Flash Mob

By Mulcahy, Lisa | Stage Directions, February 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Flash Mob

Mulcahy, Lisa, Stage Directions

Create smashing strobe lighting SFX safely - even with a big cast and capacity house

Strobe light and flashing SFX can be a real visual boon to a production, or a real pain in the neck. The more people involved in these effects - cast, crew or audience - the more things can go wrong. Crew members and actors have to be well-rehearsed to move properly under the disorienting effects of strobing, and some audience members can actually suffer medical problems (such as seizures) when viewing strobes. Still, strobe lighting can be an incredibly versatile tool, and a great way to add pop to your show.

Strobe Basics

Strobes come in a number of prices ranges and wattage, from the traditional halogen or xenon lamp to the recent arrival of LED sources. Your basic strobe is a plug-in device like the American DJ Big Shot, a 45-watt light with a halogen source. There are more complex, multiple source fixtures like the MegaStrobe FX12 from Chauvet Lighting, which contains multiple LEDs, is controllable via DMX and can be used as a singular strobe light or programmed to have chase effects in the fixture. On top of the power scale you have instruments like the Martin Atomic 3000 DMX, which uses a 3000 watt xenon lamp to blast your viewers; Paule Constable used eight of them for her lighting design for War Horse on Broadway.

No matter the size, strobes tend to pack a powerful punch, so you've got to carefully plan them into a production. A few short, dramatic flash bursts lensed in white can perfectly mimic vivid lightning; you can also create unique stage pictures with colored strobes; and you can also use a strobe to light a slow-mo visual tableau. Just don't do them all.

"When using strobe or flashing effects, I think it is important to remember that there are people watching your show, and that, while strobes lend themselves to great effects, using them too often or for too long leads to the audience becoming annoyed by them," says Kevin Richie, president and co-owner of StageSpot. com, a retail production supply company based in Austin, Texas and a veteran Broadway and regional lighting tech.

Additionally, where you place a strobe can have a tremendous impact on how well the effect will read from the stage. A strobe flash that originates too close to another source of stage light is most likely going to get swallowed up and washed out, either partially or completely. Placing a strobe upstage, away from clashing light sources, will maximize its impact. It's also not a bad idea to take the intensity of the rest of the rig down a few points around the timing of a strobe to avoid washing the effect out.

Keep in mind, too, that the closer an audience member is to a strobe, the more vivid (and potentially, visually assaultive) its result will be. Don't overwhelm the audience! "More typically, strobe lends to a better effect when the flash can be contained on stage," adds Richie.

Health and Safety

Unfortunately, another effect strobe lights can have on your audience, as well as your cast, crew and staff, is creating potential health hazards. "We know that strobes can trigger seizures," stresses Noemi Ybarra, lighting specialist at Jones & Philips Associates, a theatre consulting firm in Lafayette, Ind. Audience members with photosensitive epilepsy, specifically, can suffer seizure episodes by looking even briefly at a strobe SFX.

The number of strobe flashes you program per second can influence a susceptible audience member's seizure risk. It's believed that an effect containing eight or more flashes is most likely to cause a medical issue. Many theatre safety experts, therefore, caution clients never to operate a strobe at more than five flashes per second. Don't put any patron at potential risk: Consult a doctor, and ask this physician not only to inform you accurately of seizure risk in accordance with your production, but to come to your rehearsals and personally view your strobe SFX to confirm its safety.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Flash Mob


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?