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Calamity jane lighting

James Chillman

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My school is putting on calamity jane the musical and I am in charge of lighting. I have lots of experiance with basic lighting, but I want to make this show wow them, but as its a school project the budget is small, We only have 15 500w strand PC's and 4 Parcans, We have a 24 channel DMX dimmer and an zero 88 alcora desk, Hiring in equipment is possible as but due to the budget we cant spend much.


Does anybody have any ideas on how to wow the production team and the audience on a budget?

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Hi James


I think one of the main things to remember is that the lighting is designed to compliment the style of production. You should read through the script and decide, scene by scene, how you anticipate each scene to be lit. (You should talk to the set designer and director about these, of course). Then go through your designs and combine them onto one master plan. Work out if there are any of the scenes you can pair lanterns with - eg are all the indoor scenes lit in straw? Don't design to the kit you've got - design, then try and fit the kit to the job. If you decide you need gobos, shuttering etc, try and get hold of some profiles.


Sometimes the best "wow" effects can be simple - a solo followspot picking up a character as they spill their heart, perfectly timed blackouts.


Also look carefully at your gel selections - are you using straw because its best for that scene, or because its whats available.


Look into local drama groups who may own small ammounts of kit. Don't be afraid to experiment with things, but remember at all times the main function of lighting - to ILLUMINATE. Theres no point in doing a beautiful backlight gobo wash on the stage if you can't see the faces of the cast (unless of course this is the desired effect - am I contradicting myself?)


Hope some of this is useful. If you have any questions about specific elements of the production, don't hesitate to ask them here - we're all here to help


And welcome to the Blue Room.





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Providing you have a white cyc, creating the backdrop effect shouldn't be too difficult. For a few £'s you can hire cyclorama floods from pretty much any theatrical lighting hire company. These have an asymmetrical reflector in them, so they give an even flood of light throughout the beam. Depending on the location of the lighting bars, you can light the cyc from above, from below (hidden behind scenery) or from both (which would give you a nice even coverage). The cyclorama floods are available in 3 and 4 cell versions, which would mean you could have one circuit gelled in orange, another in blue, and a special for a particular song.


Sunrays are a more difficult effect to get "right". You could use your pars (assuming they're 1kW) which would be much brighter than the 500w fresenels. Putting these either onto booms or simply crosslighting from the end of your lighting bars, in a yellowey colour would give you a feeling of warmth.


Another way to achieve the sunlight feeling would be to use the "key and fill" method of lighting. Basically the stage is divided into sections, and each section is lit from the front by two lanterns - each at 45 degrees to the section. Selecting one of the directions of light to be your "key" light, you gel this side in a warmer colour than your "fill" lights. This can be effective, but requires careful gel selection.


As its a school show, the chances are you'll be able to gain access to the equipment. My main piece of advice to you would be "experiment" - you're only at school once - make use of it. Borrow a friend to walk around the stage, and try different colours, angles, lanterns - until you find something you like.


For a more "academic" approach, Francis Reid's "Stage Lighting Handbook" (currently in its 6th edition) is great for explaining industry standard techniques and has photographs to demonstrate why some techniques work and others dont. Your school library may even have a copy - mine did.



Hope some of this helps





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Unless you consider them artistically necessary, no. Apart from anything, you say your budget is petty low - by the time you've hired a couple of moving heads (£90/week each) and a control desk (£120/week) you've easily spent £300... £300 could hire you LOTS more generic lanterns. If you can't get the general cover etc right, there is very little point in throwing money at a production in the hope that it will become better just because its got moving lights.


Although this is only my personal opinion. If you can justify them to your producer, you have the sufficient knowledge and budget, then fine, go for it. But allow 4x plotting time.

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The actual design sheets of paper don't particularly matter.


The point of them is to show everyone where you want your lights, what colour they should be and where and how they should be focused.

If what you've drawn shows this and your crew understands it, then it's fine.


The stencils help by giving you outlines (to scale!) of individual lanterns, so your crew (and you) can easily identify what goes where, and if you draw to scale you can confirm whether you can fit them on the lighting bar without them hitting each other or cutting beams.


The more-or-less standard is to produce:

1) Rigging plot showing where all the lanterns go, what gel, approx. angle (face/back/side etc), and where to patch them in.

2) Focussing plot(s) indicating where and how each lantern should be focused

3) Gel cutting sheet so someone can sit cutting all the gel you need and you can figure out how much to buy.

4) Lantern listing so you can work out what to hire, and confirm you've got it all and it works!

5) Hire listing so you can hire the kit and check you actually got it all as mistakes do happen.


As to the designing itself - read some books, and play with some lights in your free time.

I'd suggest you stick to the Method plus Specials lighting system as that gives you a reasonably good result every time, but add little tweaks and special touches to give the wow factor.

Your school library should have some books, but if not then get in touch with the local University as they will have some, and they'll let you read and take notes.


At the end of the day, most of the time the audience shouldn't notice the lighting.

The lighting should transport them to the place and scene of the show, and help invoke the relevant feelings - you can sometimes make an audience laugh or cry with lights alone.


Your job is to help make the audience suspend their disbelief.

If you do that, then you've won.

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Selecting one of the directions of light to be your "key" light, you gel this side in a warmer colour than your "fill" lights. This can be effective, but requires careful gel selection.


I agree this is a good place to start, I use 151 and a 153 or 36 from he other side, This has served me well. In my last production I used colour scrollers, having a day and night scene and tried to do the same with a variation night scene. Didn't quite work, and I learnt a lot about standard colour scrolls and the colours not being subtle enough (own choices on order) and finally understood the significance of operating my Fat Frog - in partial mode. At first tech rehearsal, had scrollers moving all over the place. Finally got it right for the performance, though if I'm honest I still had a couple of problems on the first night which I hadn't programmed out.


What colours of gels do others use for this method?


Taught me a lot about the need to be very familiar with the kit you are using!


I have however been using and ellipscan (a moving mirror<DMX controlled) fitted to the front of a Strand SL - instead of a followspot (controled from the wheel on the Fat Frog) Works well in musicals etc, where movement of principles is reasonably slow. Added highlighting of areas using 2x MAC 250's and this did work well. Perhaps not good value if they have to be hired, but the movement of pools around the stage and the ability to add some break up, mixed with 1KW fresnel backlight, worked for me.

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