstage then the thin branches covered with a thick black duvateen or velour.  Not treated with light just left to the silhouette.

A picture like this has to have the scenery and the lighting working together.

Give us your ideas, how would you do it?


How Are Notes Like Lights?

How many lights do you need?

Wow – that is a hard question.

How many keys on a piano do you need?

At least one for every tone that is called for in the music.  Then you should think about if there is a tone that isn’t called for; can you really leave that key out?  Can the pianists fingers get to all of the right tones with the missing keys?  What if the composer wants to add something?  Leaving keys out would limit the artistic possibilities.


So…  How many lights do you need?

Enough to create every visual need of the show.  Plus some more if new ideas, scenes, blocking come up during the tech process.

The question of how much equipment do you need comes up in every show.  Often the question comes up to early in the conversation.  How can you give a real answer when you have not even discussed the style of the show with the director let alone helped formulate a ground-plan?  Of course the producer needs to put together a budget for the production.  Here is a classic battle of wanting to give an answer but making sure you don’t give an answer too soon.  This is one of the reasons why I am such a large proponent of doing as much homework in the beginning of the production discussion as possible.  The sooner you know how many visual notes you need to create then the faster you can give a realistic answer.

Often you will walk into a situation where you are handed a set list of equipment that you have to work with.  May it always be more plentiful than you need 🙂  However, it is often not.  Then there is the conversation of I need more or I need some instruments that can do multiple jobs.  I believe the more you have thought out your design the more you can defend the need to spend these resources to get what you are looking for.  If you present your needs in a well thought out manner and then ask the simple question, if I don’t have this equipment, how do I create that environment?  Then in the end either the resources exist or they do not and if they do not then it is your job to make the best concession possible.

Sometimes you get lucky and the facility has enough or more equipment then you need.  I’ll never forget the first time I designed at Plays in the Park in NJ.  I believe it was “Dracula”.  My light plot really only used about half of the equipment they owned and the electrician was talking a little “smack” behind my back that the show would be under lit.  I was hired back for multiple seasons after that show.  It wasn’t under lit, it was correctly lit.  Some productions don’t need a ton of equipment.

So I guess the point of this blog is to promote doing your work early.  The sooner you can get a reasonable rough light plot done the better you are.  Then you know if you have the equipment you need.  Heck, now that we mostly draft on computers it isn’t like you even have to erase to move a light around.  So go ahead…  do that rough plot early and then finalize it when necessary.


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.

Balcony Rail – From Handrail to Lighting Position.

A Balcony Rail is also one of the first modern lighting positions installed in a proscenium house.  Much like the Box Boom, it was a quick solution to finding a place to hang lighting fixtures as front light so designers could go beyond foot lights being the only source of illumination.  To understand what a Balcony Rail is, think of splitting the phrase up.  It’s on the balcony and it is a rail to hang lights on.  Many balconies had hand rails made out of pipe to begin with, making them a quick, natural place to hang a light.  As time went on, it became apparent that the lights were now blocking the view of the audience in the balcony.

Front view of a typical Balcony Rail

Front view of a typical Balcony Rail

Folks started hanging the units off of side arms on the rail towards the stage to lower the lights.  Then, they also found ways to hang a pipe on the actual architecture of the face of the balcony keeping the light out of the eyes of the balcony audience.

Front light is often complained about, because it can be a flat position of lighting.  I happen to agree with that, but I believe there are many uses for the position beyond “area” lighting.

Here are some that I like…



  • Amazing place to do some template texture washes.
  • If you have to light a front / show drop or curtain from bottom to top.
  • Can help to fill in the front lighting of a down stage scrim.
  • Great place to hang a video monitor for the cast to see the out of site conductor.
  • If you really want to tone with a deep saturated color.
  • You need to cover that really far downstage center spot with the same color as the box boom washes
  • You have a text gobo that needs to be “dead on” to not be skewed.
  • View from under a packed Balcony Rail

    View from under a packed Balcony Rail


  • Pittsburgh Playhouse Balcony Rail

    Pittsburgh Playhouse Balcony Rail