Lighting your subject or subjects on stage is of paramount importance. If they weren’t lit, nobody would see them! So we know we need a good wash to have good lighting, and we have learned some things about our wash so lets just do it! However, wash technique cannot be taught in one article, there are too many pieces to it. Our next piece will cover the fixtures we use for our stage wash. Yes, this article will tell you about that long skinny fixture on the ceiling and what makes it different than smaller more bulky fixtures. Stage wash is not a science, just like everything in lighting. It is hard to walk into a room and say how many of each type of fixture they should have to do well with stage lighting. It is a rough guess and then you work with what you have.
Now lets get into the different fixtures and how they work, as well as how you can use them to make your stage wash beautiful. We will talk about 3 major conventional fixture types that you often see used for a stage wash.
The par light is a pretty basic wash light. It is the most popular one you will see in any setting for lighting. A par light just puts out a wide range of light that dissipates as it comes closer to its edge. You can also use a variation of the par called the parnel. A parnel uses an extra lens which allows you to adjust the size and focus of the wash, from very wide to more pinpoint if you like. Pars and Parnels are great for the majority of your stage wash. They are the most cost effective fixture to use for your wash. They can cover a lot of stage, while not costing you an arm and a leg.
While much less common than any of the conventional fixtures we will discuss, the fresnel is still a good one! The fresnel is basically a parnel light that has a large wash, but it has a little something extra. It has four adjustable door-like reflectors to help you really focus on a subject. As time has marched on, they’ve sort of become obsolete because of the next fixture…
The ellipsoidal light is by far my favorite fixture. It is the cream of the crop in my eyes, no other fixture can compare. It is so simple, yet it does so much. The long skinny fixture up on the ceiling that you see is the ellipsoidal. Within that long skinny fixture there are lenses that help for focusing the light, as well as little knobs that slide side to side and in and out and alter the shape of the light. You can create almost a par sized wash from this small fixture and with a few adjustments you could almost spotlight a coin from across the room. You can use them as your wash and also use them as spots, and they’re so easy to adjust between those things. However, ellipsoidals cost more than a simple par light. For that reason I recommend pars for most of your basic wash, and ellipsoidals for a spot on a speaker or worship leader.
With these three fixtures I recommend the par be used for band lighting and sort of to just cover the whole stage. I think the fresnel works best to spotlight a larger area, like a choir or a few musicians. Last but not least, the ellipsoidal is best used as a spotlight, however, it can pretty much be used in any of the other situations as well. Do not be confined to what I have said here for the uses of these fixtures, as they are interchangeable! Also, they can be used as part of a set in a backdrop. Conventional lights as part of stage designs are getting more and more popular. They are cheaper and you can really have a warm inviting feel with them. Never underestimate the power of good conventional lighting and wash. It may not be the most glamorous but it is the most important!