Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

Lighting Essays



Opposition to using blue
lights for the backstage

by Richard Bonner

I have a major dislike regarding the usage of blue lamps for
the colour of worklights backstage during performances.
Yes, they look pretty and provide a nice atmosphere,
but one exception(*) aside, they are impractical.
The reasons are several:

    Notation Reading. Persons that use blue ink on white paper to make notes in a script or on separate paper will find this fine until trying to read those notes under blue lighting. The paper will present a blue background making the contrast between it and blue ink much lower. If blue LEDs are used, the effect is even worse because LEDs radiate at a narrower range of frequencies than a blue-filtered light bulb. If the ink colour happens to match or come close to that of the LED, the words will almost disappear!

    Discerning the Colours of Script Tabs. It is very common for stage managers and script readers to use sticky tabs to denote certain aspects within a script. A very wide array of colours is now available, so with a complex script it is not unusual for that manager to use this full spectrum of tab colours. Under blue lighting, colours will alter. Some will appear to be the same as others, or similar enough to be so close in shade that errors will be made -- especially between certain colours of blue and green tabs.

    Spike Tape Reading. Spike tape is used for a variety of purposes on stage, and sometimes off stage. Because this product also comes in a range of colours, under blue lighting some will alter (again, particularly blue and green), to a point where they become harder to discern. Also, if blue ink has been used to write on the tape so as to further instruct stage crews, it will be hard to read under blue lighting, if not impossible.

    Night Vision. Ask astronomers, aircraft pilots, search & rescue crews, military personnel, or any professional that needs to work in the dark and preserve night vision. They will all state that they do not use blue lighting. This is because it affects their viewing when in dark locations. They actually use long-wavelength red light, but stage personnel cannot use this because red would also alter colours.

(*) The exception mentioned back in the opening paragraph regards
persons that like to notate their scripts using fluorescent-ink
highlighter pens. These colours will stand out under blue
lighting, especially under blue LEDs. One can also get
sticky tabs in fluorescent colours. However, given the
disadvantages outlined in the preceding paragraphs,
even this possible employment of blue worklights
is well outweighed, in my opinion.


    For shows where I have control over backstage lighting, I always
use low-wattage, low colour-temperature, full-spectrum light sources.
Specifically, incandescent lamps in opaque-shaded fixtures in which
the reflectors have been painted flat black are employed. Why?

  1. Low wattage lamps are less bright, so light stays localised.
      (Backstage night vision is better maintained by reducing
        the expanse of lit areas.)

  2. Opaque-shades contain the light allowing for better control.
      (Light is more precisely focused to a specific area.)

  3. Black reflectors eliminate spillage from the reflector itself.
      (Lessens or removes light glowing into an audience and
        into the eyes of backstage crew members.)

  4. Low-wattage incandescent lamps radiate less blue.
      (Preserves night vision.)

  5. Incandescent lamps operate under a wider variety of dimmer
      types than other sources.

  6. A greater selection of replacement Incandescent lamps is available.

    A suitable light source is an 11-watt sign lamp with a clear bulb.
See: Worklight Kit for more thoughts.

After trying the above recommendations, you will find that back
stage is better lit, with proper colour rendition, and less spill;
yet at the same time, not encroach upon an audience.

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