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The Stage : Lighting control systems

The control of the lighting is a vital area within the production of any staged event. There are now very sophisticated systems that lighting technicians use that can help them to create stunning visual effects.

In Derby Playhouse, for instance, the lights are controlled using one or more mixing desks. The system can handle over 250 lights with on/off, dimming and other special effects.

You will notice that there is a limited number of control slider and buttons. With so many lights and different control effects it is difficult for the human brain to keep tabs on everything during a live performance. So specific sequences and simultaneous events are programmed into a computer and can be triggered by pressing a few buttons.

So why don't the technical staff program events to run automatically for a whole show? It comes down to the fallibility of humans. Actors can forget lines or stage directions. The Deputy Stage Manager has the important role of co-ordinating and linking the stage and technical events by both whispering forgotten words and using intercom communications with the sound and lighting crew to trigger events throughout a performance.

In the Playhouse Theatre there is a serial communication network which enables the mixing desks to send messages to all of the lamps used in a production using a single five way cable.

The network links to each lamp in the dimmer room. The network interface involves two communication systems and therefore looks more complicated than might be expected. There is:

  • a high speed ethernet, specific to the system manufacturer.
  • a DMX (digital multiplex) system which is a general standard for use with a range of equipment.

In the dimmer room next door each lamp is wired to its own dimmer control and this is part of the communication network throughout the theatre.

The communications network also enables mixing desks to be plugged into the system at any convenient point in the theatre.

A wireless link is also available for use with a hand-held mixing desk (called a riggers remote). This enables lighting technicians to control lights from the stage during setting up. This has the advantage that the technicians can see exactly what a lighting sequence or combination looks like on stage.

Stage lighting design

Positioning and setting up lights for a performance is time consuming. Using software to create and model virtual stage lighting effects can reduce this.

Industry standard software is expensive but PC games such as 'Half Life' includes 3D room creation software which enables you to explore room and lighting effect designs. You may also have access to software such as 3D Studio Max which will help you create your own set designs and play around with the lighting.

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