How Lighting is Used in Theatre

November 15, 2017 3 min read

How Lighting is Used in Theatre

Lighting is an essential part of theatre. It can completely change the tone, mood and atmosphere on stage and in this article, we at Gwyn Carless At The Light Yard are going to look at some of the lights use in theatre and the many ways in which lighting is used.

When it comes to theatre, lighting is one of the most technical aspects. There are many types of lights which can be used in a variety of ways. As well as this there are coloured gels which can be place in front of the lights (or lanterns) to cast a coloured light onto the stage. Gobos can also be used with the lights. Gobos are sheets with designs cut into them. They are used in front of lights to project a picture effect upon the stage.

Lights used in theatre include:

The Spot 

The spot light is probably the most well-known of the theatre lights covered in this article. It is used to highlight a character or element on stage and can be accompanied by coloured filters. The light is used to draw focus to the character or element it is highlighting and can be used to separate a character from the back drop and characters around them often for an important piece of dialog or to emphasise the action, emotion, or expression of the character.

The Strobe

Used for special effects, a strobe light is a flashing light often used to recreate the feel of old movies. The effect it provides can make the movements of individual actors and actresses appear jerky. Strobe lights are used as special effects. They should be used sparingly and are not overly common although when used well and in moderation they can produce amazing results and add a much deeper tone to what is happening on stage.

The Flood

Flood lights give off wide angled, clear light but have a drawback of little control over the spread of the light. Flood lights are relatively basic pieces of equipment by comparison to other lights used in theatre. They can be used with coloured gels but gels used with these lights are likely to perish more quickly than those used with other lights due to the high temperatures emitted by flood lights.

The Fresnel

With a softer edge than a spotlight a Fresnel is used in similar ways to its more striking, sharp-edged spot light counterpart with the exception that they are typically used for backlighting or top lighting. It uses a diffusing lens in front of the lamp and when used alongside other Fresnel lights it can offer good overall lighting. This lamp can also be used with coloured filters.

Although these are only four light types the possibilities are endless, with countless combinations to be explored across theatre, dance, opera and more and when under the meticulous watch of an expert lighting technician the results can be staggering. Lighting technicians are the unsung heroes of theatre. Music, performers and many other aspects have received much time in the spot light but the spotlight itself and all the other lights are often overlooked for the huge role they play in providing amazing production value and story telling.

There are also amazing lighting design shows that really demonstrate the endless possibilities of creative lighting and this is one of our personal favorites 



For more information take a look at these useful links:

The Society of Lighting and Lighting 

The BBC bite size GCSE has a great article on theatre lighting

Questions? To speak with us about lighting for your home or commercial project, call +44 (0)330 223 3940. Or email

For more lighting commentary, design news and advice, follow Gwyn Carless at The Light Yard on  Facebook,  Twitter,  Instagram and  LinkedIn.

SBID The Light Yard accredited partner