The Role of Illumination Theatrical lighting has undergone significant changes from its first utilization to modern application. Illumination is essential to the theatrical experience we are familiar with. When the lights come up, the mood is set. Lighting in a performance context manipulates the audience's attention to focus on what the director has deemed important. When an actor or space is no longer an integral part the lights around them dim, dismissing that component and refocusing on what is lit. This process regularly dominates our experience at the theatre, yet it is often taken for granted.
Evidence of innovative devices to maximize, control, and alter light in early theatre illustrates its importance. Artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were called upon to supervise Italian productions (Cunningham 1998). Technical rehearsals, to allow the technicians to work out problems without actors, began as early as the 1800s. This behind-the-scenes art gained significance rapidly with the refinement of theatre. From daylight shining upon a Greek Earls 3 auditorium to computerized robotic ERSs synchronized with the music of a Broadway show, light has evolved to become one of the most advanced aspects of performance art today.
The Development of Illumination The earliest permanent performance architecture did not include facilities for lighting or stage effects. Theatrical structures were open-air auditoriums and thus the only variation in illumination possible, given the technology, relied on scrupulous timing with the setting sun or the lighting of torches. It was not until the Italian Renaissance that the once outdoor spectacles were given their own enclosed edifices (Cunningham 1998). Until this time candles and torches carried by actors during afternoon garden or courtyard performances helped to suggest place and time of day.
A general rule was applied early in the transition to indoor theatre: full illumination when the subject is happy, shade or extinguish light at the Earls 4 first unhappy occurrence (McCandless 1958). This rule was enforced using everyday candles, oil lamps and cressets. Some rudimentary improvements in lighting and effects included crude manipulation of color and the use of reflectors, often made from household or medical implements (Parker & Smith 1968). Other manipulation of light included dimming devices. The development of a sloping stage with the addition of footlights was a leap in technology.
This combination allowed technicians to direct light towards actors rather then illuminate the entire theatre (Bellman 1967). Placing candles onstage to light scenery also became a regular practice during this time.