TECHNICAL HANDBOOK

for CAS 480

by Steve Hayden, Rev. 1996 by Tony M. Lentz

(C) Copyright 1996 by Tony M. Lentz

Comments for Dr. Lentz

Dr. Lentz's Personal Page

CAS 480 Class Page

Basic Principles

When dealing with the technical portion of a readers theater production, there are several important considerations. The basic principle you should remember is that lighting and sound should be supportive elements to the performance of the literature. It is very easy to create a lighting or sound plan that becomes so flashy or noisy that it draws attention to itself and interferes with the reading. When this happens the author's work is often overshadowed by the lights and sound in the show. The main aim of readers theatre performance is to create an imaginative world in the mind of the audience in response to the written literature. To the extent that we make "lights, camera, action!" the focus of the performance, we weaken the central strength of this unique style of performance.

In addition, there is the limitation of artistic balance. Aristotle wrote that the best artistic technique was that which the audience didn't notice. I believe it's also a matter of focus. We hope to provide many meaningful events in concert, with voice and lights and movement combining to support the audience's imagination. To the extent that any one element draws the audience's focus away from the totality of the event---becomes so noticable that it prevents the audience from seeing the others---then it becomes detrimental to our performances.

So lighting and sound should help to focus audience attention on the element of the performance where the "point of concentration" (Viola Spolin's term) is at any given moment. Further, it should help lead the audience from one point of concentration to the next. In that role it must also support changes in timing through the performance that comically or dramatically contrast one moment with the next.

Basic Functions of Sound & Lighting

Sound and lighting serve four basic supporting functions in the readers theatre production, based on lighting texts:

(1) Character Visibility - the use of lighting to make it possible for the audience to see the readers as they speak their lines; the use of sound so that readers can be heard.

(2) Creation of Setting - the use of lighting to create effects similar to light sources such as sunlight, windows, fire, moonlight, street lamps, etc.; and the use of sound to create similar effects in the audience's imagination through train whistles, the soft roar of the ocean, etc.

(3) Composition - the creation of a visual form through light, shadow, color, and their use on the forms of the set; the use of sound to support the sense of balance, proportion, or conflict in the visual set, and to accentuate changes in the visual form as the performance moves from scene to scene. When all of this is considered, the most important contribution is the ability of lighting to focus the audience on the events---movements, facial expressions, gestures and words---that are most essential to our interpretation of the literature.

(4) Mood - the use of lighting levels and colors to create an emotional atmosphere; the use of sound to support and intensify the audience's imaginative response to those emotional qualities. Warm colors accentuate feelings of warmth and happiness, blue colors the sense of darkness, red the blaze of emotion---whether romantic passion or anger. Soft or powerful music supports similar mood changes.

(5) Transitions - I add another --- the support of transitions from one moment, from one scene, from one character to the next.

Basic Approach to Lighting

The first step is to choose a principal source of lighting based upon the production concept. The primary concern is the lighting of the center of interest, usually a reader or readers in the foreground (center or downstage). The background (set) is usually lit separately for a balance or contrast between the two. For example, our principal light source might be a bright light directed at the left side of a reader's face in "warm" yellow color. Our room divider "set pieces" or a sheet hung between them might be lit behind the reader in a "hot" red or blue for contrast.

The second step is to choose a secondary light source to complement the primary source. In readers theatre this is usually a "cold" (or blue) light on the other side of the reader's face to help create a sense of visual depth and to eliminate shadows on the performer's face.

The consideration of the lighting (& set) design is made from the point of view of the center of the audience. In other words, we visualize the lighting as we might see it from the middle of the audience. Once the changes in lighting ("cues") have been set in rehearsal, they are seldom revised. Normally we will have two technical rehearsals before an opening, but many of the cues will have been finalized much earlier in the script. Changes from daytime to nighttime lighting, for example, will be determined by the line in which they are mentioned in the script, and these should be in place as soon as the script is completed.

Preliminary Considerations

The first job of the director and lighting director is to consider the relationship of the staging to the lighting as the script progresses. The director will have to decide on the number and arrangement of stage areas which will represent settings from the story. The location of the primary lights will have to be decided upon for each stage area, limited by the number of different scenes that can be lit by our equipment. We currently have 12 lights: 9 fresnels, two ellipsoidals, and a small flood (or "kicker") light. A number of other lights owned by Kern Graduate Commons are available for our use. The lighting boards we use will handle only 12 lights at one time, however, with only one 500-watt lamp on each channel. With a minimum of two lights --- a primary and a secondary --- on each playing area of the stage (or on each character in the story), we are usually limited to a maximum of six performance areas for each reading. In addition, we have two simple flood lights that can light background set pieces. The plans for lighting the performance are then diagrammed in a "lighting plot" that outlines visually the location of light and the area which it will be used to light.

The theatre lighting plot in Fig. 1 shows a plan for a simple theatrical presentation. The diagram shows lights mounted on pipes over the heads of the audience on the ceiling ("slots"), on pipes hung over the stage ("battens"), and on vertical pipes on the sides of the stage ("booms"). The foreground (or stage area) to be lit has been divided into six acting areas, and each is to be lit separately.


Fig. 1 - Theatre Light Plot

Theatre Light Plot



The primary lights labeled (1) are focused (or "aimed") on areas one, two, and three. Secondary sources labeled (2) are also focused on areas one, two, and three. Lights marked (3) and (4) are the primary and secondary lights aimed at areas four, five and six. Usually lights numbered (1) and (3) would have an amber tint or "warm" color gel to represent sunlight, and lights labeled (2) and (4) would have a light blue or "cold" gel to represent indirect light or skylight. Usually more lights would be aimed at each area from each side to insure that there were no "dark spots" on stage between the areas---otherwise a character's face would disappear as they moved from one side of the stage to another.

The lights marked (5) are overhead strip lights to "blend" the acting areas together, also smoothing over dark spots. They might be in as many as four separate color circuits to allow subtle changes in mood. Lights marked (6) and (7) are additional lights to highlight the forms of the performers by cross-lighting areas one, two, and three. They would also be in "warm" and "cold" tints. In the case of dance or a musical with a lot of dancing, these cross-lights might become the primary and secondary lights, because they highlight the contours of the body and set them off from the background. Lights numbered (8) are illumination for the backdrop, and they would probably be gelled in three primary colors and white. This would allow mixing a wide range of background colors to contrast (or match) the colors lighting each scene in the foreground.

Notice that the ellipsoidal lights are used when the light must be placed at a greater distance from the lighting area---they are said to have a longer "throw." Fresnels are used closer to the areas and at a steeper angle, because their tendency to "spill" light from one area into another isn't such a great problem at close range.

University Readers lighting designs are usually much more simple, as in Fig. 2. Often lighting areas are determined by individual stools where people will sit, and "dark spots" between areas may not be a problem if readers don't move around the stage. We have fewer lights, and simple sets of backdrops and room dividers, so the lighting plots must handle fewer problems than most theatre plans. Notice that lights number (3) & (6) are lighting two readers sitting in the same playing area.

Fig. 2 - Readers Theatre Light Plot

Readers Theatre Lighting


After the areas to be lit have been determined by the lighting director and the director in the lighting design, the director must decide when the lights will change as the story progresses, and mark those changes in a lighting script for the lighting crew. Those changes - -- called "cues" --- must be marked in each location where the director wants one of the "Qualities" of light to change, whether intensity (or brightness), color, form, or movement. If a narrator begins a lengthy speech about a performer, for example, the director may want the level of light on the character being described to drop briefly as the narrator tells us what the character is thinking. If a character is suddenly depressed or saddened in the story, the director might want the intensity of the primary light lowered so that the secondary "blue" light would make the character look less warm or happy. Flashing a light on or off might create the movement of lightning in the sky, or suggest the movement of cars along a highway. And the areas lit or unlit on stage literally change the shape or form of the things the audience can see. A bright light directly over the head of a character, for example, would isolate him or her in a cylinder of light, creating a special visual form in contrast to the rest of a darkened setting. The changes desired should be marked in a Lighting Script for the Lighting Director by the Director, and they should discuss them well in advance of the technical rehearsals.

Lighting Boards

The two lighting boards used by the University Readers have master controls and individual light (or channel) controls. First, it is important to know that no light will operate unless the black out switch (located in the bottom right corner of the boards) is in the white or "on" position.

On the smaller of the two lighting boards (Fig. 3) there are two master light pots labeled A and B that control all of the lights. If the lights are assigned channel B, then that is the slide pot that must be used to raise or lower their level, and vice- versa. However, one can use both channels together if, for example, there are several lights assigned A and others B. The master assign switches are located above each individual light pot on the light board diagram. There are twelve individual channels that operate each light separately. Each channel has a slide pot for dimming and a flash key for special light bursts. Remember that these channels will not work unless the master slide pot that the lights are assigned to is at the appropriate level. The MAS/IND, SLAVE switch should be left in MAS/IND for the board to operate independently. It is possible to patch it into the larger board as a slave, but most of our lighting is so simple that this is unnecessary.

On the front view diagram of the smaller board there are three "control-out" six prong outlets. This is where the light control cables connect. The other end of control cables connect to the light power packs that actually provide power to the lights. The number labels next to each outlet correspond to the individual light pot numbers on the control panel. For example, 1-4 on the front view controls 1,2,3,4 on the top view of the light diagram. The MAS.IN and MAS.OUT connections on the front view are used to connect the small board with the larger "two-scene pre-set" control board.

Fig. 3 - Light Board

Smaller Light Board


The larger control board (see Spectrum Design flyer for DZN-2C) operates in precisely the same way as the smaller one, except that it has two sets of control slide pots and a cross fader. This makes it possible to "pre-set" two scenes with different light levels, and to cross-fade between them. In addition, the larger board has a third independent channel for each switch and a third independent master control for "special" lighting.

In simple terms, this means we could switch two light channels to "A" and direct those lights at the narrator, then switch other lights to "B" to cover a scene involving a group of other readers. We could then cross-fade back and forth between the two, with lights only on the narrator when channel "A's" master was up, and lights only on the scene when we cross- faded so that channel "B's" master was up. We could also switch three lights to the independent special master so that we could, for example, raise and lower light levels on the background independently of the "A" and "B" masters.

Portable Dimmers

The light power pack (Fig. 4) contains the actual works of the dimmer for raising and lowering power to a given light. The pack is clamped to the light tree in the middle of the horizontal bar. There are only two light trees and five power packs, so it is possible to have two packs on one tree. This is rarely done because extension cords make it easier to leave one pack on the floor out of the way. Each one of the packs can handle a maximum of four lights. For each light channel there are two outlets in the pack (see power pack front view). A light may be plugged into one of the outlets per channel, either one, but NOT both. This is because the maximum power of a channel is 600 watts. If two lights (each 500 watts) are plugged into the same channel, this will probably blow one of the fuses on the side of the pack. On the top of the pack there are two more sockets. The six prong rectangular socket is for the control cable that connects to the light board. The control cables are thin and wound on spools. The other socket is for the power cable that runs from the power pack to one of the three-prong wall sockets in the performance area. These are the heavy cables stored in one of the two footlockers.

Fig. 4 - Light Board & Dimmer

Light Board & Dimmer


Fresnel Lights

The fresnel (Fig. 5) is the basic lighting instrument used by the University Readers. Again, there are nine to work with with, and lighting should be planned around that limitation. Fresnels can be hung above or below the horizontal bar of the light tree, but the spot adjustment knob (no. 3 in diagram) should always be facing the floor. The C-clamp should be tightened so that the light will not swing around the bar. If the light is hung above the bar, use the tilt adjustment to bring the C-clamp under the light. Do not hang the light upside down! The lamps are made to dissipate heat with their bases down, and they will burn out more rapidly in the wrong position. In addition, the gel frames will fall out and it will be impossible to adjust the spot. Only hang a light over the bar as a last resort. Once each light is hung, put on a safety chain (stored in a plastic bag in the cable footlocker).

Fig. 5 - Fresnel Light

Fresnel Light

A fresnel has a circle spot adjustment (no. 3 on diagram) on the bottom of the light. This makes the circle of light smaller if pulled back and larger if pushed forward. The adjustment must be unscrewed slightly in order to move it. Once the appropriate spot is achieved simply tighten the adjustment knob. Set the spots so that if the reader moves on the stool or stands up within the stage area you're lighting, there is even light on him/her at all times. The spot adjustment of all the fresnels lighting one area should be adjusted to overlap slightly, so that a reader may walk from one part of that area to another without falling into shadows. The tilt adjustment can be used to help set the spot position on the reader. This also unscrews for adjustment.

The spill from the Fresnels is limited a little by the "barndoors" that slide into the slot in the front of the light. These also serve as holders for the gels that provide the different shades of lighting.

Fresnel lights and their lamps are very delicate. Handle them carefully and allow them to cool before removing them from the light trees, because the lamps are more easily broken when they are hot.

Ellipsoidal Lights

The two ellipsoidal lights (Fig. 6) are basically spot lights with a few special functions. The spotlight of the ellipsoidal differs from the fresnel in that the circle of light is very clear and precise. They are designed to be hung further from the stage than our trees usually stand, and as such provide a brighter light than the fresnels. The circle spot adjustment is located on top of the light (no. 4 on diagram) and works like the ones on the fresnels.

Fig. 6 - Ellipsoidal Light

Ellipsoidal Light

Ellipsoidals also have four shutters (or square-off adjustments, no. 3 on diagram). These allow one to shape the circle spot into squares, rectangles and other geometric shapes. This is often used to highlight a narrator or to separate him/her from the other readers. When one works with the four adjustments, realize that the left side handle brings the right side of the spot in or out and vice- versa. The same is true for the top and bottom adjustments.

The ellipsoidals have slots for gel frames exactly like the fresnels. They also have a slot (no. 6 on diagram) into which cut-out patterns called "gobos" can be slid to make light patterns for a background effect---i.e., a bar pattern for a jail cell, shadows of leaves for an outdoor scene, a circle of light shining through a hole in a wall, and so on.

Before hanging an ellipsoidal, make sure the lamp cover screw (the brass screw near the place where the cable enters the light) is tight. One should always hang an ellipsoidal from below the horizontal bar on the light tree because the light is heavy, and the lamps are designed to hang in that position. The lamps alone can cost more than $20 each, and the ellipsoidals cost more than $190 each---so be careful! Hanging them below the bar also makes setting the adjustments much easier. There is a tilt adjustment like the one on the fresnels. Once hung, put on a safety chain. These lights also need to cool before removing them from the trees.

The ellipsoidals are the brightest lights we have due to lenses which focus their light in a more narrow, concentrated beam. They are most effective in setting certain characters off, because they will provide a brightly lit contrast to those lit with the fresnels. The shutters allow us to shape the beam of light around a person, eliminating spill-over by giving us a sharply-edged spotlight.

Kicker Lights

Our kicker light is simply a small spotlight with no adjustments, except that a gel may be used with it. This light is very good for special spots below or above a reader or from a variety of angles. Technically "kicker" is a term used for a light directed upward from floor level. This type of light gets its name because it is notorious for being kicked around the floor. Watch out.

The kicker can be very effective for small lighting jobs. In "The Laughing Man" production of Spring, '82, for example, a kicker was placed beneath the face of a reader who was telling a scary story to a group of young boys. The shadows on his face helped create the atmosphere of a campfire and a story of ghosts and goblins. In the Fall, '84, performance of "The Devil and Daniel Webster," the character of the Devil was separated from the other readers by a red-gelled kicker placed below her to create a similar eerie effect.

Light Trees

The light trees come in three parts and are very simple. First, there are two large light bases. Place one on each side of the staging area at least fifteen feet from the readers. The goal is to place most of the lights at a 45- degree angle above the performers faces, and as close to 45- degrees to the side of each performer as possible. Second, take the two vertical supports and screw them into the light bases tight enough so that they don't twist but not too tight (we do have to take them down later!). Then, screw the horizontal bars onto the vertical supports just tight enough so they don't move around. That's all there is to putting a light tree together. The only adjustments are getting the trees placed properly for the light plan and raising or lowering the tree by loosening the extension on the vertical support. A light tree with lights on it is heavy, so place it where you want it before the lights are hung. If you must move the tree up or down, get two people to help raise or lower it. Remember, lights are expensive!

There are also two large trees (two-inch pipe) with "T-bars" which belong to Kern Building. They have been kind enough to let us use them, and they have been helpful for back-lighting or top-lighting characters in a reading. Eventually we hope to get a pipe to connect them which could give us an overhead bar or even a "proscenium" on which to hang lights.

Light Box

The light nest diagram (Fig. 7) is self explanatory. It shows where all of the lights belong, etc. This is the bottom of the box. On top of the nest is a flat board that can be placed on top of the nest to hold the cassette recorder, the speakers for the sound system, and the larger light board. Remember that the box is extremely heavy and one will need at least four strong people to carry it.

Sound Design

Music for a performance should be used as an opening and a close. Sometimes music during a show is effective for a particular scene, but it shouldn't interfere with the literature or with the audience's ability to hear the performers. Choose music that helps create an atmosphere to support the literature or is of the period of the show, and creates the mood appropriate to the beginning or close of the performance. Sound effects may be employed, but the difficulty is consistency. If we use one sound effect, the problem is where to draw the line without being inconsistent. If we have ocean sounds in one place, then the audience may wonder why we don't have the sound of an auto engine in the next scene. A large number of sound cues can also make the technical work in running a show more difficult than the benefit you receive from the sound effects.

On the other hand, simple ocean sound effects at low volume in the background were very effective in the reading of Ray Bradbury's "In A Season Of Calm Weather." Picasso has just drawn a wonderful collection of nymphs, satyrs and Greek temples on the sand, and the tide is coming in to wash them away. The sound reemphasized the frustration of the main character, who realizes that the sun is too low for him to even photograph the pictures on the shore. And it was eased in softly so as not to be distracting in itself.

Audio Mixing Board

The audio board (Fig. 8) has various functions that can be used for recording or for performance. We have two of the boards---one in Dr. Lentz's office, the other in Kern with the lighting equipment. The two boards can record tape to tape, record to tape, and microphone to tape. Through the board in Kern it is possible to play records, tapes and mix in three microphones. The board is plugged into the amplifier footlocker, which will be explained later.

Just plugging the board in will not make it work. The power button is in the upper right hand corner of the audio board. Below the power button is the master slide pot and mono- stereo switch. This pot controls the volume to the speakers. To the lower left of the master volume pot is a small slide pot labeled FADER. This can be used to fade from speaker to speaker and back again, to create the effect of a car moving from one side of the stage to another, for example. Sound will be even in both speakers if the FADER is left in the middle. (There have been some problems with this, despite what the manufacturer says---It may be necessary to move the FADER control all the way over to get a tape or turntable volume up.) Next to the fader is the headphone monitor level adjustment. The headphones plug into the side of the board.

The audio board has five individual slide pots. The first three are for microphones that are not used for actual reading, but may come in handy for special sounds. In a production of "The Last Question" by Issac Asimov, for example, we miked a reader who performed the voice of a computer who was a central character in the reading. The knobs labeled pan-pot are used like the FADER but for individual microphones. Above the mic pots are the VU meters, one for each stereo channel, left and right respectively. Keep the needles bouncing between 60 and 100 for this particular board.

The phonotape/aux slide pots next to the mic pots are the most frequently used in readers theater. They are used to record or play music or sound effects. If one wants to record from a record player to a tape either pot can be used. The front view of the board shows where the tape, phono, and mics are patched into and out of the board. Each patch has a plug for the left and right channels. The main out is used for patching into the front of the amplifier box from the board. Tape-in is where the tape player is patched for playing. The other patches work for their respective purposes. The mic patches correspond to the pots labeled 1,2,3 on the top of the board.

Amplifier Box

One of the large boxes on wheels contains a set of two MacIntosh amplifiers, the smaller light board, the audio board, and a small high-intensity lamp to light the controls during the run of a show. This is usually employed in 101 Kern, where we can lock up the equipment in the box between rehearsals. When we perform in Kern Auditorium, the lighting booth at the back of the hall is usually locked. In that room we use an amplifier kept in Dr. Lentz's office and the audio board from the Amp. Box. The power connection for the audio board, the tape recorder, the amps and the high-intensity lamp is a multi-socket set with a circuit breaker which is kept in the box. There is also a black three-prong extension cord which is meant to connect the multi-socket set to the wall.

NOTE: the amplifiers will be on when they are connected to the wall through the multi-socket set, and it is best for the amps if they are turned on only after the speakers are connected. The two speaker connections are the large "phono" sockets on the right and left of the front panel of the footlocker. They match the plugs on the end of the speaker cable which is usually stored with the speakers in the top of the lighting box. The two "RCA" sockets in the front of the box connect to the "main out" sockets on the Mixing Board to bring the signal into the amplifiers. The stereo cables to connect the tape recorded to the mixing board and the "main out" to the amplifier box are kept in the bottom of the audio box.

Tape Player & Audio

The University Readers have a Fisher cassette tape player and a turntable connected to the mixer in Dr. Lentz's office so that music and other sound can be recorded. These function like the average home variety equipment, except that the cassette machine can record from one cassette to another. The right deck is the play/record deck, and the left can be used to play another cassette for recording on the right one. Just be sure the "Dubbing" switch is off when you want to play a tape during a show, or that it's on if you wish to tape a cut from another cassette.

This covers most of the tech information needed to use the University Readers equipment. Some aspects can only be explained with hands-on experience. All are urged to get familiar with tech work as soon as possible. Everyone will be thankful later when time and efficiency become a major factor in the success of a show. Tech work is tedious and physically demanding (especially for the brute recruits hanging lights) so try to plan far in advance to avoid as many problems as possible.

Appendix A: Road Trips

Another aspect of technical work to be considered during the planning stages of a performance to be done "on the road"---away from 101 Kern---is checking out the new performance area. Look for enough area to set up the equipment, but not so much space that it detracts from the show. The most important thing to remember when inspecting the performance area is to check for the three-prong plugs that are required for the power packs. These packs may not be plugged into adaptors because of power overloads that could cause fuses to blow and possibly harm the equipment. Make sure there are at least four three-prong outlets within fifty feet of the readers' "stage." After looking for the proper power outlets, locate the circuit breaker box for the room, and be certain that all the lights in the room can be turned off while leaving on the three-prong outlets. If not, a change of lighting and sound or a change of location must be considered. You must try to place each dimmer pack on a separate circuit to avoid blowing a fuse or circuit breaker in the middle of a performance.

Another thing to look for in a performance area is whether or not extraneous noise will interfere with the show.

One of the greatest destroyers of an otherwise good reading is to have people outside of the area making noise that spills over into the show. One performance of "The Rocking-Horse Winner" was scheduled in Waring Hall next to the TV room. This presented no problems in rehearsal, but the opening performance happened to coincide with "Dynasty." The crowd in the TV Room and the volume of the TV made it difficult for the readers to be heard in the next room. When these things have been checked out, make sure that there is adequate seating for the audience available.

One final note of introduction to readers theater is that the equipment is very heavy, especially the light box. For "road shows," therefore, it will be necessary to have at least six people available to carry everything to the performance area before the show and back to the basement of Kern Building. Not to mention locating a truck to carry the load to the performance site before the show and back to the basement of Kern Building.

Comments for Dr. Lentz

Dr. Lentz's Personal Page

CAS 480 Class Page