Until the Renaissance, almost all performance was outdoors and therefore lit by the sun, but with indoor performance came the need for lighting instruments. Lighting was first achieved with candles and oil lamps and, in the 19th century, with gas lamps. Although colored filters, reflectors, and mechanical dimming devices were used for effects, lighting served primarily to illuminate the stage. By current standards the stage was fairly dim, which allowed greater illusionism in scenic painting. Gas lighting facilitated greater control, but only the advent of electric lighting in the late 19th century permitted the brightness and control presently available. It also allowed the dimming of the house-lights, plunging the auditorium into darkness for the first time.
Lighting design, however, is not simply aiming the lighting instruments at the stage or bathing the stage in a general wash of light. Audiences usually expect actors to be easily visible at all times and to appear to be three-dimensional. This involves the proper angling of instruments, provision of back and side lighting as well as frontal, and a proper balance of colors. Two basic types of stage-lighting instruments are employed: floodlights, which illuminate a broad area, and spotlights, which focus light more intensely on a smaller area. Instruments consist of a light source and a series of lenses and shutters in some sort of housing. These generally have a power of 500 to 5000 watts. The instruments are hung from battens and stanchions in front of, over, and at the sides of the stage. In realistic settings, lights may be focused to simulate the direction of the ostensible source, but even in these instances, performers would appear two-dimensional without back and side lighting.
Because so-called white light is normally too harsh for most theater purposes, colored filters called gels are used to soften the light and create a more pleasing effect. White light can be simulated by mixing red, blue, and green light. Most designers attempt to balance “warm” and “cool” colors to create proper shadows and textures. Except for special effects, lighting design generally strives to be unobtrusive; just as in set design, however, the skillful use of color, intensity, and distribution can have a subliminal effect on the spectators perceptions.
The lighting designer is often responsible for projections. These include still or moving images that substitute for or enhance painted and constructed scenery, create special effects such as stars or moonlight, or provide written legends for the identification of scenes. Images can be projected from the audience side of the stage onto opaque surfaces, or from the rear of the stage onto specially designed rear-projection screens. Similar projections are often used on scrims, semitransparent curtains stretched across the stage. Film and still projection, sometimes referred to as mixed media, was first used extensively by the German director Erwin Piscator in the 1920s and became very popular in the 1960s.
The lights are controlled by a skilled technician called the electrician, who operates a control or dimmer board, so called because a series of “dimmers” controls the intensity of each instrument or group of instruments. The most recent development in lighting technology is the memory board, a computerized control system that stores the information of each light cue or change of lights. The electrician need no longer operate each dimmer individually; by pushing one button, all the lights will change automatically to the preprogrammed intensity and at the desired speed.
A costume is whatever is worn on the performers body. Costume designers are concerned primarily with clothing and accessories, but are also often responsible for wigs, masks, and makeup. Costumes convey information about the character and aid in setting the tone or mood of the production. Because most acting involves impersonation, most costuming is actual or re-created historical or contemporary dress; as with scenery, however, costumes may also be suggestive or abstract. Until the 19th century, little attention was paid to period or regional accuracy; variations on contemporary dress sufficed. Since then, however, costume designers have paid great attention to authentic period style.
As with the other forms of design, subtle effects can be achieved through choice of color, fabric, cut, texture, and weight or material. Because costume can indicate such things as social class and personality traits, and can even simulate such physical attributes as obesity or a deformity, an actors work can be significantly eased by its skillful design. Costume can also function as character signature, notably for such comic characters as Harlequin or the other characters of the commedia dellarte, Charlie Chaplins Little Tramp, or circus clowns.
In much Oriental theater, as in classical Greek theater, costume elements are formalized. Based originally on everyday dress, the costumes became standardized and were appropriated for the stage. Colors, designs, and ornamentation all convey meaningful information.
A special element of costume is the mask. Although rarely used in contemporary Western theater, masks were essential in Greek and Roman drama and the commedia dellarte and are used in most African and Oriental theater. The masks of tragedy and of comedy, as used in ancient Greek drama, are in fact the universal symbols of the theater. Masks obviate the use of the face for expression and communication and thus render the performer more puppetlike; expression depends solely on voice and gesture. Because the masks expression is unchanging, the characters fate or final expression is known from the beginning, thereby removing one aspect of suspense. The mask shifts focus from the actor to the character and can thus clarify aspects of theme and plot and give a character a greater universality. Like costumes, the colors and features of the mask, especially in the Orient, indicate symbolically significant aspects of the character. In large theaters masks can also aid in visibility.
Makeup may also function as a mask, especially in Oriental theater, where faces may be painted with elaborate colors and images that exaggerate and distort facial features. In Western theater, makeup is used for two purposes: to emphasize and reinforce facial features that might otherwise be lost under bright lights or at a distance and to alter signs of age, skin tone, or nose shape.
The technical aspects of production may be divided into preproduction and run of production. Preproduction technical work is supervised by the technical director in conjunction with the designers. Sets, properties (props), and costumes are made during this phase by crews in the theater shops or, in the case of most commercial theater, in professional studios.
Props are the objects handled by actors or used in dressing the stageall objects placed or carried on the set that are not costumes or scenery. Whereas real furniture and hand props can be used in many productions, props for period shows, nonrealistic productions, and theatrical shows such as circuses must be built. Like sets, props can be illusionisticthey may be created from papier-mвchй or plastic for lightness, exaggerated in size, irregularly shaped, or designed to appear level on a raked stage; they may also be capable of being rolled, collapsed, or folded. The person in charge of props is called the props master or mistress.
Sound and Sound Effects
Sound, if required, is now generally recorded during the preproduction period. From earliest times, most theatrical performances were accompanied by music that, until recently, was produced by live musicians. Since the 1930s, however, use of recorded sound has been a possibility in the theater. Although music is still the most common sound effect, wind, rain, thunder, and animal noises have been essential since the earliest Greek tragedies. Any sound that cannot be created by a performer may be considered a sound effect. Such sounds are most often used for realistic effect (for example, a train rushing by or city sounds outside a window), but they can also assist in the creation of mood or rhythm. Although many sounds can be recorded from actual sources, certain sounds do not record well and seem false when played through electronic equipment on a stage. Elaborate mechanical devices are therefore constructed to simulate these sounds, such as rain or thunder.
Technicians also create special aural and visual effects simulating explosions, fire, lightning, and apparitions and giving the illusion of moving objects or of flying.
The stage manager serves as a liaison among the technical personnel and between them and the creative staff, oversees rehearsals, coordinates all aspects of production, and runs the show in performance. The stage manager “calls” the showsignals all technicians when to take their cuesand supervises the actors during the production.
The running crew is determined by