Box Boom: Silly Word = Great Lighting Position

A long time ago, our indoor theatres were lit only with foot lights.  Those foot lights were initially lanterns with a live flame surrounded by glass.  There are obvious safety issues with this, which lead to many deaths.  Electricity was invented and the light bulb came into existence.  Foot lights began using lamps.  Theatrical lighting advances certainly didn’t stop there and we now have the modern theatrical fixtures of today

There was a problem though. The theatres that were in existence did not have any place to mount lights.  One method used was to hang a light on a pipe onstage.  This was a fairly quick solution to positions on stage, because the pipes were already used to flying scenery and backdrops up and down. Putting a light on a pipe was no great stretch. The front of house, though, was a much greater challenge.  Unsurprisingly, theatrical people are inventive.  They came up with two initial ideas,  the Box Boom and the Balcony Rail.  This post will discuss the Box Boom.

When you hear the description of Box Boom you really have to break the word down into two parts.  The Box and the Boom. The Box comes from where people would sit in the elevated sides of the auditorium.  The Boom was a vertical pipe that was already being used onstage. Put the two together and voila(!) you have a vertical lighting pipe where people used to sit. It was a very easy solution that created a place to mount some lights in the front of house area.

There were also some artistic benefits that I believe happened by accident. Side lighting is one of the most attractive angles of lighting to the body. A Box Boom position is side light that is slightly pulled to the front. This gives you the benefit of side light, and the light reaches across the face of the performer a little.  If lit from both sides by the Box Boom you can have an incredibly attractive look on the stage that includes front visibility.  Put that together with a really tight head-shot from a follow-spot and you have what I believe is today’s most popular “Broadway” look.  If I had to go into a theatre that had absolutely no lighting positions and was told to pick one, a Box Boom is what I would choose.

Here are some examples of some Box Boom positions.


Notice that there is a long vertical right at the proscenium and then some further back. The proscenium pipe gives you the ability to have direct side light right at the proscenium but also gives you a position to light the show border. The ones further back give a great position for less flat front light and color toning. Wonderful that both could be accomplished. Please also note the units under the actual boxes. Pippin on BroadwayPippin on Broadway
This is a classic example of a situation where there was really no other easy way to get front light on stage. Sometimes it is a permanent installation and sometimes simply a fifty pound boom base with a ten foot pipe as the vertical. Cinderella on Broadway

Cinderella on Broadway


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

Blending New and Old Technology From a Design Point of View

Theatrical lighting equipment has changed so much over the last century. As in our personal situations, stage technology is changing at an exponential level. Some people will say it is great and others are not happy about it at all. Suffice it to say that change is here and it will always be here. Either embrace it or become obsolete.

ETC Four Ellips

Old spot technology


New spot technology

I think having the ability and artistic sense to be able to blend technologies is incredibly important. Years ago I was designing a series of A Christmas Carols at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson NY. A Christmas Carol is a story that lends itself to magical moments and visual interest. Much can be done with good old fresnels and lekos. Choosing the right color, shape and direction can help set the environment that moves the story along. Can they be helped with adding some new technology? Hecky Doo – YES! Back then, having color scrollers was “new” technology. Imagine it though. Now instead of that light only having one color, I could choose between ten or fifteen colors. Then what about this new swanky thing called a gobo rotator? Now I can have Marley being sucked into his world of hell with a spiraling gobo instead of just a red or green light uplighting him.

Check out this very informative video to see more on today’s new spot technology.

With today’s technology you can add variant color and movement like these pictures to enhance your look.  It can go well beyond just simple color changing.

With today’s technology you can add variant color and movement like these pictures to enhance your look. It can go well beyond just simple color changing.

My point to this story is that in the productions I was doing, I went ahead and invested in some actual moving light spots. With these units I was able to have the Ghost of Christmas Present glow every time she gave a blessing. The Ghost of Christmas Past was able to walk around at all times surrounded by an aurora borealis effect. Then when the Ghost of Christmas Future came out, I was able to have so many lightning bolts happening in so many varied places that could never could have happened before. Those sort of effects greatly helped the show. Those sort of effects are also fairly obvious.

In today’s world of Broadway, LED Wash Units and Moving LED Spots are common place in the rig. It is the designer that uses them with the idea of correct style that really impresses me. Recently I saw Ken Posner’s lighting for Cinderella. Now what I am about to say is not because I know Ken. I actually haven’t seen him since undergraduate days. His work is elegant. He blended the sensibility of Rogers and Hammerstein’s music with today’s, and yesterday’s technology. If you are a lighting student or just someone who loves lighting, please go see it. Sure, everyone thinks the costume changes are the star of the show, and yes they are amazing, but Ken’s work is just wonderful. Each and every scene is visual excellence.



chauvet-COLORdash-Par-Hex-12 copy

An example of new wash light technology

Altman 6inch

An example of old wash light technology


My point to this blog is that you can use the color options of the LED’s and the moving options of moving lights without them just being a Rock Concert. If you’re careful in your choices, you can make them match any style you need to do. Just because a LED fixture can put out a really saturated dark blue with huge vibrancy doesn’t mean you have to use it. I guess the real trick always comes down to understanding style.









Let’s Play Jeopardy!


Answer – Use Stage Lighting

Question – How do I get visual variation quickly and without spending on extra scenery?

So often we need to transform the environment we are in.  It may be a musical review with a very simple set that we want to keep visually interesting so the audience doesn’t get bored.  It could be a dance recital with just one group of people after another coming on the stage. It could be the television show “The Voice”, which has the same basic scenery but each song needs a different feel.  All of these events want to be able to change the look and vibe of the location.

One of the principal goals of stage lighting is to be flexible and have the ability to change.  The easy way to do this is by color and shape.  The really really easy way of doing that is by using lighting fixtures that allow you to change their color and shape from a control panel.  Often we speak of the benefits of LED fixtures that have built in color mixing.  What a wonderful thing it is to be able to change the color of your wash at your whim!

In this example we are able to show how a school cafeteria that is draped can have so many different looks simply by changing the lighting.

Fire and Ice

As budgets get tight, it is often more important to spend a little less on the scenery options and more on the lighting because you can go from just a few scenic choices to a hundred scenic choices.

Since prom season is coming up, consider these thoughts.  Draping fabric is a great way to hide ugly walls, and drape works for many different types of events. Drapes and lighting are an investment into all of your events.  When choosing drapes, do consider the fire rating of the fabric.  Visit our fabric section to see some options.  Then choose LED fixtures where you can change your look through out the evening.  The students will think they are in a really “Swanky” place 🙂










Design Journey, Part VI – Followspot Sights


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!


The Drowsy Chaperone is such an interesting musical when it comes to what the level of reality is and when it is that.  The highest level of reality is when the Man is already breaking the fourth wall by speaking to the audience directly.  As the musical progresses, he passes in and out of the Drowsy Chaperone Musical to explain it to the audience.  Then there are other times when the moment is broken by some sort of outside force like the telephone ringing that brings him back to his highest level of reality.  By the end of the of the play he is fully involved in the Drowsy Chaperone and any level of reality is simply not there.

This is a show where the use of followspots can be very helpful.  Not only is a followspot a good pointer meaning, “Hey audience, look at this,” it also helps you isolate your contrast ratios making it fairly easy to balance.  In this production I choose to use the followspots in these ways:

1 – If it was appropriate in the 1920’s Drowsy Musical to use followspots – I did!

2 – If the man froze the Drowsy Musical to speak to the audience I gave myself the ability to followspot him but in a specific tint of blueish lavender.

3 – By the end of the show the man was in the musical followspot along with the other cast members as he was now in the show with them.

Since this production was done in an education setting with a small technical theatre department, the followspot operators had no experience.  I did start the rehearsal process for them a week earlier then their traditional tech week.  I gave them instruction on how the followspots and headsets worked.  I also then explained some of the terminology like, head shot, full body shot, bump out, fade out and such.  Truthfully, they picked it up fairly quickly.  The first two or three rehearsals they had I left light on stage.  This way they had the freedom to make mistakes or not make the pickup and it would not interrupt the rehearsal process.Louie Guiding Light Lycian

During this process, I realized that the units they were using (the Lycian 400 Arc) were a little difficult to make the pickup without a telescopic sight.  The light had a wonderful brightness to it.  We called Lycian to find out how much their sights were for the unit.  They gave a price but they did not have any in stock so it certainly wasn’t going to make our time frame.  They gave us a lead on an aftermarket site, but it too was out of stock.

scopeSo when faced with the challenge, I checked with our Technical Director and he said he would go to WalMart to see what he could find in the sporting goods section.  He came back with a rifle scope which cost around $20.00 that we were able to mount onto the heat venting fins of the followspot.  WOW!  They worked amazingly.  The operators were able to pick up their cues with perfection.  They never missed.  All for $20.00!  The installation process was the only tricky part.  Every followspot is different and every rifle sight has a slightly different mounting hardware.  However, if you are mechanically handy or if you can find someone who is, there is always a solution.  Perhaps large magnets, or wiring the sight on.


What I am saying is there is always a way.  If your followspots are having trouble making their shot – experiment with some rifle sights.  It doesn’t have to be the most expensive and you will greatly improve your chances of getting your cue right.





Design Journey, Part V – What is your “Pencil” for Drawing a Light Plot?



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!


Ahhh….  Drafting the good old Light Plot.  For those who are very new to this, a light plot is simply a schematic of where the lighting instruments will be in the theatre.  It also conveys different pieces of information about each unit.


When I first started designing a good forty years ago it was simply by hand.  Mechanical Drafting with perhaps a little to the artistic flair was the way to go and you made your lighting instruments by using a lighting instrument template much like you would do a circle. 

During the early 90’s computer aided drafting began to emerge.  While I was in graduate school there was a battle of whether that would be acceptable for school projects or not.  The faculty at that time shied away from it using the argument that you would not always go to a place where there was a printer big enough to print out your plot.  I argued against that but, alas, I was the student and not the teacher and lost the battle.

On my own I had a friend who used a version of generic CADD.  It was so simple and such a time saver.  To me it was simply a pencil but with a fancy mouse instead.  It really made the work go so much faster and repetitive tasks could be done with a push of a button.  At that time your paperwork (Channel Hook Up and such) was still separate.  Lightwright had become a norm and that was accepted by the teachers.

Sadly Generic CADD became discontinued.  I moved to full blown CADD and that had its own challenges.  Every time I was drawing a light plot I felt like it required me to have the ability to draw the Space Shuttle.  Over time I mastered the skills to be able to use it successfully.

Well, that was a good ten to twelve years ago for me.  As some of you may, know I took a break from designing to build the  I have recently started designing again with A Drowsy Chaperone at Jacksonville University.  I went to pull out my old CADD and it just did not work on my new computer, for two reasons.  The first is that it is a very old program and second – I have gone MAC!  So I decided to take the plunge and purchased myself VectorWorks SpotLight.Lighting Designer Louie at desk

OMG what a program.  I am not going to say that it isn’t complicated.  In my opinion, it combines pieces of Photoshop, Flash and CADD all in one.  Once you get it though (I’m still working on that), it is a huge time saver.  It can also create its own version of the paperwork or link to Lightwright.  I guess my point is, it’s all a tool.  The pencil of old has simply gotten more sophisticated and lets you do more faster.  I am so glad that I made the leap and moved forward with the rest of the world.


The journey continues in Part VI!







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.





Design Journey, Part III – the Right Color!

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!

Did I pick the right color?  Gee, did I pick the right color?  OMG, I hope I picked the right color!

OK – now I am just talking about some down-ish back light here.  I have chosen a double 201 as a daylight shadow color, then a R80 as a romantic dark blue night color and then R26 as a red to be able to heat things up and tone them a bit.

(Top) Rosco 201, (Middle) Roscolux R26, (Bottom) Roscolux R80

They are all RECESSIVE!!!  I am worried.  Perhaps I should move the daylight shadow color to a light blue with some green in it to clean up the picture a bit.
Here is a good argument to have solid quality LED units.  Instead of having to pull out the ladders, you can just dial up a new color to choose from.

Just a few of the LED Units we have at the



The COLORado 3P IP in action!

The COLORado 3P IP in action!

Well, I have been away from the theatre for a week.  The set painting should now be done, so indeed I will judge when I get in. I can’t shake the feeling that the double 201 will be turned into a light blue with some green in it.
Visit the for a wide selection of LED units, including more from the Chauvet COLORado series.

Spotlighting the History of Women Lighting Designers!

March is Women’s History Month and boy do women have a great history in the theatre as lighting designers!  In fact, it is widely recognized that a woman is considered to be a pioneer where theatrical lighting design is concerned.  That woman is Jean Rosenthal, born 1912 in New York City.  In the early 1900’s, the set designer and electricians handled the production’s lighting.  There was no lighting designer at the time.  Rosenthal believed that lighting a show “was a career in itself” and was a force in making it be the standard to have a lighting designer.

Jean Rosenthal

Jean Rosenthal
Photo Courtesy of

JeanRosenthal Martha Graham Dance Company
Jean Rosenthal lighting of a Martha Graham Dance Company production.
Photo courtesy of


In addition to designing lights for hundreds of shows, including the New York City Ballet, West Side Story and The Sound of Music, she contributed to the way shows were lit by other designers. Rosenthal is credited with the elimination of shadows by using floods of upstage lighting and controlling angles and mass of illumination to create contrasts without shadows.  Her lighting for Martha Graham, featuring a diagonal shaft of light, is now a standard for lighting used by dance companies.

In 1982, Tony Award winner Beverly Emmons was asked by Martha Graham to light her repertory in continuing the tradition set by Rosenthal.  “It’s not my lighting as much as a continuation of lighting designs done by Jean Rosenthal, the original lighting designer who worked with Graham from 1936-1969. I’m making the lighting modern for now, but keeping it within the vocabulary of the period because Graham is period work,” says Emmons.

Beverly Emmons Martha Graham

Beverly Emmons lighting for Martha Graham Dance Compnay
photo courtesy of

In addition to a Tony for her lighting for Broadways’s 1980 production of Amadeus, Emmons has seven Tony Award nominations and was awarded, along with Robert Wilson, the Lumen Award for Einstein On The Beach.

Emmons 2photos

With over 150 Broadway shows under her belt, Tharon Musser is another widely respected lighting designer.  Musser was born in 1925.  She is best known for her work on A Chorus Line and Dreamgirls.  In fact, A Chorus Line was the first Broadway production to use a fully computerized lighting board instead of the industry standard piano board with was manually operated.

Musser is a three time Tony winner as well as was nominated for an additional six productions!

musser headshot

Tharon Musser photo courtesy of

musser production

Dreamgirls image courtesy of (left).
A Chorus Line image courtesy of (right)


Notable women lighting designers don’t end with Rosenthal and Musser and Emmons.  Shining stars on the scene today are Natasha Katz, Pat Collins, Paule Constable, Jennifer Tipton and Peggy Eisenhower creating beautiful and widely recognized lighting design.   I guess you could say the future for women in theatre is bright!

women of theatre





From Light Houses to Black Boxes: The Fresnel Lens

In theatre, we generally use a fresnel (fer-nel) to throw a wash onto the stage.  Without the lighthouse, this theatrical workhorse would not exist. The fresnel actually gets its name from its lens, which was invented by Augustin-Jean Fresnel.  Fresnel was designing a larger plano-convex glass lens.  To make a plano-convex lens in large sizes required large amounts of glass, making the lenses too heavy and difficult to work with.  Fresnel cut away excess glass into concentric rings and focused all the rings in the same area.  This made the lens just as effective, but lighter and thinner than the plano-convex lens.  The new lens also collected more light and threw the light further than previous designs. How did a fresnel lens get from the lighthouse into the theatre? fresnel-and-fresnel A fresnel lens offered a lot of unique characteristics that were helpful in theatre.  The lens was light weight and thinner than other glass lenses.  The glass heated evenly, reducing cracking. The soft edge allowed it to blend with other fresnels to give an even wash of light and color.  Fresnels also featured an adjustable beam size, by moving the lens within the fixture. In their 1969 catalog, the Kliegl Brothers claimed the first use of the fresnel lens in a theatrical fixture.  And the rest, is history.





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