Colors of Light and How It Affects Us
Of the many elements it takes to put on a theatrical production few if any are as important as the lights. Illumination is vital to any theatrical experience great or small, a low budget community theatre or a multimillion dollar Broadway Production. On the exception of LED (Light Emitting Diodes,) most modern theatrical lighting instrument produces a white or unfiltered light. Unfiltered light is great if you are just trying to light up a room in your house but when it comes to the world of theatre that just doesn’t do the job right. That is where color filters come into play. In the lighting design world they are known as gels.
If you have ever had the opportunity to look up while on a stage at first you might be blinded by the blazing lights but at a closer glance you will note that there isn’t an instrument hung that doesn’t have a gel or color filter in it. This is for several reasons; one is to model the subjects on the stage so they don’t appear to be flat objects. Different colors at different angles help to sculpt the subjects on stage so they actually appear as a three dimensional objects. Another reason is to help create the environment in which they scene is taking place. And maybe the most important is to help set the mood, which can be one of the easiest and at the same time most difficult aspects of stage lighting design. It is easy to create emotion evoking sunset or a romantic moonlit caress. The challenge lies in integrating these moments of visual intrigue into the rest of the production elements seamlessly (Gillette.) It is for these reasons that lighting and the colors we use have a profound effect on how we experience a particular production.
Color and mood go hand in hand so to speak. We recognize all colors differently; each color has a varied range of meanings that tells us a little about the emotions/moods involved. These perceptions are influenced by a few things, our cultural backgrounds, the colors adjacent to each other and an individual’s mood (Gillette.) For instance the color Yellow can mean: Stimulating, Joyful, hostile or unpleasant. Red can mean: Loving, intense, hot, powerful, or aggressive. Violet can mean: dignified, depressed, Stately, or melancholy (Gillette.) And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The colors we see on stage can transform entirely how we react to a specific situation.
The play K2 by Patrick Meyers is a great example of how this can happen. K2 is set at 27,000 feet above Sea level on the side of the world’s second tallest mountain. This is a cold and inhospitable place where no creature or plant lives. A lighting designer can in fact freeze out an audience by their choice of colors. If you gel your instruments with blues purples and just a few amber colors to provide a bit if contrast the human brain is going to see that it is cold on stage. That perception will be carried to a physical response, even though it might be 75 degrees in the house at the time, the audience will complain that it is too cold. That is a small example of the power color has on our psyche.
Without color in lighting the world of stage design would be flat and bleak, and to be honest so would the job of the lighting designer. The lighting industry relies on gels to be creative and successful. The ability to color light on stage help push the story being told on. Lighting design and the color it brings is the one element that theatre could not do without.
Gillette, J.Michael. Designing With Light – An Introduction to Stage Lighting. 5th. 2010. Print.
Myers , Patrick. K2. New Your City: Dramatists Play Service, Inc., 1998. Print.