Atlantic Illumination Entertainment Lighting

An AIEL Instructional

Tech Tips

(Image: Cotton Swab)


There are More Methods to Organising
Cues Than You May have Previously Thought

Composing a cue sheet might appear rudimentary and straight
forward, but there are methods that make it simpler and
more easily understood. This section of the AIEL website
will help to develop a workable technique that will foster
better understanding and intuitiveness of cues for a given
production or act. Use these techniques as a foundation upon
which to build your own style of cue making and implementation.


The Tips

Theatre Cue Sheet     Music Cue Sheet

Cue Directive Terminology



  The Tips


Suggested Cue Sheet
for Theatrical Shows

Show Dates:
Lighting Designer:
Lighting Director:

  LX    Script  Reference      Cue            Notes
  #     Page #    Point     Transition
      |        |          |            | 
      |        |          |            | 
      |        |          |            | 
      |        |          |            | 

    The LX # column is for places in the script where a change of lighting will happen. Each one is assigned a number. For systems with "Go-Button" memory boards, the LX numbers will be run in sequence through the entire script even if many of the lighting looks are repeated.

    For systems with "Fader" memories, each LX will still have a number, but these will likely be "Look" numbers because there may not be enough faders to assign one to each cue. In this case, duplicate cues will reference the first instance of that look. Thus if LX numbers 3, 15, 17 and 29 all have the same look, the script will simply show "Look 3" in each case.

    This column may also be used to reference pre-or post-performance, or intermission cues. For non Go-Button boards, these may not have Cue Numbers of the usual type. They might be shown as minus numbers, letters, "Cue Zero" numbers (0-1, 0-2...), or have no actual numbers or letters at all, but be shown as "Manual" cues. Post-performance numbers might have a plus (+) sign in front of them -- +1, +2...

    The Script Page # is handy during rehearsals if one needs to go back or to skip ahead in the script. It allows the board operator to quickly locate the LX number needed at that point.

    The Reference Point is an indicator in the script just before where the cue is to occur. It might be a snippet of dialogue, a stage direction, an entrance/exit point of an actor, or a voice-over or music start/change/stop. Anything that informs you that a cue is imminent, can be placed in this column.

    The Cue Transition tells the lighting board operator how the cue is to be implemented. Is it a blackout, then the next look? Is it a crossfade? if so, how long is that fade to take? Is it an addition look? That is, one to be added to the current one? It might be a subtraction look -- one to be removed from the current look.

    For automated boards much, if not all, of this is programmed to be done automatically. Even if the cues are automated, one can place notes in this column to assure the operator that the cue listed is the one actually happening live on stage. This column can be eliminated if the automated board has a monitor that shows this information there.

    Finally, the Notes section is for points to remember about the given cue or about concurrent action or dialogue.

    You may wish to add a column for Cue Contents. It would show the channel numbers and levels of each cue. Normally only used for manual boards where each scene must be set up using individual faders, it might be used as a mechanical backup in case the board's memory failed, or simply as yet another assurance to the operator as to what is coming up or is active at a given moment.

Remember to draw lines between cues and to leave space
on the paper copy in which to place updates or changes.


Suggested Cue Sheet
for Musical Acts

Show Dates:
Lighting Designer:
Lighting Director:

     Song     Song       Song      Memory     Cue          Notes
     Name     Tempo     Layout       #     Transition
             |      |            |       |            |
             |      |            |       |            |
             |      |            |       |            |
             |      |            |       |            |

    The Song Name column is for the title of the number being performed. This column may also be used to reference little interludes, between-song dialogue, musicians' introductions, etc.

    The Song Tempo is handy for a board operator that may be unfamiliar with a given number. Knowing if a song is fast, medium, slow is a help. As well, some will note the song genre here as an additional clue: "Blues, Slow", "Jazz, Fast", etc.

    The Song Layout lists each segment of the song. It can consist of divisions such as the ones following. Beside each might be a lighting cue.

Keyboard Break
Guitar Break

    The Memory Number is the position on the lighting board or the particular fader where the look for a song's segment is stored. If there is no memory or matrix scene capability, the channel numbers and levels would be listed here. In the latter's case, before each cue is executed, the channel number and level would have to be set manually.

    Also found here might be cues for chases or for a special effects implementation such as flash pots, moving-light sweep, strobe lights, and so on. These might be controlled from a board or switch panel separate from the lighting console.

    As with the Theatre Sheet, the Cue Transition tells the lighting board operator how the cue is to be implemented. Is it a fast change to the next look? Is it a slower crossfade? if so, how long is that fade to take? Is it an addition look? That is, one to be added to the current one? It might be a subtraction look -- one to be removed from the current look.

    Finally, the Notes section is for points to remember about the given cue. Some fill in a musician's name here if there are two or more that might play a guitar break or provide lead vocals. Perhaps an extended verse might occur before the last chorus, or other oddities compared to earlier in the song.

    You may wish to add a column for Cue Contents. This would show the channel numbers and levels of each cue, if they are not already shown in the Memory Number column.

Detailed cue sheets are valuable during a show's run and as
references at later dates. They are invaluable for a substitute
lighting person to quickly come up to speed for a given show
or act. Don't ignore their usefulness by skipping their creation.


  Cue Directive Terminology

    Below are common words and phrases seen in a script's stage directions that are used to interpret cue action(s) at each cue point in a production. They are used to precisely tell the stage manager and/or board operators when and how to execute that cue. Some of these may seem to be too similar and to be splitting hairs, but since many productions demand precision, the subtle differences will become apparent when that situation arises in some future show.

    A few of the cue examples given below might be broken into two or more separate points by some stage managers. If so, a series of precise Cue Words, such as `At' or `On', will be substituted for ongoing directives such as `Wherever' or `With'.

...and now, the Directive Terms:

A word used when a cue hinges on some motion such as a hand-clap, a light switch being flicked, or a door closing. It does not base its execution point on dialogue or a sound effect. Run Cue #5 on the action of the actor placing his foot on the shoeshine box. (See also `Visual'.)

This designates that a cue is to happen after a specific action, dialogue, or happenstance. So perhaps after a flash of lightning, `n' seconds later an audio track of thunder is to be played. Another example might be after a witch waves her hands and then points, a dramatic lighting change is to occur after the finger point.

A cue which has an execution point that varies a bit. It may incorporate a longer fade time: Execute Cue #22 as the actor begins his long climb of the stairs. Here, the cue might start on the first, second, or third stair depending on the actor's feeling and action speed in that particular performance. It might incorporate a crossfade to a night look as he gets higher up the staircase.

Similar to "On", but more variable: Execute Cue #11 at the point in the show where a spectator is brought from the audience up onto the stage. This action might happen at a different point each night in the show, and also depending upon the amount of time taken to choose that audience member, and upon the length of the path from the audience's down-house edge to the first point that person is fully on stage.

Based On
Typically used when an action on stage is variable. For a magic show, perhaps it might be stated as: Execute either Cue #14 or Cue #15 based on the volunteer's chosen position. The board operator would watch the proceedings and run the appropriate cue once the person goes to one of two predesignated spots.

Based Upon
As above.

A `dialogue' cue does not base its execution point on action or a sound effect. It is one that hinges on a certain word or phrase. On the word "No!", execute Cue #70. or After the phrase "...and I am not responsible!", execute Cue #71.

An ongoing cue with a variable end time. This might happen during the time a performer enters the audience and moves about -- perhaps while selecting a volunteer for a mentalism demonstration: Run Audio Cue #25 during the time the performer is in the audience. So this would start when the mentalist enters the house, and would not end until he returns to the stage. The time would vary with each show.

A conditional cue: If the performer brings an audience member to the stage during the encore, execute Cue #48. This action may not happen at every show.

A very specific point, usually coinciding with a certain word, sound or action. Cues here are to be executed on say, the word "Go!", a gun shot, or perhaps the moment a portcullis hits the ground. Such cues often demand a fast, dramatic lighting change or a sound effect.

See `Dialogue'.

Similar to `On', but usually referring to a longer action. This might be: Upon the downstage door opening, and actor entering and removing her coat, commence a crossfade of `n' seconds to Cue #16.

Similar to `Action', but covers any thing that changes visually which would indicate a cue point. This can (but not necessarily) include actor action. Execute Cue #101 after the platform has been lowered from the fly space and stops. So with this example, the cue is a visual one that occurs at the point the platform comes to rest.

This is used for actions that do not happen at exactly the same time each performance. So perhaps an object must drop from a height, but only when it hits the stage floor are a crash sound and lighting effect to happen: A chosen object is knocked off its perch; when it strikes the floor, run Cue #33. This would vary depending on which object is used in that show, and from what height it must fall.

This represents an ongoing series of actions. Perhaps whenever an actor snaps her fingers, an effect representing a lightning flash is to occur. In this example, after the stage manager has called the start point, the board operator then often takes each of these finger-snapping cues from the action of the actor herself.

This might be incorporated to direct light to a location wherever an object or person ends up during a show: Execute Cue #18, #19, or #20 corresponding to wherever the Mystery Box is placed by the volunteer. In this example, out of three choices, an audience volunteer makes a decision as to where a box is to be placed. The board operator must be prepared to light that location via one of three board cues.

Regarding variable performances such as magic shows, each location lighting look in the above example might be assigned to its own submaster as opposed to being programmed to a numbered board cue. For this alternate example, the directive might read: Execute Cue #17 when the volunteer picks up the Mystery Box. Then add Submaster #1, #2, or #3 corresponding to wherever the Mystery Box is placed by the volunteer.

Used to designate a lighting change or effect that happens in concert with an action or sound: Run Cue #100 with the bandleader's (named) melody. This cue would start with the melody and continue until perhaps it might dim with the lowering of the music's volume, and then go back up again; and/or fade to zero as the bandleader tapers off the music to silence.

See `Dialogue'.

For additional entertainment industry terms, have a
look at our full-size Glossary of Stage Terminology

This Article is
Available in
Plain Text for
Your Archives

Cue-TIps, Text Format

Some of you may be interested in our
Technician's Guide

Return to the
Tech Tips
Table of Contents

Return to the
AIEL Instructionals
Table of Contents

AIEL Main Page