The Evolution of Theatrical Lighting Design Essay

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Beginning with its origins in Ancient Greece, theatre was always staged in outdoor performance spaces, relying on natural light to keep the performers visible, and utilizing scenery or dialogue to convey time of day. As these performances began to shift to indoor theatres, artificial light, such as candles or oil lamps, had to be used as a replacement. As lighting technology advanced, these advancements changed the way light could be manipulated, directed, or focused, allowing for new staging methods to be developed and introducing lighting as an indicator of mood. From the gas lamp to the electric light, the innovations in lighting made between the Spanish Golden Age and 1915 shaped the development of modern theatre.
Candles and Torches
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Lamps were also hung at the sides of the stage, and many theatres made use of footlights, arranged at the edge of the apron and bracketed by reflectors to direct the majority of the light to the stage. English theatres remained in something of a lighting design “Dark Age” until 1765, when David Garrick returned from France and adapted the Drury Lane Theatre with advancements he had seen on his travels, especially the use of wing- and footlights (Pilbrow 172). In order to make more effective use of the Drury Lane Theatre's design, he chose to do away with the overhead chandeliers and focused on improving the lighting around the stage.
The Argand Lamp In 1784, there was a sudden surge in the popularity of oil lamps, due to the patenting of the Argand oil lamp by Aimé Argand, which added a glass chimney to the standard oil lamp, allowing excess smoke to be burnt away, leaving a brighter, whiter light source which gave off no obscuring smoke. Even with this addition, however, oil lamps had to be carefully maintained, remained fixed at one location, and could only be dimmed by hand.
Gas Lighting The Lyceum Theatre in London revolutionized lighting design with a demonstration of gas lighting in 1803. While all of the research and experimentation took place at the Lyceum Theatre, the first theatre to be fully gas-lit was the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia

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