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Introduction to Theatre Online Course

Dr. Eric W. Trumbull, Professor, Theatre/Speech

Last Update: November 17, 2007


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Unit II-Page 1
Unit III
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A History of Stage Lighting


Objective for this lesson:

Students will examine a Timeline of Events in the History of Stage Lighting

Lighting cues seem to have been written into Greek plays - the festivals played from sunup to sunset, and many of the lines refer to times of day.

The sun was the first major source of lighting instrument, and clouds were the first dimmer (!).

The Romans moved pageants into the Great Halls.

Sabastiano Serlio -- colored light liquids in bottles (red wine, saffron (yellow), ammonium chloride in a copper vessel (blue).
Brightly-polished barber basin and a round bottle as a lens

3 qualities of light: distribution, intensity, color

Leone de Somi - full illumination for happy scenes, but tragedy much darker (candles, crude oil lamps, torches, and cressets (hanging lamps).
Stagehands walked around and snipped wicks, the audience was lit
Candles were of tallow and fat

Inigo Jones (or click here) (English - stage designer) returns from Italy with knowledge of the Proscenium Arch and footlights, and comes up with ideas for masques

Teatro Olimpico is the first permanent theatre in Italy

Teatro Farnese  (see illustration in text) in Parma - the first theatre with a permanent proscenium arch and curtains

Joseph Furstenbach
Footlights (floats) and sidelights

Nicola Sabbatini - writes book on theatre - suggests system of dimmers lowering metal cylinders over the candles
Giacomo da Vignola - ideal lighting angle is along the diagonal of a cube
(1930's - Stanley McCandless writes it in book)

17th century (1600's)
Paris - many chandeliers
Gas becomes used

Candles ruled the day till the invention in 1783 in France of the kerosene lamp with adjustable wick
Followed closely with a glass chimney - could make individual float lights
Used for 100 years

Illuminating gas produced in quantity - William Murdock - each building could produce its own
However, gas required constant attention and wasn't easy to control

Invented by Henry Drummond - heating a piece of lime with a flame of oxygen and hydrogen (for a followspot or to indicate sunlight). A green-ish tint.
Was used as the first spotlight in Paris Opera houses

Drury Lane Theatre is the first to use gas in England)

Electric Arc -- discovered by Sir Humphry Davy (or here)-- took 90 years to be fully accepted.

First fully gaslighted theatre -- Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia
Greater control of and more brightness (colorsilk cloth or woven cotton).
Increased heat and many fires caused, and had gas smell and green-ish tint.

Henry Irving (and click here) (England) initiated lighting rehearsals, transparent lacquers of colored class to limelight with electricity to incandescents, footlights of different colors and broken into sections, and wanted to dim the house lights


First incandescent lamp patent - Edison - not practical

The first electric carbon arcs used as spotlights at the Paris opera - inefficient -- not a serious threat to limelight

The Jablachkoff candle - the first useful lightbulb - "electric candle" - used at Paris Hippodrome - a carbon arc (invented 40-50 years earlier, but limelight was too ingrained, even well into the 1920's.
The first practical electric spotlight

Savoy Theatre in England - the first completely electric theatre

A big push - electric theatre at the exposition in Munich, Germany -- with a saltwater dimmer to control the new power source - went like wildfire...

As technology develops and advances at a more rapid rate, so did development of more effective lighting equipment

Edison - first practical lightbulb

Incandescent to tungsten -halogen lamps
Lacquer to gels.

Electric lighting went from the marquee to the outer lobby to the inner lobby to the house to the stage

Related Links:
End of Unit II

You should now make arrangements to take Exam Two at a campus location, according to the directions in the syllabus; please be sure to bring an Exam Pass with you...

Go here for a study guide for exam two (MS Word) or here for text format...


Go To Unit III: Theatre in History
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Unit II -Page 1

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Last update: November 17, 2007