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McCandless Method

Discussion in 'Collaborative Articles' started by derekleffew, Sep 26, 2008.

  1. derekleffew

    derekleffew Resident Curmudgeon Senior Team Premium Member

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    In 1932, Stanley McCandless, a lighting designer and professor at Yale University, wrote a little book titled A Method of Lighting the Stage, and changed the course of stage lighting history.

    Mac's critics and contemporaries later expressed that he simply documented what was being done on professional US stages, and thus should not receive all the credit for "The Method." Others stated there cannot be only one way to light a stage. McCandless countered that the book was titled A method, not THE method.

    Much of the book is not controversial. There are five functions of lighting. There are four controllable properties. It's best to divide a stage into chunks or "acting areas." et cetera.

    Where most take issue is with Mac's concepts of angle and color. He states that the most realistic lighting can be achieved from the front by positioning two fixtures on the diagonal of a cube: 45° up and 45° off of center. No real argument there, other than the fact that very few theatres have those ideal lighting positions. He further states that for maximum revelation of form, without compromising selective visibility, it's best to color the two lights with tints of complimentary colors. Here's where most have taken issue. Light Amber (or pink) from one side and Pale Blue from the other can make for an odd look, even if the science holds true. In sunlight, highlights (key light) appear yellow and shadows (fill light) appear blue. Then there's the nagging question: Which color should come from which side? As Howard Bay stated in his book Stage Design, "Why should an actor be blue when he faces left stage, pink when he faces right stage, and pied when he turns front?" Many forget that lighting is often a compromise. While the greatest plasticity WILL be achieved using R10 Yellow and R80 Medium Blue; for realistic purposes McCandless recommended tints, and R02 (BastAmber) and R60 (No Color Blue) are a classic combination, and are pale enough so that to all but audience members sitting on the extreme sides of a widely splayed auditorium, the lighting will appear "natural."

    For more backgound on McCandless the person, see Stanley McCandless-the granddaddy of lighting designers. For more on The Method, see An Approach to Stage Lighting. More CB discussion in this thread: http://www.controlbooth.com/forums/lighting/8858-45-degree-rule.html?highlight=mccandless.

    Howard Bay proposed the most common alternative to the McCandless system, which he deemed "jewel lighting," and which essentially states: hit the actor from as many angles as possible, and adjust color and intensity to suit, as if lighting a diamond in a store's display window. For the 1920s Broadway houses (until very recently when they began hanging FOH trusses) this meant most of the front lighting came from the Box Booms, with the Balcony Rail and Footlight positions being used sparingly just to fill in the shadows. In both systems, Sidelight and Backlight play secondary roles, as they provide no assistance in helping the audience see an actor's face. If the audience cannot see the actor, they believe they cannot hear the actor either, thus the message is lost. Note we're talking about straight drama here, not dance; not even musical theatre, which didn't even exist as a genre in 1932.

    edit 11/21/08: Ah, the joys of the Internet! Googling "McCandless Method" returns many hits--some good, some not so good. A particularly foul one is this: http://techtheatre.info/dotnetnuke/Lighting/McCandlessMethod/tabid/64/Default.aspx. It appears the writer has either never read or understood Stan's book, and even more distasteful: the picture of the theatrical lighting fixture hung upside down! Television is NOT theatre. Regardless of the media, illuminating an object or person with lights placed along the diagonals of a cube, in complimentary colors, still holds true.

    There's no substitute for reading the actual book. While out of print, it can still be found at used bookstores and on ebay. I've seen copies go for $4 to $60.
    McCandless, Stanley R., A Method of Lighting the Stage, Theatre Arts Books, various publication dates. [URL='http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=a+method+of+lighting+the+stage&x=0&y=0"]Amazon search link[/URL].

     
    Last edited: May 8, 2010
    dmc34 likes this.

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