Design An interesting design challenge


Well-Known Member
Hey guys,
So I'm doing a one-weekend show at a community theater in about two weeks. The show is The Honeymooners, yes the TV show, we're doing 3 of the episodes (if you don't know what this show is..... well, clearly you didn't live in the 1950's).

Now, since this is a show from the 1950's, it was shot in black and white. As such, the director has told me that he wants me to make the stage black and white.....

Since this is a one-weekend show, I don't have the time in the theater to hang a plot, so I'm just going to be able to edit whatever plot is in the air from the previous show. So, I was thinking that what i'd do is pull all the color, so I have white light, and just run it that way.

Of course, i am worried that the idea of "this is black and white" won't cary through and the audience would be left with the thought of "wow, that was a really harsh stage". Theoretically, everything on the stage will be black and white. I was thinking of maybe getting some ND filters to take the harshness off of the stage, without needing to dim the lights and go through the 'amber' area of the spectrum.

I seem to remember a post a while ago somewhere about doing this. Anyone have any experience with running a black and white show?

(As i said, I only have 5 days in the theater before we open, so I really don't have the time to experiment the way I would want to)
Black and White is very difficult, what i would say is use some mild blues and purples.

I will grab the plot we used for 1776 here and tell you what was used for that show, it made it look quite nice on the grey scale side of things.


Ok, it was a combination of Lee 366 and Rosco 61
Last edited:
I don't think you necessarily have to go N/C to achieve a "black and white" look. Though you certainly would want to lean toward the much less saturated parts of the spectrum. I think using ND will be very helpful, also maybe experiment with CTO/B, like the Lee 200+ series.

Another thing to think about is the overall quality of light you want to achieve, y'know? Like how shadows are dealt with in old black and white shows (probably more pronounced than in modern TV). Think about how this can be achieved using angle, and intensity other than just color.

I've never done black and while on stage, but i've seen a few productions in it, though usually they were going more for the 'film noir' look than just straight black and white.

Well thats form food for thought.


This question comes up about once every other year. You might do a search to find the above past discussions on this question, it's also been asked in ProSound's old forum which still has it's database, Lighting Network and Stagecraft - links below to all. There has been lots of methods and concepts discussed.,
and Lighting Network, in

Each forum above has it's own search menu which should pull up something on the "black and white" topic.

Can't say there is not other ideas out there, in fact above is expressed some interesting ideas, but there is already a lot of concepts out there and also very workable ideas to look into.

Never really did this technique persay, but did go for the old feel by way of some plano-convex fixtures dimmed fairly well down and from very singular directions. This helped in shadows and the monochromatic coloring. Beyond this early show where I was going for a more grainy and old look, I would love to experiment with the Black and White lighting design. Lots of theories all sound really fun to experiment with and a number of them could work in creating different looks under a heading.
Last edited:
disc2slick said:
Another thing to think about is the overall quality of light you want to achieve, y'know? Like how shadows are dealt with in old black and white shows (probably more pronounced than in modern TV). Think about how this can be achieved using angle, and intensity other than just color.

I am ignoring how shadows fell and such. I was watching the tape, and it wasn't a very even wash since the cameras iris was working for it. Also, there were some weird shadows from the lack of any pipe-end or side-light positions. For the sake of making the stage look good, I'm just trying to achieve the 'black and white' look, and not try to replicate the old plot exactly.
The intresting thing about early television is that it took a ridiculous amount of light to make the show even visible to the camera. They would need to wash out the entire set so there were no shadows there were only low lights and highlights because the low lights would appear as shadows. So something to think about is are you lighting this as the finished product as appeard on tv. Or are you lighting and stageing it as the audiance is watching the tapeing of the show. That will change the harshness and the quality of light needed

As well when you watch black and white Teleivision its not only black and white it is an complet grey scale. But black is never just black it has a tint it might be more blue and so on. You just need to think of your high light colours and low light colours on the grey scale. Differnt gels combined with ND can do the trick. While your designing play with hue, tint, and shade Most designers tend to stick to just Hue but by throwing an bit of ND with the filter you can alter the Shade which might help you to creat an more muted colour palet.

Well hope that kinda helps.

I'm revising this so see below as a new post.
Last edited:
Chaos is Born said:
Black and White is very difficult, what i would say is use some mild blues and purples.

I will grab the plot we used for 1776 here and tell you what was used for that show, it made it look quite nice on the grey scale side of things.


Ok, it was a combination of Lee 366 and Rosco 61

Hey you, out of my office.
NOt sure where my post from last night went....

At the moment on TV, the is the Honeymooners are showing and I'm noting it's lighting and design concepts.

You will note from the stains on the walls to the painted scenery which is this show, it’s 100% all very early TV in it being all as if it were on a vaudeville stage. This is in part a style choice to reproduce to just as much an extent as the lighting. The intent of those doing the TV show might not be to simulate reality, instead to simulate what is symbolic for the stage attempt to represent reality on TV. A background trophies case is painted, corners in walls or where flats end are left as dark seams and corners, all wood graining is painted on etc. in a overly simulated type of way - as if this were 1920's movies where short of overt effect, such things were not easily seen. It’s on the other hand a mixture of say a small photo hung on a wall or real sink verses next to it some two dimensional effect of painted scenery especially out the apartment window. You will also notice the look of the shadows as they stick their heads out the window. This or is at times what seems furniture really furniture but by way of camera and lighting, seemingly two dimensional at times in looking like three dimensional to the extent painted or in actuality what looks two dimensional by treatment to look three dimensional that now looks painted and two dimensional. What at one point seems like a trophies case at the meeting hall is initially seemingly painted, than real but two dimensional one is able to lean an arm on. On the other hand, the trophies within the case, are they three dimensional and de-glossed to a major extent, than lit really well to seem two dimensional or while the trophy case is three dimensional trophies that are painted within it? I might do some research into the show as I’m sure there is numerous books on it which mention the set and lighting.

For lighting, study the shadows and grey tones. Key to all black & white is the shadows and grey tone. This show in it’s painted scenery to look staged is by far different than other black and white shows that take part in the natural or on a sound stage later perhaps in lighting/set concept. You will note that there is no deep dark shadows or other than very blended lighting. There is shadows and they are minor but none from other than a number of sources lighting the acting area. This is important as deep dark shadows might in some image of black/white might imply dark shadows and be a stage convention to simulate in reproducing the show. Could do it by way of deep dark shadows to simulate what people expect to see on stage were it true black and white, or realistically in what almost seems as if fluorescent lamps overhead to delete all shadows and wash out them in fact, this in addition to key and fill lighting as it were the washing out of the shadows fights against. From what I can see, while seemingly more two dimensional and flattening in lighting effect which could be in part from the camera, the blended lighting comes from many sources above , below and to the sides of the set. Look at the shadows under the eyes, they are not dark, while the foreheads, shoulders and hair seem to glow due to a bulk of the lighting coming from the top, there is enough coming from elsewhere to prevent dark shadows under the eyes - deadly lighting, and to blend what’s less in light to make three dimensional. Wrinkles in clothing create shape and sculpting to the effect. IT’s only other than Ralph’s face while wearing a hat which looks other than washed out by way of top lighting.

Study of the scene shows Ralph while wearing a hat. He has a nicely lit face while towards the downstage but at other times is not so well lit as opposed to others that are washed out for the most part but fully lit while facing in other directions. Alice especially on the other hand has her bags under the eyes pick up a lot of light and in fact entire eyes and face washed out by way of overhead, side and foot lights. As opposed to a sculpted face, her’s especially seems flat and washed out. What color is her hair? Grey tones represent this of course in some way, what color is it in black and white?

Were I doing this show on a stage, I might attempt to do it all behind a very down stage scrim. The scrim could with reflected light wash out what’s seen fairly well in fact. It also on the other hand would not add to the immediacy and attachment of those on stage to the audience on the other hand. The scrim in re-producing this show on the other hand would potentially better create the real lighting effects on stage as long as it’s done on a very shallow stage. Note how shallow this studio stage really is also, provide the talent a 8' set between scrim and wall and you have no doubt the extent of stage they were working with. Downstage scrim becomes a fourth wall blocker which is detrimental to audience involvement to what’s on stage but better perhaps reproduces in reality what they expect to see. On the other hand, unless directly comparing what’s on stage to what one remembers from the TV, perhaps that’s a bad thing as with a almost fluorescent lit overhead light washing out of all light from above. Should you go for fluorescent lamps, go for those in say the “cool white” range - normal home owner and have them as close to the stage as possible. This and research the lamps in having them have as low of a CRI as possible. Otherwise strip lights/boarder lights in just plain white or perhaps grey or brown gel as the design choice dictates, might work sufficiently. There might be three main options, one to do for the most part no-color but in being no-color having it very flat and lacking all of the spectrum of light. Grey in also being no-color, or brown/amber in doing away with the reletive colors and instead going in a red color range that whips out all other colors seen in making them brown scale as opposed to grey scale. The brown scale black and white alternative show holds lots of promise in given one can’t make true colors black an white on stage, going brown scale could potentially replace the grey scale with a all absorbing in the live brown tone to the look. Also remember that brown/amber looks old on stage thus it could be a concept in being both old and white/black.

True black/white would be very difficult to reproduce on stage by way of what people see verses what the cameras saw and reproduced back than. A scrim might help in this effect, and lots of costume and makeup choices in doing real black and white, but probably not enough. What in costume by way of film grey tone representation of color can never be adequately be represented by way of a color choice for a costume by way of vibrancy other than of intent for it to be grey scale and not black & white. Perry Mason’s tie looks in some way pink or salamander in color not just some grey tone. Colors while they were not seen were used and while appearing grey on film, the way the even if grey scale light hits the color cannot be repeated by way of making something grey become as vibrant on film.

Need is to perhaps wash out all colors on stage with something so saturated that it only lets colors in that range of color be reflected. This in a way is why perhaps brown is used, otherwise like for some fixtures I made for a recent rock tour, why low pressure sodium vapor wash lights were requested. Hmm, color rendering index of zero, (CRI), not much color is reflected by this arc source of light. Note also the above reference to fluorescent lamps with as low of a CRI as possible in washing out the real colors and making them flat plus more or less grey scale or brown scale as what is more realistic. Perhaps in doing the brown/amber scale to replace what is as concept to do the black/white scale will work best for this application. Lots of #99 chocolate in fill and various ambers for the keys. Blue’s and other colors just don’t show up given limited blue output in the color rendering.

Otherwise to fight color rendering as colors - the colors that still need to be there, perhaps some lighting of very limited color rendering index to reproduce the colors on the stage, what fixtures are used need to have very limited color rendition. I once had to come up with a design for a dual lamp DMX douser controlled 90w low pressure sodium wash lighting fixture and get seven un-tested models out for it in one week. They than while they worked were immediately cut from the show because while they did their job, they in what light was produced was by far too drastic in being really-really bad lighting. Too bad I am not really able to rent such things in being around a 55 degree zero color rendering index wash light, but trust me, you don’t want to work within their light. Such light will in being so lacking in any color, make one sick with time in being around them. Way too bright and way too lacking in anything that redeems any serviceable use on stage for a prolonged period of time. Still there is some old “cool white” fluorescent lamps out there which have a CRI of less than say 50. Those if going fluorescent in washing the stage would be the way to go. Those of the older generations will remember the while white, green tint people in classrooms took under such bad lighting. Perhaps your school still has such bad lamps available if old in lamps and fixture.

Otherwise, look towards perhaps the strip light and if three color, chocolate, deep amber, and white to mix and match with for the overheads above the stage and some foot lights. Than perhaps side stage booms with various ambers and chocolates to fill and sculpt with. I’m thinking in style more Broadway rather than McCandless in style of lighting and perhaps little to none in front light other than what the foot lights and top lights won’t provide for getting rid of center of the face shadows, little to no audience lighting.

Concept at least in no or limited help from normal lighting positions. Instead more of a dance light type of look but instead of even good lighting from it, banking on the top light main light and foot light once balanced to fill but not be drastic, than side light to sculpt. What after this is needed is from more normal positions to light from but only as supplement to help wash out in deleting shadows, plus help sculpt the face. All of which are grey/brown tone in sculpting shadows but not having any harsh directional shadow on the set. This lack of shadows especially by way of top wash.

Hope it helps in a study and things to look at. Remember on the other hand beyond this in supplementing the (get over it) brown scale instead of grey scale, or possibly even going grey scale but under very controlled conditions that are hard to achieve short of a camera filter, that it’s a literal interpitation of what is seen on TV. Stage convention and what the audience expects to see on the other hand might be different in perhaps having lots of 1920's era black and white film harsh shadows much less not liking the concept of a brown instead of grey scale initially. The brown scale I think recommended on the other hand will better represent what the TV was showing and would potentially be a better way of lighting the scene. As for the scrim, it would be potentially useful for either or in grey verses brown scale. It would be more useful and perhaps necessary for a better grey scale in helping to absorb what color Is left after the lighting but could also help with the brown scale. Just a question of making the scrim forced fourth wall effect not get in the way of the immediacy and need for breaking free from it in audience involvement.

Hope you have lots of time to experiement and do research on your own by way of past posts on the subject, future posts, and experimentation. Than given it’s still a not much used but very important design concept, do a full write up in detail of what you did, how it worked, how it could be better and what else you tried that needed changing. Such a concept of design has not been studied sufficiently in any means but can potentially be quite the effect if given time to tinker and pulled off right. Even if not, what’s learned by way of what elements work and what does not is important to know. Write up your most thorough analysis.
Last edited:
also, i'm not sure if this was mentioned, but one thing that i have noticed in these old Tv shows is there is no backlighting. but for theater sake a nice saturated blue color on the hair and clothes will give you the greyish blueness in the hair and will create a slight shadow on the face, when used in dark lighted scenes.
This is an example from a show in which we used a scrim to creat an old soft photo effect. I dont know if this effect would translate as TV though.


Footer4321 said:
Hey you, out of my office.

Was my office for about 48 hours. You had to go to a wedding.
Sadly, there is currently a show running in the theater, and as i said, I only have 4 days in there to set everything up before we open. The best part of this is that I have a 'real' job for that week, so I'll be working at a vet office from 8:00 till 7:00, and THEN I get to go to the theater. For that reason, I am nervous about what will work.

I am going to first verify that everything on stage will be a grayscale. I have two FOH pipes, so I think the majority of the plot will come from there, give the entire stage a 'flatter' feeling to it (if you go look at the episodes, it seems most of the light is front). I'm decided that I don't want to wash out the stage, or have holes in the plot just because it did in the TV show (DSL has a massive hole from the SL side in the show, for example, but I think it would translate to the stage as just a hole, not end up looking like what I want). I'll add in some pipe ends to try and fill out some bodies, and then add a toplight wash just for the heck of it. I need to still talk to the director and make sure this is the feeling he is going for, since all he said to me was black and white.

Users who are viewing this thread