Lighting Design for Metamorphoses


Mar 29, 2013
Central Coast, CA
I am a High School Theatre Teacher, jack of many theatre trades master of none. We are planning an upcoming production of Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses with a 10'x14' pool. For those of you lighting designers who have done this show, do you have any tricks or tips on how to light actors in water? Audience will be on three sides of pool. Downlight, Sidelight, backlight, what has worked best for you. I'm afraid I will be disappointed if I design it like any other stage. I need to focus any overhead lights before pool is installed, as the genie lift isn't exactly water friendly, so I am trying to plan well ahead and have little knowledge of how much reflection off the water will affect things. Thanks for your input.


Well-Known Member
Fight Leukemia
Mar 30, 2008
Sarasota, FL
I cut porthole acrylic windows into the sides of the pool below the water line and had Selador 11" Vivid-R's on GFCI's criss-crossing the pool. We used an EPDM roof liner that we got for free because in commercial roofing that's such a small size that it's basically scrap material. Used some metal framing and sealant on the portholes to keep it watertight.

I also used some backlighting and a fair amount of high-but-not-that-high side lighting that helped reflect the waves in the pool up onto the walls around the theater for visual effect. Just have to be mindful not to blind your audience with the backlighting reflecting off of the water. (some reflections = good for immersive effect. Lots of high intensity reflections = painful).

I deliberately avoided downlighting because we had a low ceiling and that would've put the fixtures too close to where cast members could touch them while in the water. Also didn't want to have major reflections back up onto the ceiling directly above the pool.

Wherever you put electrics, be prepared for water to get everywhere. GFCI's are essential for any electrics that could get wet to prevent people from getting dead. First rehearsal someone came screaming to me that the pool was leaking. Actually, it was that cast members were making enough waves that it was coming over the sides and it was dripping off of them wherever they went. Better to start with a little bit lower water level and add more than to be too high with waves overtopping and have to drain it off.

There's a lot of latitude in that script to visually present it different ways. There's no reason just because this is how I did it that you should feel that you need to do it that way too. Have fun with it and sculpt it your artistic discretion.
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Well-Known Member
Jul 11, 2008
Expanding on the topic of GFCis: note that GFCI products do not work correctly on dimmers! Leviton used to make a GFCI device specifically for line-voltage dimming, but that was sadly discontinued... probably 5-6 years ago now? Time is confusing. Last time I checked there were no current products that address the issue of providing GFCI protection to dimmed circuits/fixtures. With the transition to less line-voltage dimming and more LED & other DMX controlled devices, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for someone to come out with a new product for something that was never a big market even at its peak.

Also, it's not too uncommon to have nuisance tripping with some fixtures--even when not dimming. It all depends on the power supply design, and it often isn't something the manufacturer can tell you. Lower power-factors do increase the likelihood, so that can be one indicator in the (all too rare) cases where that information is available. There's also some variation in how sensitive a particular GFCI device is--with the cheaper ones tending to be more susceptible to nuisance tripping in general. Your best bet is to gather the equipment you're going to use and mock it up ahead of time so you can verify whether it will actually work the way you want. If you do have issues, sometimes splitting the load across more circuits (or, at least more GFCI devices) can make it work better. The corollary to that is that a mockup isn't a mockup unless you're actually using the same number and type of fixtures you plan to use for the real thing.