Lighting Design on Broadway: Designers and Their Credits, 1915-1990

By Bobbi Owen | Go to book overview

Introduction

"What light through yonder window breaks..."

Romeo and Juliet

When theatre performances took place during the day and primarily out of doors, lighting, except for special effects or winter afternoon performances, was not a critical element. The move to indoor theatres in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries created the need for general illumination. Interior lighting was achieved initially with wax candles, several hundred in front of the proscenium arch and two or three thousand behind the proscenium opening to illuminate the actors, and coincidentially the audience. Made daily from tallow distilled from mutton fat and cooked in boiler rooms in the theatres, these candles created a haze that hung between the audience and the stage. An adage of long standing in the theatre is "an actor not seen is an actor not heard." Therefore, lines of dialogue were sometimes shouted by the actors so they could be heard through the fog. In addition, smoke from the candles got into the actors' lungs and caused them to cough and spit. Because this became an enormous problem, spittoons were built into theatres on both sides of the proscenium for the actors to use. Wicks required continual attention, so candle boys would move about on stage trimming wicks without regard for the scene being played. They were often applauded for effective trimming.

The introduction of clean-burning gas into theatres was obviously welcomed. Curiously, gas lights and, subsequently, electric lights were used in the foyers, lobbies and exteriors of theatres long before they were used to light the stage. The first English theatre to use gas lighting was Drury Lane in London around 1817. Gas was controllable through dimmers, but this feature was not exploited until Henry Irving used it for special effects together with general illumination in the 1880s. Limelight, created by burning lime or calcium, was developed in 1816 and used at Covent Garden in 1837. It provided a brilliant white light and, again, was mainly used for special effects, such as sun rays streaking through clouds or lightning.

Electricity was first used on stage in 1846 at the Paris Opera to create a rising sun, but was not generally used until 1878 when electric arcs (Jablochkoff candles) were introduced into the Paris Hippodrome. Incandescent bulbs made an appearance in the Savoy Theatre in London in 1881, one year after being introduced at the Paris Opera. Kliegl Brothers, the first company devoted to stage lighting, was formed in 1896 to provide lighting equipment to theatres. Few additional innovations were introduced until the 1920s, when footlights, reflectors, spotlights, dimmers, and lighting control panels all began to appear, for general light, and to focus attention on particular places on stage. The years between 1915 and 1920 were crucial in the development of the field of lighting design because it was then that "illuminating engineers" began to look on stage lighting as a branch of their industry. Innovations such as reflectors and colored light were introduced into the theatre, and lighting effects were used more often to help manipulate the audience's emotions.

Only during the last sixty to seventy years has lighting design come into its own. Theodore

-ix-

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Lighting Design on Broadway: Designers and Their Credits, 1915-1990
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Designers and Their Credits 3
  • Appendix 1: The Tony Awards 105
  • Appendix 2: The Maharam Awards 109
  • Appendix 3: The American Theatre Wing Design Awards 111
  • Selected Bibliography 113
  • Index of Plays 115
  • About the Author 161
  • Recent Titles in Bibliographies and Indexes in the Performing Arts 163
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