Cheap stage-lighting effects

Written by martha mendenhall
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Cheap stage-lighting effects
Strategic use of a single stage light can produce a dramatic effect. (Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Stage lighting has existed since the early days of theatrical indoor performance, when candles and candelabras were used to light the stage. Today, you can create special lighting effects for a stage performance by bringing back this candlelit effect, creating your own footlights, adding inexpensive gels to your available light equipment or choosing to use one, dramatic "special" light.

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Real or Faux Candles

Actual "fire" onstage is often prohibited, so, if it this is the case in your theatre, consider using fake candles that are electric or battery powered. The glow of even a fake candle will create an eerie, mysterious effect and is especially useful for scenes in which part of the stage needs to remain hidden until a surprise reveal. Candles can also help create the feeling of a time gone by, a useful addition to a staging of a classic play such as those by Shakespeare or Moliere. If your performance venue does allow fire, use real candles or lanterns to add a flickering glow that throws large, wavering shadows on the upstage wall.

Homemade Footlights

You can create homemade footlights that mimic the up-light effect of old-time vaudeville shows. Footlights are simply a series of lights that sit on the edge of the extreme downstage, sending their light upward on the actors. Lay a 2-by-4 along the front edge of your stage to serve as the base for your footlights. You'll need a plain, clean tin can for each footlight. Using tin snips, cut and peel back one side of each of the cans. Wire the tin cans with basic electrical equipment appropriate for the wattage of light bulb you'd like to use in each light. Add bulbs and affix the can lights to the 2 X 4, securing the whole apparatus to the stage. The effects of footlights are best utilised by actors standing downstage, directly over them.

One Dramatic "Special"

If you are able to locate or borrow one high-powered stage or flood light, use it to create a dramatic "special" effect. One powerful light focused straight down onto the centre of the stage will create a dramatic pool of light that actors can step in and out of. A high-powered light shining and moving from extreme stage right or left will give the effect of a search light, and two such lights paired can create the effect of a car's headlights. One dramatic light source focused from the direction of your choice can also suggest the moon or sun.

Gelled Lights

If your theatrical venue has some lighting instruments available for you to use and you'd like to take them beyond the basic wash of yellow-white light, consider adding inexpensive gels to the instruments. Gels can be bought in shapes that fit right over the front of the light and are semi-transparent pieces of plastic that change the colour of the light the instrument throws. Gel all your lights in one colour for a dramatic "blood" red effect or a "sickly" green one. Combine colours to add a more subtle effect. Gels are readily available through online sites such as Stage Spot and as of May 2011 cost around £3.20 per gel.

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