Homemade Stage Lighting

Written by brian connolly
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Homemade Stage Lighting
Thanks to modern technology, not all stage lighting requires expensive or complicated machinery. (stage lights image by Yali Shi from Fotolia.com)

The illumination and colour provided by stage lighting enhances any theatrical production. Through the careful placement of lamps, colours and fixtures, a lighting designer can create complementary angles and colour contrasts to provide an aesthetic look to the actors, costumes and scenery of a stage setting. With the proper application of fixture placements, an artistic choice of coloured "gels" and a careful eye to electrical limitations, practically anyone can create his own homemade stage lighting.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • 3 lengths of 6-foot stovepipe, 6 inches in diameter
  • Par 38 (parabolic aluminised reflector) floodlights of desired quantity with matching 150-watt bulbs
  • 3 power strips, each with 8 outlets
  • 3 Edison extension cords of required length
  • 6 pre-cut lengths of chain
  • 6 eye hooks
  • 12 heavy-duty carabineers
  • Hemp or tie line
  • Ladder
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil and Paper

Show MoreHide


  1. 1

    Measure the amount of space that you must illuminate with your homemade lighting plot. Extend the measuring tape to each end of the "acting area" and write down the dimensions.

  2. 2

    Locate potential hanging positions for your instruments and decide on how many total angles you wish to use in illuminating your performers. Consider installing a standard McCandless "three-point lighting" method for your light plot, with two front lights hung at 45-degree angles to each side, cast lighting at opposing angles at your performer and one light illuminating the actor from behind. Designate areas of at least 8 feet in height for hanging lighting positions.

  3. 3

    Install two eye hooks 4 feet apart into the ceiling for each hanging pipe that you wish to use. Use a ladder to get to the ceiling unit and hand-screw each eye hook into a separate stud in the ceiling until the "eye" portion of each eye hook is flush with the ceiling surface. If you are using three angles for your lighting system, you will now have six installed eye hooks.

  4. 4

    Attach a carabineer to the final link of each chain length and clip each carabineer to a separate eye hook. Prepare your ladder between two eye hooks and carefully raise one 6-foot stovepipe until it is evenly between the suspended lengths of chain. Decide on a height for your lighting fixtures (preferably no lower than 7 feet) and loop the chain around the pipe at the desired height. Continuously wrap the chain until the links are tightly bound together along the stovepipe and attach the remaining link to the vertical portion of the chain using additional carabineers. Repeat this step until each stovepipe is evenly suspended at your desired height by two chains each.

  5. 5

    Calculate the number of lights you will need to completely illuminate the acting area, with each light providing 4- by 4-foot increments. For instance: if your stage is 16 feet wide, a total of four Par 38 flood lights will be required to illuminate the stage from one angle. If your stage is 8 feet deep, two rows of lights will be required to illuminate performers. Multiply this number by your desired number of angles, and multiply the total number of instruments by 150: the wattage of each lamp. Double-check the electrical capacity of each circuit you intend to use and ensure a safe electrical limit.

  6. 6

    Hang the required number of lights by attaching each Par 38 floodlight to the pipe using the built-in C-clamp. Plug in the plug or "pigtail" of each lighting instrument into the power strip. Attach the power strip to the stovepipe with a length of hemp or tie line and plug in an extension cord to the plug of the power strip. Run the extension cord to your designated wall outlet, tying the cable to the pipe in 2-foot increments in order to "dress" the cable.

  7. 7

    Repeat for each hanging pipe, ensuring that each angle is designated to a separate circuit to cut down on power shortages. Focus each instrument by carefully loosening the focus knobs of each light and pointing the lights to the area of the stage that you require. Tighten each focus knob once the light is in its desired placement.

  8. 8

    Decide on which gels you want for your lighting and insert them into the "gel clip" of each light. Mix and match colours to come up with the most aesthetic look for your show.

Tips and warnings

  • Anyone wanting to cut down on gel costs can opt to purchase coloured bulbs instead. Though offering considerably less variety with colour choices, this may be a cheaper option for simple shows.
  • Always test the tightness of your C-clamps for each instrument and ensure that you do not place excessive weight on each stovepipe. If the unit sways or is otherwise unstable, remove all lights and resecure the chain.

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