Behind the spotlight: Theatre technology majors describe the art behind the lights

People working in theater technology use lighting boards like this one to coordinate the lights in theater performances and dance recitals. Photo by Courtney Cummings

Onstage, actors sing and dance to a transfixed audience but offstage, Margot New, a junior theatre technology major, works to put on the lighting and stage production.

The audience may not consider the effort that goes into the technical aspect of the show, but New and other technicians know that it takes countless hours and hard work to put together the performance that the audience sees on the night of the show.

While each technician has his or her own way of creating a lighting design, Danny Barba, a sophomore theatre technology major, said technicians are there to “give people an excuse to forget about their everyday lives, to forget their problems and stresses and to spend that hour or two in a world of imagination.”

“We see songs and music in colors,” New said. “You have to be able to visualize what best fits with what you are working with.

This is one of the reasons why New is interested in lighting, she said.

“I fell in love with the magic behind (theater technology),” New said. “Nobody knows what we’re doing, nobody sees us or what is going on, so really, what we’re doing is magical.”

According to the Chapman website, the theatre technology emphasis, which is a part of the College of Performing Arts, offers students specialized training in skills such as stage management, design, lighting and advanced technology. Students help put on productions, work in a variety of different areas and gain hands-on experience from skilled faculty members.

When creating the lighting for a show, a plan of what the technician and director want has to be created. Then that plan is programmed into a computer that is hooked up to the lighting board, which controls the lighting during a performance.

The production that takes place behind the scenes of a performance, whether it is a concert or stage play, is much more complex than audiences think, Barba said.

“The objective of the technician and crew members is to get their job done without being seen by the audience,” Barba said. “For every little thing that happens onstage, there are usually several people running around and working backstage to make it happen.”
Barba said he became interested in lighting after going to concerts when he was younger and seeing the different things the lights could do.

“I would always enjoy watching the lights and how they affected and complemented the music, the musicians and the performance as a whole,” Barba said. “There’s something about being able to control and run an entire show from the back of the house, while no one even knows I’m there. That excited me, and it still does to this day.”

Lighting is an art in and of itself, New said. Without lighting, a stage production would be drastically different.
“You can’t touch lighting or feel it or hold it,” New said. “But it’s so present. In every aspect of your life, lighting is involved. That’s what makes it so special.”

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