A Brief History of Theatrical Lighting

Anyone who has worked on—or even seen—a theatrical production knows how important lighting is to the experience. Even if you don’t have the budget for expensive sets and costumes, great lighting can make a show look spectacular. And you can do it with just a handful of instruments, as well, if you’re creative and know what you’re doing. At APS Lighting, we are proud to supply all the equipment you need for top-notch theatrical lighting in NH.


However, theatre has been around for thousands of years, long before the invention of electric lighting instruments. Let’s take a brief look at the history of theatrical lighting.


Natural Lighting

Nowadays, going to a theatre production is something we usually do in the evening, but for a long portion of history, that just wasn’t possible. From the early days of Ancient Greek theatre to Shakespeare’s day and beyond, the sun was the only way to light a stage. Greek amphitheaters were outdoors. If you’ve ever seen the reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe (opened in 1997; the original was shut down and demolished in 1642), you’ll remember that it has no roof. Plays were performed in the middle of the day while the stage could be lit by daylight. Some theatres still use full lighting to reproduce the effect of the original productions. For example, the American Shakespeare Center performs many of their Shakespeare productions in full light, as indicated by their slogan, “We do it with the lights on.”


Technological Innovations

While there were some enclosed theatres during the time of the Roman Empire—and in Shakespeare’s day—the only way to light them was with torches or candles. This made it nearly impossible to control or achieve any effects with the lights. A few different inventions changed that. In 1803 Henry Drummon invented the first spotlight, which he called a “limelight” because it used burning lime. Throughout the 19th century, theatres added gas lighting, giving them the ability to dim the lights.

The most important invention of theatrical lighting, however, was the invention of the incandescent bulb in 1880. From there, inventors and designers could create instruments that could focus light in certain areas. The addition of transparent lacquers and colored filters further added to the effects designers could achieve with light.


theatrical lighting nh

APS Lighting helps you continue in theatrical traditions! Contact us at (800) 837-0005 for theatrical lighting in NH, or view our inventory online.

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