Sidelight for Concert Performance

I offer the following comments on dance light---sidelight with straight-on fill---as applied to concert lighting for anyone who may not have experience with it. This will certainly be elementary for all the lighting gurus out there; however, my two young assistants last year, straight out of a high school drama program, had never seen it before.

My background is in theatre and television lighting: BFA, lighting design, North Carolina School of the Arts (forget the year!); The Nashville Network. I have found that dance light---sidelight keys with straight-on fill separated on dimmer for specific key areas---provides the best modeling and key area separation available for concert performance in venues where money, intelligent lights, and lighting positions---namely backlight---are limited.

Jean Rosenthal invented sidelight for dance in the early days of her career, and it hasn’t been improved upon since. Sidelight models the body better than any other direction from which you can light the stage, and it lends itself well to concert lighting.

When I came to the City of Albuquerque in New Mexico as Production/Stage Manager for their BioPark concert performance venues, I faced a challenging lack of positions from which to hang lighting instruments, and a critical shortage of instruments and money. The Band Shell---an open-air venue designed for live orchestra performances, had a single, short, FOH truss that had no power on it. However; this FOH pipe proves that God is in fact real and that he loves me more than anyone else---the pipe was on two motorized hoists, allowing me to bring it in. I later corrected the lack of power on the pipe with a concept that I’ll explain in a later post. That was it---no other lighting positions were either there or possible as far as something mounted to the band shell proper, and there was no place for spotlights out front. Solution? Dance sidelight with straight-on fill.

I erected portable 10.5’ “Torm Pipes”---so I could reach them with little effort---three on either side, and used the existing Par 56s for sidelight. They are called either “torms” or “booms”, depending on how you were trained. I hung ETC Sour Fours on the FOH for the front Keys and separated them on dimmer. The term “front keys” is somewhat of a contradiction. The front light is of course necessary for faces in concert if you don’t have spotlights, but the sidelight is the actual “key” light that defines form on stage. I use only enough front “fill” on each performer to erase distracting shadows and bring out the face. Cardinal Sin # 1: Never allow the front light to overpower the sidelight!

That’s it: Sidelight with straight-on front fill separated on dimmer for control. It’s simple, easy to set up, easy to focus and cue, quick, and effective.


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Nice post

Some thoughts:

1) Side light for "Concert Performances", in my mind, implies a musical event, probably Rock/Rap, etc... In these cases, while side lighting may well be the only other choice beside front lighting, especially in your ABQ example, the novice LD needs to understand that while side lighting is excellent for revealing the body, there are some limitations to it's use.

A) It does not provide for a Mccandless style area separation, given that the angle is from the side and low enough to wash the stage from side to side, thus the only area separation is in lateral paths, as opposed to distinct zones on stage.

B) There can be instances where a performer standing towards center, may be in the shadow of other performers standing to either side, and may thus not be lit, if side lighting is the sole source.

2) For some type of Concerts, namely classically oriented, side lighting, especially from a low side angle may be entirely inappropriate as the musicians hate the glare of the lighting units, which can interfere with how well they can see the conductor, or each other.

3) If given a choice, and equipment is limited, best position units overhead, where they can function as hi-sides, backs, top-fronts, down specials, etc...



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For especially musicals, dance, and particular shows that invole a lot of color, I almost always light from the front with a diffused amber, white or pink, and light from top, back and sides. more strongly.

It's common practice, at least from what I've seen, for large scale productions and broadway to do the same; mainly, bc of the long distance from audience and stage that the sidelight reallllly pops the actors and scenery out and so the audience can see them.

For concert, as far as I'm concerned, lights can go anywhere imaginable (within reason). Of course, you'll have to alter stuff for the talent's comfort...darn.

Heavy sidelighting in a concert would be good--I'm sure it looked nice. Front and side lighting as a general method is good, and often times it works for me in a pinch due to lower instrument count being used up with just general wash light. This is esp. true with community theatre productions where supply may not be that great.

On a sortof related note...
Mind if I contact you sometime? I'm starting to look at applying for colleges and NCSA's D&P School looks quite nice. How'd you like it there?


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Hey Wrecks Cars, nice post and welcome to the booth!!


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Nice solution to a problem with a space. Personally, my favorite position is the slide-light. I think front is used way to much, with top and back being natural seconds. I have seen several shows that the addition of a few pipe-ends or side-light pipes would have helped the over-all design enormously.

Nice post, and welcome!

Also, when did you go to NCSA? I'm currently a freshman, lighting design.


I interviewed for NCSA not to sure on how i did though. i also saw the performance of Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum tonight and it was quite good. The LD did a good job and so did the actors, but the orchestra didnt impress me.....


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Oh, good luck! How did the interview go? I presume you interviewed with Norman and Eric Rimes?


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I wouldn't worry about it. I thought I had a horrible interview, and I'm here.

Norman's a character, I think he likes to scare people a bit. Fingers crossed for you!


I definately got that about his personality!! He was kind of harsh til he asked if I had anyquestions when he really seemed sincere about his answers and really nice


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The book "The Magic of Light" by Jean Rosenthal has some very nice information on sidelight, and some really great pictures and diagrams. And, since it's by Jean Rosenthal, it has several different angles, and combinations, and when to use them, etc. It's a great book.

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