The Religious Birth of Theatre

Omi Religion Theatre

Few will deny that theatre has its origins in religion.  While civilizations grew, some type of religion evolved as various gods were worshipped and ceremonies and rituals to honor these deities were developed the world over.  Distinctive features of these rituals contributed to the elements of what we now call theater.  The intermediary between the gods and the worshipers, i.e. priest, shaman, clergyman etc., contributed his words – developing dialog, his gestures – creating acting and even dancing, his voice – vocalizing into singing.  Other components employed in the rituals would add music, masks and even make-up which aided in the formation of theater.

Not all historians, however, agree about when the beginning aspects of theatre first appeared.  Most point to the religious ritual and ceremony in the worship of the god Dionysus, god of wine and fertility for Athens in ancient Greece around 700 BCE.  Hymns, termed dithyrambs, were sung by a chorus of about fifteen worshipers to honor their god Dionysus.  The chorus would perform in future years as a procession wearing costumes and masks, and, still later, some of its members would take the part of special characters, introducing proto-actors.

However, placing the introduction of theater back to the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece negates the influence of the Egyptians from as far back as the 2000s BCE.  Passion plays honoring the king-god Osiris, his death and resurrection, were performed each year in Abydos, Egypt around that time, far earlier than the old Greek theatricals.  Some historians actually put the writing of the original Osiris drama as far back as 3200 BCE.

Although theater continued to evolve around the world, it began to disintegrate in Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  It was practically non-existent in that region during the period known as the Dark Ages.  Again, religion was prominent in returning theater to its present state.  A chant, Quem Quseritis, from a tenth century Easter mass is credited with the revival of theater.  During the Matins service on Easter morning, this chant was enacted as a intimate scene of question and answer dialog among a few worshipers.  From this minuscule performance, theater evolved into today’s gigantic entertainment entity according to historical scholars.

Given the role religion has played in creating theater, what can the theatrical world do for today’s religious institutions?  One answer is stage lighting.  During medieval times  huge Gothic cathedrals were designed in order to bring more light and space into them so that the many religious relics being brought from the Holy Land during the Crusades could be displayed and seen.  But no matter how large the churches’ windows became, they were positioned seventy to eighty feet above the floor and never allowed enough light to enter and illuminate all the exquisite  objects and architectural decorations contained within.  The artificial lighting of the time, oil lamps and candles did little to help.  Imagine what today’s stage lighting, such as a pin spot, could do to highlight  a special statue or featured picture in your sanctuary.

Lighting equipment can also be employed to improve whatever musical performances occur in your place of worship by designating individual soloists or adding visual variety and concentration during the moments of important musical passages and key changes.  Theatrical moments can be enhanced with lighting.  Spiritual moments can, and often are, theatrically communicated and stage lighting can help promote your message.

During these times, as the holidays come closer, it is important to have your lighting systems at the ready for your artistic choices.  Statistically, more people come to services during the holidays and, in order to influence them to increase their attendance during the year, the more memorable the holiday experience, the higher the success rate of return will be.

Did you know that a sixth century mystic wrote in his book, The Celestial Hierarchy, that light was divine?  Why not add more light to your religious campus?  Visit to see the largest selection of theatrical lighting equipment or give Louie an email at Louie @ and ask a question to one of our advisors for free.

Lighting the first Thanksgiving!

Omi at Thanksgiving Table

It was early in the evening in the autumn of 1621.  The inhabitants of the new settlement of Plymouth were busily preparing for the great Thanksgiving feast which was to be held during the next few days.  Many of the Native Americans who had befriended the Pilgrims during the past, harsh year were invited to celebrate their survival with food and festivities.

Although it was only four in the afternoon, the light in the small, basically one-room homes was almost non-existent.  In order to maintain as much heat as possible in the twelve houses which had been built during the past year, the few, tiny windows were covered with wooden shutters.  Natural light just was not available.  Artificial light was necessary, not only to prepare for the upcoming fest, but also for everyday chores.  The candles from England were limited, but the industrious women of the Plymouth colony quickly made their own tapers, and the candlelight was soon shining from the tops of various pieces of furniture.  The candles were made from tallow and beeswax scented with bayberry.  The wicks came from cotton spun by the women of the household.

The first candlesticks the Pilgrims developed were extremely primitive being created from root vegetables such as turnips and potatoes.  The base of the vegetable was planed flat and a circular hole was cut in the top into which the candle was inserted.  Wall-hung candleholders, known as sconces, frequently had polished metal backs to reflect and add to the light.

Candles were practically worthless out of doors in Plymouth, but the Pilgrims quickly   copied the  pine tree torches which were developed by the neighboring Indians. The resin found in the dried branches of the pine tree, especially in the knots, kept these short pieces of branch lit for a substantial length of time.  The heart of the pine limb also contained more resin, or pitch, than the rest of the wood.  This part was shaved into short lengths by the poorer Pilgrim families and used in place of the more expensive candles.  Baskets made of metal containing burning pine knots, and hung in strategic locations, actually became our first street lamps.

Although sufficient light was not available for the first Thanksgiving preparations, the celebration was such a success that it is now repeated on a yearly basis.  But how much more enjoyable the feast is now with our improved lighting.  Now for the theatrically minded, think of how much fun it would be to highlight the turkey with a pin spot and spotlight the other dishes with modern battery operated candles so that we can easily see every scrumptious morsel on the table.

Why do leaves change color? What colors should we project in light?

FB Omi Why Leaves ChangeOne of the most frequently asked questions about the natural world is what causes the flamboyant change of color in deciduous trees, those trees that lose their broad leaves in the fall.  The answer to that question is chemical and depends upon the initiation of, and ending of, the seasonal production of food for the tree.

All living things require food to continue their existence.  Plants are no different.  Trees manufacture their own food during the warm months of late spring and summer.  The chemical chlorophyll is present in large amounts in the young, newly sprouted leaves, and it continues to be produced and destroyed during the warm summer months.

Trees’ leaves are their nutrient manufacturing sites. Taking water from the ground, the plant’s roots direct that water to the leaves which have absorbed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  Chlorophyll is the key element required for the process of photosynthesis, the combining of carbon dioxide, water and sunlight, causing them to change into the sugar glucose.  This glucose is the food which travels from the leaves to the rest of the tree as the plant’s energy and food source. Food is also stored in the tree’s roots during autumn and winter, the time when nutrient production is halted, for use in the following spring.

Not only is chlorophyll the major player in the production of a tree’s food thru its role in photosynthesis, chlorophyll cells are composed of green pigment, and they provide the green color one sees in the leaves during the spring and summer.  But chlorophyll cells require abundant sunlight to exist and, as fall arrives, the days shorten and sunlight lessens.  The green chlorophyll pigment stops being produced and disappears from the leaf.

Due to the abundance of the chlorophyll cells in the leaf throughout the warm seasons, other color pigments, whose cells are also present in the leaf at the same time, are hidden.  Foremost of these additional pigments are the carotenoids and xanthophylls.  People know these pigments best for the colors they produce in fruits and vegetables such as bananas, corn and carrots.  The carotenoids and xanthophylls also gradually change the leaf’s color to the early, beautiful yellows and oranges that signal the beginnings of the leaf color season while the green chlorophyll dissipates entirely.

Allowing the leaves to live longer and continue to produce energy for the plant, other pigments, the anthocyanins, develop after chlorophyll begins to disintegrate. The bright red and purple leaf colors are from these pigments whose cells’ ph determine the variety of reddish hues seen.  Cells that are acidic produce pink to scarlet red colors.  As the acidic content lessens, the hues become a deeper red to purple.

A fourth pigment found in some trees such as oaks are the tannins,  The tannins also develop the golden yellow hues found in trees such as the beech by combining with the carotenoid pigments.  Tannins are also always present in the leaves of the trees which they help color, but they, too, must wait until the  chlorophyll cells have been removed to be noticed.

A number of factors other than chemical influence the hues seen in the fall leaves.  Natural events such as droughts, excessive rainfall, severe heat or killing frosts will limit and dull the beauty of nature’s autumn splendor.  The most successful color presentation will occur after a wet, but warm, spring, a temperate, evenly moist summer and an autumn with cool nights and sun-filled days.  As previously stated, color is determined by the different pigments the leaf contains.  Except for chlorophyll not all pigments are found in every type of tree leaves.  Only those pigments which are originally in, or are created in, the tree leaves during the growing season will determine which part in autumn’s color palette a specific tree will play.

Following is a list of trees and the hues they exhibit during autumn.  You might find this useful when designing lighting for a production that needs projected leaves.  If you know what sort of trees the scenery is based on, then here is a reference as to what colors you should be projecting.

American Beech – golden yellow turning to light orange

American Hornbeam Birch – orange

Aspen – golden yellow

Black Maple – yellow

Black Oak – yellow

Blackjack Oak – red

Black Tupelo – crimson

Bradford Pear – red

Cottonwood – yellow

Dogwood – deep red

Eastern Hop-hornbeam – yellow

Elm drab – brown

Ginkgo – bright yellow

Hickory – golden yellow

Oak – tannish brown

Red Maple – scarlet

Sassafras – red, yellow, orange

Scarlet Oak – scarlet

Silver Maple – yellow-orange

Sourwood – deep red

Southern Red Oak – red

Sugar Maple – red, yellow, orange

Sweet-gum – yellow or red

Tulip Poplar – yellow

White Oak – orange

Winged Sumac – bright red

Yellow Birch – bright yellow

If you want to have some fun with playing with some gobos to project leaves checkout this link…

If you want to have some fun with some colorful glass to give some multi-colored effects with these gobos check out…

Headset Etiquette

Headset_Etiquette copy

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.

History of Halloween

Louie Lighting Pumpkin


Part One:  Halloween’s British Isles’ Roots

 The origin of one of our most decorated holidays, Halloween, dates well back into the fifth century BCE.  It emerged from the Celtic celebration of  Samhain held in late October during which light in the form of fire played a central roll.  Samhain was the night to honor the dead and the huge bonfires which were lit provided the light to aid the dead souls on their way to their ultimate destination.

In the morning after the celebration the Druids, Celtic priests, presented each family with a still glowing ember from the bonfire, the purpose of which was to reignite their home cooking fires.  The hot, shining coal was carried home in a carved out turnip which eventually became the most renown Halloween decoration, the Jack-o’-lantern.

The naming of this carrying device as a Jack-o’-lantern also is rooted in Celtic, mixed with Christian, history.  According to folklore, an inebriated farmer named Jack played a trick on Satan.  Because of this action, Jack was turned away from both Heaven and Hell when he passed away.  Doomed to walk in darkness, Jack’s soul fashioned a lantern from a turnip and a clump of burning coal Satan tossed to him from Hell. From then on the carved-out, lit turnips were called Jack-o’-lanterns.

Around this same time in Celtic history a group of costumed Celts were celebrating Samhain by dancing around a gigantic bonfire carrying heavy staffs covered with burning hay torches. As seen by a Christian priest the dancers were backlit by the full moon and bonfire and appeared to be flying thru the air on broomsticks.  Hence, our tradition of witches on broomsticks on Halloween.

Part Two:  Halloween in the USA

When in 1846 the potato famine in Ireland sent boatloads of Irishmen immigrating to the United States.  The witches on broomsticks tale and the turnip Jack-o’-lanterns came with them.

After arriving in the United States, the Irish turned to the more plentiful pumpkins to carve their lanterns.  Not only were the pumpkins more numerous but they also were considerably easier to cut.  Nowadays the Jack-o’-lantern has become such a decorative item that contests are held for the best and most interestingly carved pumpkin. In the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI an exhibition is held during the fall with thousands of these painted, carved gourds lining the pathways.

Although Halloween had been quietly celebrated since the vast Irish migration into the United States, the first sanctioned municipal celebration was held in Anoka, Minn and occurred in 1921.  The 1920’s and 30’s found community secular Halloween masquerade parties and celebrations increasing.  Trick or Treating began in the 1950’s.

The great explosion in Halloween decorations only began, however, with the advent of plastics in the 1960’s. One of the most interesting of the new decorations involving lights (lamps?) is the development of the Glow (Glo) Stick.  Development of these was begun by the US military in 1962 which was looking for a compound with luminescent properties that would work in extreme temperatures.  The experimenting of many other scientists was required, however, to develop the Glow stick the is now so popular.

The Glow lamps’ uses for Halloween are many and varied.  They are portable, light weight, inexpensive, and provide cool illumination for costumes and decorations.  Parents appreciate the safety aspect of a Glow light decorating a costume or being placed in a Jack-o’-lantern instead of a burning candle.

Now, as our technology exponentially expands, holiday decorating is only limited to imagination and pocketbook.

Here are some more examples of wonderful artistic pumpkins with light!

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Glow Stick Magic


In 1962, intrigued by the light flashes of the glowworm, and the need for a safe light source to be used in combat situations both Edwin Chandross, a Bell Lab chemist, and the U.S. Military at the China Lake Navel Weapons Center in California under Herbert Richter, a Naval scientist, began experiments to develop a chemiluminescent lamp.  This lamp produces illumination from a chemical reaction. The work of many other scientists including Michael Rauhut and some of his fellow co-workers at American Cyanamid in Stanford, Conn.  was required before today’s glow sticks were fully developed.

Various patents were granted by the US Government along the way including many of which went to the US Navy scientists which was possible since they were able to find establishing a trademark lawyers quickly to do this work.  The earliest patent in 1965 was given to Bernard Dubrow and Eugene Daniel Gath for inventing a packaged chemiluminescent material.  Finally, Richard Taylor Van Zandt was granted a patent for a Chemical Light Device in 1977.

Glow sticks are chemiluminescent lamps which means that they derive their light from the reaction of mixing different chemicals together. They are produced as see-thru plastic tubes in which chemicals are contained in isolation.  When the chemical compounds are agitated, they glow in various colors depending upon the chemicals that have been mixed together.  The components are usually combined by bending and, thereby, breaking a glass capsule of hydrogen peroxide that is contained within the other chemicals held in the plastic tubing.  After the capsule is broken, the tube is shaken to mix the different chemicals.

To discover which chemicals would produce the desired illumination, hydrogen peroxide was the first one tried by Edwin Chandros.  This compound releases a great amount of energy in a short period of time without burning, therefore producing a cool light.  Various different chemical combinations were experimented with in the development of glow sticks.  Hydrogen peroxide and peroxide remain the reactants of choice by the manufacturers to be mixed with a catalyst such as phenyl oxalate along with a florescent dye solution for color.

Although the chemicals stored in the glow stick are in themselves non-toxic, care must be taken in handling these devices because when the solutions interact the substance phenol is produced.  Phenol is both corrosive and toxic.  If a glow stick is ruptured, any bodily area which comes into contact with the internal chemicals should be well cleansed as irritation, allergic reaction, and vomiting may occur.

With the exceptions of the problem with the production of phenol in the chemical reactions, their only single time use, and the fact that they cannot be extinguished, the popular glow sticks have many positive attributes.  For the military they produce light to see, but no heat, so that they are safe in situations where explosives are employed.  They are also lightweight for easy transportation, can be operated in extreme climate conditions, are durable and require no batteries.  The lamps are not pressure sensitive so that they can provide light underwater and in the air.

Outdoor enthusiasts such as campers find glow flares an excellent and safe light source.  Night skiers stand out with glow devices decorating their ski suits.  Spelunkers, or cave explorers, face the danger of gasses accumulating in caves.  These lamps are perfect for illumination within caves because they will not ignite the gasses.  Bicycle riders are more noticeable at night with glow lights embellishing their vehicles.

These disposable, inexpensive lamps provide light anywhere, anytime.  Without heat, flame or sparks, they are permitted in large sport stadiums and concert venues.  Halloween becomes safer for children with Jack-o’-lanterns lit by glow lights instead of candles and costumes decorated with glowing materials.

Best of all, this is the one lamp that can safely go into any area devastated by man-made or natural disasters immediately after the event to help rescuers search for survivors.

Glow sticks are a wonderful way to do safe outdoor decoration lighting.  Give these pictures a look and see if they inspire you.  Have a great Halloween!

34301-Green-Glow-Stick-In-A-Cooler glowingglovesinpond glowstickbrooms glowstickchandelier glowstickghosts glowstickoutdoorbowling glowstickpinterest toiletpaperroll glow

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?