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Amateur Plays - Lighting

( Originally Published 1923 )

IT has been rightly urged that recent inventions and discoveries in lighting constitute the greatest contribution to the modern art of the theater. This manual is intended primarily to help the producer and the actor, but the present short chapter may assist the former or his associates in their effort to improve the physical conditions of the stage.

The prevalent system of using footlights and border lights is on the whole bad, because it is false, unnatural, and above all unnecessary. Says Moderwell (pages 107-108, in " The Theatre of Today ")

" Before we can begin work in artistic lighting we must do some destroying. One element in the old lighting must go, and go completely. We can say this with careless ease now that the Fortuny system has given us a better way. But even before this invention was made known, the case against the footlights must have been obvious to any sensitive man of the theatre; that the ` foots' continued as long as they did indicates the stagnation of the old theatre in all but purely literary art.

" The footlights, with their corresponding border lights from above, give a flat illumination. They make figures visible, but not living ; they destroy that most precious quality of the sculptor, relief.. . It is the shadows, the nooks and crannies of light and shade, that show a figure to be solid and plastic."

The Fortuny system mentioned is a device by which light is reflected and diffused : " An arc-lamp and several pieces of cloth of various colours ó these comprise the Fortuny apparatus in its simplest form." While only an expert electrician and, if the effects are to be artistic, an artist, can erect and manipulate a system built on Fortuny's principles, still amateur electricians and directors should do their best, by means of experimentation, to use indirect lighting.

Just how this can be done must rest with individuals, but two or three experiments may be briefly described.

Suppose that the cyclorama, or the hangings masking the back of the stage, are made of white or light-colored cloth. In this case, an arc lamp or ordinary calcium light can be placed up in the loft, above the top of the cyclorama, and behind it. A little experimenting will reveal many striking light effects. If one light or lamp is not sufficient, others can be placed in various positions to reŽnforce it. As conditions vary so greatly, it is impossible to supply more concise directions.

Where box sets are used in which there is at least one window, and provided the scene does not take place at night, it is much better to have all, or at least an appreciable portion of the light come in through one window. In the second act of Charles Klein's " The Music Master " played by David Warfield and produced by David Belasco, the stage was at one time brilliantly lighted, supposedly by sun-shine from the outside, from the two opposite sides of the stage ! If, however, screens and curtains are used (see chapter on " Scenery and Costumes "), then it is best to introduce some sort of central reflected light. To station lights on all sides of the stage will first of all make the stage too bright, and furthermore produce unnatural and distorted shadows : there is no chance for effects of relief or any illusion of plasticity. If possible, the foot-lights should be entirely eliminated if not, then most sparingly used. Our stages are for the most part overlighted.

The production of Lady Gregory's " The Rising of the Moon " by the Irish Players was one of the simplest and at the same time most effective of stage pictures. The following diagram will show in a rough way the general disposition of the settings :

The back of the stage (the shaded area) was flooded with white light to suggest moonlight. There were no " foots " or " borders" ; any-thing besides the single light would have ruined the effect of perfect placidity.

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