Thought Tuesday

Designing Lighting for Savannah Sipping Society

I had the opportunity to design lighting for Savannah Sipping Society, which was a part of the 2018 season at Pentacle Theatre.  My friends, Jeff Witt and Dani Potter directed this delightful comedy with more sass than a glass of fine French wine (or so I’m told since I don’t drink).  When I read the script I discovered Savannah Sipping Society is a smart, crisp slice of contemporary life.  It was a laugh a minute.  Seriously.  I laughed out loud reading it!


The plot revolves around four spunky, middle-aged Southern women each going trough some kind of mid-life crisis.  Their friendship provides the needed escape of their day-to-day routines.  Drawn together by fate, they decide that it is about time they reclaim their enthusiasm for life they have lost over the years through marriage, careers, and other mishaps.  A new friend, Jinx coaches through self discovery only to discover she needed to follow his own advice.


As a lighting designer, I needed to reflect the light mood of the play, as well as the fact that the story takes place over six months as their misadventures strengthen their bond and find the confidence to jump start their lives over a few cocktails.

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A lighting designer is responsible for the design, installation (light hang), and operation of the lighting used in a production.  To show where each lighting instrument will be placed, a lighting designer produces a light plot specifying the placement and configuration of all lighting instruments to be used for the production.  The designer also provides all paperwork for the design including hook-ups, schedules, cut lists, and cue sheets.

This is not my usual theatre space.  I wasn’t interested in “reinventing” the wheel due to the turn over time, so I started with the instruments that were on the grid and built my design around that.  I then created a couple magic sheets, hook-ups, instrument schedules and the cue sheets.  I was read for “light hang.”

Okay.  I did have a few steps to complete before I got to light hang night.

  1. I read the script several times.  I took notes of the overall story and themes and paid special attention to physical needs mentioned in the script.  I made a list of questions to as the directors about time, season and desired mood.  I like these conversations to include the entire design team including the set designer, costume designer, directors, etc.  I need to understand the over all production concept, theme, style, period, etc.
  2. Next, I made sure I understood all the production dates.  It is important to meet all production dates.  Everyone’s work depends on meeting deadlines.
  3. Usually I would attend production meetings and design meetings.  However, this production was a little more informal in that regard.  Most of my meetings were quick conversations in passing.


4. Usually, I would get a current section and ground plan from the director, set designer or tech director.  However, the only design work I saw was a picture of the proposed front elevation off the director’s phone.  This did complicate things (and it was the reason I went with the, “don’t reinvent the wheel” approach).

5. At this point I usually review the script and watch a few rehearsals to make note of the “broad-stroke” and “moment-to-moment” demands of the show.

6. After watching a few rehearsals I begin to sketch out a few rough cue ideas for approval.


7. Finally, I am ready to develop a light plot, instrument schedule, magic sheets, and other supporting paperwork.

8. Then, I am ready for plot approval.  Once the plot is approved, I make sure the tech director as my “wish list” of gels, patterns, and other needs.  IN this case, I looked over what they had on hand and made adjustments so that I could what was available.  Community theater isn’t rolling in money. (grin).

9. Usually I would meet with my fellow designers to discuss color.  However, I was only able to see a few paint swatches.  This caused me make a few color and intensity adjustments as the rehearsals continued and the set slow moved toward completion.  This was a point of stress for me because I needed to leave on a person trip before opening night.  I was forced to make some adjustments over the phone with the director as I was out of town before the set was complete.


10.  After all is approved a lighting designer attends light hang and ensures that all lighting instruments are safely hung, focused, patched, and ready for building cues.

11. Next, I make sure the board is ready, the patch is loaded, submasters and groups are all loaded to be ready for building cues.

12. Then, I spend time with the director building cues, presets, setting levels, and other necessary effects.


13. Traditionally, I would attend a paper tech after the cues were built, to explain the cues and the timing of the cues to a light board operator.  However, I wasn’t able to do this set with this production.  At first the original light board operator needed to quit the show.  I spent a couple weeks running the show myself.  This gave me time to perfect the timing of the cues.  It also gave me an opportunity to adjust light cues as needed before I took off for my vacation.

14.  A lighting designer attends all tech and dress rehearsals and evaluates, plans, and reworks all light cues.  As I needed to be in the light booth, which is off to the side of the theatre, it was harder to make real adjustments and to polish cues.


So that was that.  I was able to design several different looks.  I was able to use “practicals” – wall sconces and string lights in the pergola.  The tech director did provide one interesting idea.  He provided a flickering lamp for the fire pit.  I didn’t have to program an effect for the flickering fire.

I do love painting with light.  It was an interesting experience to design in a space far different then my usual space.

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