Modeling with Light


     J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1999. Chapter 12: Lighting Design. pp. 290-293.

     Jean Rosenthal's A Photo Essay on Light

1. What are the standard directions of light? What effect does each produce on the actor?

Front light by itself, even when cross focused, gives a very flat quality to the figure, but it is good for lighting the actor's eyes.
Diagonal front light adds a little dimensionality to the actor while maintaining good face light.
Side light reveals the dimensionality of the actor. Side light from both sides of the stage will produce adequate, although shadowy, visibility. A little front light will help the audience see the actor's face.
Back light highlights the actor's head and shoulders and can be used to separate him from the background.
Diagonal back light, like side light, reveals the dimensionality of the actor as well as separateing him from the background.
Down light is very dramatic but it is not very good for lighting an actor's faces.
Up light reverses the position of the shadows. It can be used to create a moment of horror.

Images created in Virtual Light Lab.

2. What are the traditional front-of-house mounting positions in the proscenium theatre?

  1. Ceiling Cove (or Ceiling Beam), a slot in the ceiling, is the standard front-of-house mounting position in most (if not all) theatres built since 1950. Typically the throw is about 35 feet to the curtain line and the position will normally hold 24 to 36- 6 inch units. Commercial theatres built in the 20s and 30s generally made no provision for front lights. Because most Broadway theatres were built during this period, lighting designers were forced to hang their front lights on the...
  2. Balcony Rail and on...
  3. Booms located in the box seats. The 58 front units in Rosenthal's original design for Rodgers and Hammersteins The Sound of Music (Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 1959) were divided between the Balcony Rail (34 lamps) and the two Near Box Booms (12 lamps each). In the 1980s designers began using a..
  4. FOH Pipe or Truss hung over the orchestra section of the auditorium. This position provides a vertical angle similar to the Ceiling Cove in a more modern theatre. The 63 front units in Ken Billington's Tony Award winning design for Chicago (Richard Rodger's Theatre, 1996) are divided between the Balcony Rail (18 + 5 VariLites), FOH Truss (17) and the Left and Right Box Boom (14 per side), and the
  5. Follow Spot Booth in the back of the balcony. In addition to two or three follow spots, a limited number of very long throw ellipsoidals (5° or 10°) can be mounted in the back of the theatre. The throw distance is often close to a 100 feet.

3. Which positions do we have in Johnson Center?

  1. Ceiling Cove. There are 34 circuits (dimmers 1 through 34) on 2 foot centers in the Cove.
  2. Side pipes over the two front exit doors. Each pipe will hold three units. They are powered from circuits in the Cove.
  3. Projection Booth. In addition to the two 1000w FollowSpots, we have outlets for two dimmers which could be used to power a couple of 5° or 10° ellipsoidals which we do not own.
  4. Four Gun Racks (short FOH Pipes) suspended below the ceiling above the four transverse aisles. Each will hold three lamps. Like the Side Pipes they are powered from circuits in the Cove.

4. What mounting positions are available on stage?

  1. Electric Pipes: Generally the spacing between electric pipes is 6 to 10 feet with the First Electric hung 1 or 2 feet upstage of the Act Curtain. There are four 60' electric pipes on the JFAC MainStage. Each of our electric pipes is outfitted with a 60' raceway. Outlets on the first two pipes are on 18" centers; outlets on the third and fourth electric are on 24" centers.
  2. Booms: The spacing between booms is also generally between 6 and 10 feet. In a dance show or musical, it is not unusual to locate a boom on each side of the stage directly under an electric pipe.
  3. Floor: Footlights and rovers-- a single light placed on a short stand --are considered floor mounted lamps.
  4. Set: Backing lights and on stage practicals (such as a wall sconce or fire place effect) are often mounted directly to the set.

5. What is a boom ?

A boom is a 10 to 12 foot vertical (1" or 1 1/2" diameter) pipe screwed into a large heavy (50 pound) base. It is the standard mounting position for side lights in a musical or dance show. Booms are not permanent mounting positions. They are rigged and cabled for each production and struck when the show closes.

    A ladder?

A ladder is a pipe frame (which looks like a "ladder") suspended from the grid or the ends of an electric pipe. Instruments mounted on a ladder are used to provide high angle side light. The major advantage of a ladder is it will keep the floor clear and uncluttered. Like the boom, it is a standard mounting position for side lights in a musical or dance show.

6. What is a Pipe End?

Pipe End - Stage Right
High angle side light mounted at the ends of an electric pipe.

    A Shin Buster

Shin Buster - Stage Right
The shin buster, an up light mounted in the wings, is a standard dance position. It is a lamp mounted at the bottom of a boom, generally about a foot above the deck and focused head-high center stage. If it is an ellipsoidal, it will normally be shuttered off the floor, and upstage masking. I have added dark blue (R80) diagonal back light to the image on the left to help "ground" the performer.

7. Where do I normally hang side lights? Why?

I tend to mount side lights at the ends (starting approximately 20' left and right of the center line) of the overhead electric pipes. These high angle side lights are generally referred to as Pipe Ends (or simply Ends) in the professional theatre.


Because it is fast and efficient. Hanging and powering 24 lamps on 6 booms will take approximately 8 man hours. Hanging and powering 24 lamps on three electric pipes will usually take less than one man hour.

E-mail questions and comments to Larry Wild at
Revised: January 5, 2011
Copyright © 2001-2011 by Larry Wild, Northern State University , Aberdeen, SD