Light Plot, Lists and Schedules


     J. Michael Gillette. Theatrical Design and Production, 4th edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company. 1999. Chapter 12: Lighting Design. pp. 293 - 298.

Outside reading...
     William B. Warfel. The New Handbook of Stage Lighting Graphics. New York: Drama Book Publishers. 1990.
      Steven Louis Shelly. A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting. Boston: Focal Press. 1999. (2nd edition, 2009)

     John McKernon's "The Complete Shop Order"
     John McKernon's "Focus Charts"
     The Lighting Archive
     Theatrical Lighting Database
     Abe Feder Lighting Design Collection

Light Plot | Lists and Schedules

Light Plot

1. What information normally appears on a Light plot (or layout)?

The light plot is a plan view of the stage showing where each lighting instrument is located. The instrument type (Ellipsoidal, Fresnel, Scoop, etc...) is represented by a symbol. Each light is identified by a unit number placed within the symbol. Depending on the designer, the color, purpose (or focus), circuit (or dimmer) and control channel for each unit may also be listed on the plot.

Today most lighting designers create their light plots on a computer screen using a CAD program such as VectorWorks. The instrument number, color, control channel, etc. (called attributes in CADspeak) are entered into the computers memory and associated with each symbol plotted on the drawing. This information is then exported from the CAD program and imported into a data base or spread sheet program (such as Microsoft Excel) where it is sorted by channel number generating a hook-up chart.

Light plot from the Northern's 2003 production of 110 in the Shade.

Link to a PDF file of the light plot and a page of photographs from the show

2. What is the difference between a Broadway plot and a study plot?

A Broadway plot shows only the location, unit number, and type of light. In the commercial New York theatre, the light plot is the document used by the electrician to hang the show. All he needs to know is what type of light to hang and where to hang it.

A study plot, generally used in the educational theatre, shows the color, purpose, and control channel, for each unit . You will often find a study plot on the production table of a Brodway show.

3. What are the two common scales used in drafting a light plot?

1/2" = 1'0" (used primarily by New York designers) and 1/4" = 1'0".

4. What information can be notated adjacent to the instrument symbol on a study plot?

The color, purpose (or focus), control channel and circuit (or dimmer) number.

5. What is the difference between an aligned system and the aimed system of instrument orientation?

In an aligned plot, all lamps typically point either up stage (for front and side lights) or down stage (for down and back lights). In an aimed plot, the unit is pointed in the general direction the light will eventually be focused. Most commercial designers use an aligned plot because they are easier and faster to draft and typically has a "more professional" appearance.

6. What are the two basic rules which apply to instrument numbering?

The units in each mounting position (Cove, Pipe, Boom) are numbered from 1 to n starting at the stage left end of a pipe, cove or rail position and the top of a boom or ladder. Each unit is identified by (1) mounting position and (2) instrument number. For example: 4Pipe 5 is the fifth lamp (starting from stage left) on the fourth electric and 1BoomR 4 is the fourth unit (from the top) on the first boom stage right.

7. What is the traditional spacing for 6" units?

Six inch spotlights (Ellipsoidals and Fresnels) are typically located on 18" (1'-6") centers. A 40 foot electric pipe can hold a maximum of 27- 6" lights.

    For 8" units?

24 inch (2'-0") centers.

8. How is a tormentor position, such as a boom or ladder, indicated and detailed on a light plot?

The true location of the boom or ladder is indicated on the light plot. An elevation of the position, showing the location of each instrument, is generally placed off to the side of the sheet.

9. What is the function of the instrument key, or "legend?"

An instrument key is used to assign meaning (instrument type) to each of the graphic symbols. The instrument key below (drafted in VectorWorks8.5 using the AutoPlotVW symbol library) shows the standard graphic symbol (in 1/2 inch scale) for five lighting instruments: A Source4 Ellipsoidal, Fresnel, PARCan, Source4 PAR and Scoop. The symbol on the far right shows the location of the color, instrument number, control channel, purpose (or focus) and dimmer information.

Instrument Key

10. What essential information must be included in a title block?

  1. Name of the show,
  2. Producing organization,
  3. Title of the sheet (Light Plot),
  4. Designer's name: Lighting by ...,
  5. Scale,
  6. Initals of the draftsman (if other than the designer),
  7. Date,
  8. Version number, and
  9. Sheet number: 1 of 2.
Link to a virtual copy of Abe Feder's light plot for the original 1956 Broadway production of My Fair Lady (a PDF file).

A Light Plot created in VectorWorks.

11. Using the light plot, and instrument key above, which instruments are...

Ellipsoidals? Lamps number 1, 2, 7, 12 and 13.
Fresnels? Lamps number 4, 6, 8 and 10.
PAR-Cans? Lamps number 3 and 11.
Scoops? Lamps number 5 and 9.

12. Which instruments are plugged into channel 4?

Lamps number 1 and 2, Moonlight from stage left.

13. Which channel controls the instrument/s focused into the down center area?

Channel 2.

14. Which instruments are individually controlled?

Lamps number 4, 7 and 10.

15. Which instruments are "twofer'd" together?

There are five groups of lamps which are ganged (twofer'd) together. They are units number 1 and 2, 3 and 11, 5 and 9, 6 and 8, and 12 and 13.

16. Which channel/s controls the instruments gelled in R51?

Channels 1, 2 and 3. The three channels which control the left, center and right areas.

17. What is the minimum number of circuits?

Eight. One per channel.

    The maximum number of circuits?

Thirteen. One per light.

Lists and Schedules

18. What lists and schedules makeup a lighting designer's paperwork?

  1. Hook Up Chart,
  2. Instrument Schedule,
  3. Shop Order,
  4. Magic Sheet,
  5. Focus Chart,
  6. Cue (Q) List, and
  7. Cue (Q) Sheet.

19. What fields (using data base terminology) can be used to identify and define each lighting instrument?

  1. The mounting position: First Electric
  2. Unit number: 4
  3. Instrument type: Source 4- 26°
  4. Lamp wattage: 575w
  5. Dimmer number: 77
  6. Circuit number: 77
  7. Channel number: 35
  8. Focus (or purpose): X-L>R
  9. Color: R34

20. On which field is the instrument schedule sorted?

Mounting position and unit number.
The instrument schedule lists each unit by mounting position and instrument number. Also included in the schedule is the control channel, dimmer, color, and focus. Link to the instrument schedule (a PDF file) for 110 in the Shade. Both the Hook-up Chart and Instrument Schedule were developed in MS Excel. The paper work software program used by most designers and electricians in the industry is LightWright by John McKernon. A free, fully functional, 75 lamp demo version is available on line. LightWright also has the ability to export a patch file which can be easily imported into the Expression Off-Line editor. A patch file can also be created in MS Excell, but it requires more manipulation of the data.

     The hook-up chart?

Channel number.
The hook-up chart indicates which channel controls each light. In addition to the control channel, the mounting position, instrument number, dimmer number, color, and focus for each light is listed. Link to the hook-up chart (a PDF file) for 110 in the Shade. Virtual copies of Tharon Musser's channel hook-up for A Chorus Line can be viewed at the Theatrical Lighting Database. Note: Tharon's hook-up chart was done the old fashioned way: Pencil on legal pad.

21. Under what circumstances is a Shop Order necessary?

If the equipment for a show is to be rented (or possibly borrowed) the designer will need to develop a shop order, a very detailed list of all the equipment needed to light the production. This list must include the
  1. Basic hardware (4- 40' pipes; 6- 10' booms w/ 50# boom bases),
  2. Lighting instruments (24- 6x9 Lekos w/ lamp, c-clamp and color frames),
  3. Cable (6 cables 80/100' w/ twofers and 20' jumpers),
  4. Accessories (pipe stiffeners and scenery guards),
  5. Color (12- 7.5" cuts of R34), and
  6. Control equipment (96- 2.4Kw dimmers, Memory control board - 48 channel, 96 dimmers).
If it's not in the shop order, it will not be at the theatre. Link to John McKernon's
The Complete Shop Order. Chapter 5 of Steve Shelly's book, A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting, 2nd edition, goes into great detail on the development of the shop order. Virtual copies of Tharon Musser's shop order (called "Electrical Equipment List") for A Chorus Line can be viewed at the Theatrical Lighting Database.

22. Develop a shop order for the single pipe light plot in question 11.

  1. Basic Hardware
    26'- 1 1/2" Pipe
  2. Lighting Instruments
    5- 6" Ellipsoidals w/ lamp, c-clamp and color frames
    4- 8" Fresnels w/ lamp, c-clamp and color frames
    2- PARCans w/ WFL lamp, c-clamp and color frames
    2- 16" Scoops w/ lamp, c-clamp and color frames
  3. Cables
    8- Cables 75/100
    5- Twofers
  4. Color
    2- 7.5" cuts of R08
    2- 10" cuts of R34
    4- 10" cuts of R51
    2- 7.5" cuts of R63
    2- 16" cuts of R80

23. What is the function of the Magic Sheet?

The magic sheet, or cheat sheet, is a quick reference, usually only one or two pages long, to every channel and the group of lighting instruments it controls. The information is typically organized by function (or purpose) -- grouped by area, color, and direction. It is used by the designer during tech and dress rehearsals to speed up the process of setting and adjusting levels. For example, if the director comments "Down left is kind of dark," the designer may consult the magic sheet to discover which channels control the pink front lights focused down left and then asks the electrician: "Would you please raise channels 20 and 21 -- 2 points."

Link to the Magic Sheet (a PDF file) for the 2004 South Dakota High School One Act Play Festival. The magic sheet was drafted (using VectorWorks 8.5) on two copies of the floor plan of the stage of the Johnson Fine Arts Center. The drawing indicates the location of the Acting Areas (channels 1-8), washes of Sun (channels 31-33) and Moon Light (channels 34-36), the position of nine pools of Down Light (channels 13-21) and the channels controlling the Cyc Lights (47-48) and the Full Stage Washs (37-38). Link to the Light Plot (a PDF file) and Hook Up Chart (a PDF file) for the 2004 Festival.

Virtual copies of Tharon Musser's magic sheets for A Chorus Line can be viewed at the Theatrical Lighting Database and Ken Billington's magic sheets for Sweeny Todd can be seen at The Lighting Archive (Click on Archive > Ken Billington > Sweeny Todd). Both Tharon and Ken use a spread sheet approach to their magic sheets. They group the channels by "concept" and list the purpose (or description) and color for each channel. There were seven "concepts" in the Broadway production of A Chorus Line:

  1. Sides
  2. Ends
  3. Fronts
  4. Down and Back
  5. Thought Specials
  6. Mondrian
  7. Misc.

24. What is a Focus Chart?

A focus chart is a written record of the focus of each instrument in the plot. Typically it is organized like the instrument schedule -- by mounting position and unit number. The focus point is defined by where the designer is standing when the instrument is focused -- so-many feet left (or right) of the center line and the number of feet upstage (or down stage) of the plaster line (or set line, etc...). If the unit is an Ellipsoidal the four shutter cuts and the position of the lens barrel (soft to hard edge) are indicated. If the lamp is a Fresnel the lamp position from flood to spot will be noted. Focus charts are an integral element in the documentation of a design. They are essential if a production will move or be recreated at a later date. Link to John McKernon's notes on Focus Charts. Virtual copies of Tharon Musser's focus charts for A Chorus Line can be viewed at the Theatrical Lighting Database.

25. When, in the design process, is the cue (Q) list developed?

The preliminary cue (Q) list should be developed near the end of the rehearsal period, sometime after the first run through but before tech. I typically start with a running order of the show: a list of scenes, and (if it's a musical) the songs performed in each scene. This becomes the basis of my Q list. I watch a run through a couple of days before first tech. At that rehearsal I will layout my preliminary Q list. Each Q is numbered, located by line are piece of action, and described.

26. What information should be included on the cue (Q) list?

  1. The cue number: Q7
  2. The count: 5 cnt
  3. The location (page & line number) in the script (or score)
  4. A description of the cue (action or line): Joe Xs DC
  5. A description of the lighting effect: Pull focus DC (fade US)

27. What information should be included on the Cue (Q) sheet?

A cue sheet, is a list of lighting cues arranged in numerical order. It is the light board operator's "script". It indicates what physical action (Cross fade from Scene A to Scene B or Press the GO button) must be performed when the stage manager gives the GO.

The cue sheet should include the cue number (Q 10), the count in seconds (10), and and the action the operator must execute (ScA > ScB). If the stage manager does not call the show, the cue sheet will also include the "go" line or action (On: Chorus exits US), and a brief description of the effect (For: US fades to 1/2).

Often the board operator will be given a given a copy of the script (the Cue Book) in which the location (line or action) of each light cue is marked. When I am the Board Op I like to have both the Cue List and the Cue Book.

If the console is being operated as a two-scene preset, the level of each channel in the cue will be indicated as well as which scene, A or B, will be active.

Example: A Two-Scene PreSet Cue Sheet
Cue Number SceneCountCh 1Ch 2Ch 3Ch 4Ch 5Ch 6Ch 7Ch 8
Cue 1 Sc A 5 F 5 5 - - - - -
Cue 2 Sc B 5 8 3 3 4 4 - - -
Cue 3 Sc A 10 - - - 5 6 3 3 -
Cue 3A Sc A 5 - - - 5 6 3 6^ -
Cue 4 Sc B 3 5 5 5 - - - - -
Cue 5 Sc A 0 - - - - - - - F

Typically, a pre-set Q sheet is laid out as a chart with a column for the Q number, the scene (A or B), the count and each channel slider on the console. In the example above, Cue 1 is in Scene A (the top bank of sliders), it will come up in a 5 count with channel 1 at full, channels 2 and 3 at half (50%) and channels 4 through 8 at out (0%). Cue 3A (a cue inserted between Q3 and Q4) is a manual cue excuted in the top bank of sliders (Scene A): Channel 7 is moved up from 3 to 6 in a 5 count. Cue 5 is a "bump" cue: a zero count.

In a computer-assisted board the Q number, count and channel levels are loaded into memory: the Cue Stack. After each rehearsal they can be saved onto a floppy disk, loaded into the designer's studio computer, edited (if necessary) and then exported as an ASCII text file for archival purposes. Below is the print out for cue 110, the first cue of Act I, in Northern's 2003 production of 100 in the Shade which I designed on an ETC Express 48/96.

Cue 110.0
   Text Sc1: RR Station 
   Up 30
   Down 30
   Chan 1@80 2@80 3@80 4@60 5@60 6@60 7@60 8@60 9@60 10@60 11@60 12@60
   Chan 28@60 29@60 30@60 37@50 38@50 39@50 40@50 41@50 42@50 49@50 50@50
   Chan 51@50 73@50 75@80
The print out includes the cue number (110.0), the short line of text which will appear on the console monitor (RR Station), the count (30 seconds) and the level (in %) of each channel in the composition (Channel 1 at 80%...). Most control consoles also have the ability to do a print out (typically a screen dump) of each cue. The print out includes the cue number, the count, the label (if any) and the level of each channel in the cue. Generally each cue is printed on a separate sheet.

From a designer's viewpoint, it would be more logical, for record keeping purposes, to record the levels by function instead of control channel. For example...

Q 110.0
   Sc1: RR Station 
   Count: 30
      CoveR R08 @ 80
      CoveL R02 @ 60
      1 PipeR R08 @ 60
      1 PipeL R55 @ 60
      SunR R18  @ 60
      MoonL R69  @ 50
      MoonR R65  @ 50
      Blue Wash  @ 50
      Amber Cyc  @ 50
      SunBox  @ 80
Virtual copies of Tharon Musser's 129 cue sheets (called "Master Track Sheets") for
A Chorus Line can be viewed at the Theatrical Lighting Database. Tharon's "tracking sheets" for A Chorus Line include the cue number (Cue: 2 ), the count (Count: 5 ), the computer's memory location (Load: 010 ), the GO cue (On: Z:"That connects with" GO! ), the effect (For: Turns ) and the level of each channel in the composition. If a channel actually moves in the cue, there will be an up or down arrow next to the level. The data was noted on a pre-printed Cue Sheet Form by one of Tharon's assistants during the cue setting process. Similar Cue Sheets for Ken Billington's design for Sweeny Todd can be viewed at The Lighting Archive (Click on Archive > Ken Billington > Sweeny Todd).

110 in the Shade

Act I, Scene 1: The Depot at Three Point, Texas

Link to the HookUp Chart (PDF), Instrument Schedule (PDF) and Cue List (PDF) for
Northern's 2003 production of 100 in the Shade.

E-mail questions and comments to Larry Wild at
Revised: August 3, 2012
Copyright © 2001-2012 by Larry Wild, Northern State University , Aberdeen, SD