Drama Lighting Techniques

Updated February 21, 2017

Putting on a theatrical production takes a lot of rehearsal time, not only for the actors to learn their roles, but for the lighting crew to choreograph their lighting design. The lighting of a play creates an ambience for the audience. Lighting can help create a specific mood, such as sadness or cheerfulness, as well as guide the audience toward the desired focal point on stage.


The first technique that lighting designers employ when choreographing the lighting for a show is to take a look at the play's genre. Certain genres warrant the use of particular lighting styles, colours and special effects, so it is important for the lighting crew to develop a lighting scheme that is true to the genre. For dramas, lighting technicians have a wide array of choices available to them, as colours can be warm or cool and lighting intensity can be hard or soft. However, special effects are typically not employed for dramas unless they are musical dramas.

The McCandless Method

Stanley McCandless was a Yale theatre professor who brought attention to a particular method for lighting the performance stage. The technique is based on the theory that the stage must be divided into areas, and that each area shall have two front light sources to illuminate it. These lights are not set to be straight on, but rather come in at a 45 degree angle. This technique is ideal for dramas because backlighting and side lighting are also used to bring attention to the actor's form and create a soft effect. Warm and cold coloured gels are mixed between lighting fixtures to add to the dramatic tone.

Jewel Lighting

Jewel lighting is a lighting technique that is effective for intense scenes in dramas. The method is meant to light up the actor on stage as if he were a jewel on display in a showcase. This technique uses lighting from as many angles as possible to create a very bright subject on stage. The audience is therefore able to see a lot of the actors' features and expressions. To soften this look, use warm or cool gels to reduce the harshness of white light.


Accenting is the technique used in stage lighting to focus the audience's attention to one area of the stage. To accent the stage, a strong beam of light is pointed toward the area of interest, while the rest of the stage is dimmed or softened to not distract from the beam. This is a popular lighting technique for dramas, especially if they contain actor monologues.


A washing technique creates light throughout the main areas of the stage so that the actor --- as he moves from one area to another --- does not ever step out of the light. Washing gives the appearance of a consistent light that keeps the scene looking natural.

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About the Author

Kyra Sheahan has been a writer for various publications since 2008. Her work has been featured in "The Desert Leaf" and "Kentucky Doc Magazine," covering health and wellness, environmental conservatism and DIY crafts. Sheahan holds an M.B.A. with an emphasis in finance.