General English


Media Studies

  • noun the equipment used for lighting a theatre stage or a television or film set
  • noun the overall effect produced by the lights used on a theatre stage or a television or film set


  • Artificial light used to illuminate the stage. Lighting firstbecame important during the Renaissance period in Italy, when performancesmoved indoors. Early forms included the candle, cresset,and bozze, actors and spectators alike preferring candlesto oil lamps because they smoked and smelt less. Early lighting wasoften experimental: in 1539 San Gallo created a rising sun effectby filling a crystal sphere with water and illuminating it from behind,while in 1545 Sebastiano Serlio put candles behind colouredglass to produce a romantic glow. Serlio also used barbers' basinsas reflectors.

    Candelabra were hung directly over the stage in the late 17thand 18th centuries. The main disadvantage was the glare; Samuel Pepyscomplained in his diary of headaches caused by looking into the candles.In the later 18th century David Garrick followed the lead set by Frenchtheaters and removed the overhead candelabra from Drury Lane. footlightshad been in use in England since 1672 but created heat and haze untilHenry Irving sank them below stage level at his Lyceum Theatre. In1876 the Lyceum also became the first theater to darken the auditoriumduring a performance (disappointing those who attended the theaterto be seen).

    In 1816 the Chestnut Theatre in Philadelphia became the firstto be totally lit by gas, followed a year later by the Lyceum, London( which was two days ahead of Covent Garden). Some spectators, however,regretted losing the soft flickering candlelight. 1816 also saw theintroduction of limelight. Electric lighting was used forthe first time at the Paris Opéra in 1864 but it buzzed andflickered and did not become popular until the invention of the incandescentbulb. In 1879 the California Theatre in San Francisco became the firstto be lit completely by electricity, followed two years later by theSavoy Theatre, London; again, the change was regretted by some.

    Lighting for the modern theater is coordinated by computerizeddimmer boards. Recent developments include the use of lasersand holography.