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Properly Lighting the Stage
By: David Sousa

In any house of worship, the most important thing that the congregation must take away is the message. This is why most houses of worship have very good sound systems, although just because the sound is loud does not mean that congregation is remembering what is being said. You must keep the congregation’s attention in order to make sure that they hear the message; this is where the eyes play a vital role in the process.

If the stage area is not visually appealing, then your eyes will divert to something that is easier to look at. When your eyes are focused on something else, then it is very easy for you to stop paying attention to what is happening in front of you.

It is the same way in conversations. When you are speaking to a person, you are always more engaged when you are looking at the person you are speaking to. If you are not looking at the person, then it is very easy for you to get focused on another object and stop paying attention to the conversation; this will likely lead to the statement, “What did you just say?”

The same is true for the stage. If your eyes are not engaged on what is happening, then you will stop paying attention to what is happening on the stage and soon you will find yourself saying, “What did the pastor just say?”

So, how do we keep the eyes engaged? Well, to answer this we have to understand how the eyes work.

Your eyes will always try to even out whatever they are looking at. The eye will always take anything it sees and will try to bring it back to a flat one-color unit. Any color that the eye sees, however bright and vibrant it is at first, will seem duller and less vibrant after a few minutes of looking at it. This is due to the fact that your eyes are trying to even out the color.

Let’s look at an example: Stare very hard at the negative color flag for about 60 seconds, and after that, quickly shift your gaze to look at the blank white area to its right. You will see an American flag appear.

This happens because your eyes were attempting to even out the negative flag and a quick switch back to a standard white color left your eyes seeing the opposite color of what they were trying to even out.

This same effect happens on stage as well; after staring at the stage for a long period of time, your eyes will have evened out the lighting on the stage and will divert to something else to look at so it can even out the next object. When your eyes have shifted to a new object, it is harder for that person to pay attention to whatever is happening on stage.

Your eyes trying to even out an object is something that they always do, and these tricks will help slow this process down.

Always make sure your stage is properly lit. When the eyes have to strain to look at an object because of insufficient lighting, the eyes will divert to something that is more exciting and vibrant to look at. Even if your services have a lot of different light levels, it is always important that the person speaking (or singing) is properly lit to keep the congregation’s attention on that person.

Using color shifts during your services will also help keep your stage vibrant and fresh for your eyes to look at. It does not have to be massive color shifts (you don’t want to turn the stage green or anything). A small shift in color tint will be picked up by the eyes to keep them engaged.

If your house of worship does not have a lot of lights, a very common practice is to slightly change the light levels on stage about halfway through the service. This will reengage the eyes, as the objects in front of them have shifted and your eyes will continue to try to even out the new look on the stage.

A lighting designer can design a series of “looks” based on the needs of each particular style of service that will accomplish this shift in light levels or color. These looks might include an overall level of light onstage, lighting particular areas more brightly at different times of the service, or changing colors on a particular area during the service. A larger lighting system will allow you to accomplish all of these looks with ease.

Your lighting system will need the basic components of dimming, control, and fixtures. 
By employing a control console or even a pre-programmed house light station, the lights can be changed during the service at a predetermined time.

In picking what fixtures to use, it is very easy to be tempted into using just special lights that highlight certain areas or move or color change first. This is a very common mistake that a lot of lighting designers make. The most important thing that needs to be created first is the general wash on stage. After you have a good general wash on stage, then you can add special fixtures to add some dynamics to the stage.

It’s like making a cake. The special lights are your frosting, while the basic wash is your flour. No matter how good your frosting is, if you don’t have flour in your cake, then it will never come out right.

Dimming and control pretty much go hand in hand. In order to properly dim your fixtures, a good controller is needed. The question of, “What kind of controller should I get?” is one of the most commonly asked questions that we get. In order to answer this question properly, some basic questions need to be addressed first.

We will be doing another article on picking the right console for your space, but, in the meantime, remember this: A console is only as good as its operator, and knowing who will be using the system will be a great help in picking the right console for your sanctuary.

David Sousa is in installed sales at ELS, www.elslights.com.

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