Schools can have very different performing art spaces. In this blog post, we will be discussing a budget stage lighting setup that works for stages with low ceilings that is typical in public schools and of course other spaces such as rehearsal studios, dance studios etc.
There are a few aspects that are common to public schools and well worth a discussion when trying to figure out the most suitable stage lighting setup for your school:
Clearance height and throw distance
Most public schools have a stage within the range of 10X5M and a clearance of approx. 3.0 meters, with an existing front of house lighting bar. The low ceiling is not a problem since performers are mostly children. It does mean you will have very little choice of lighting fixture that will work above stage because of the short throw distance. Many schools have lighting bars in Front of House position but are very close to Down Stage so is still considered close. Stage wash lights of wide beam angle would be the correct choice at these locations. By wide-angle, we are talking about 38° or above. This will ensure each lighting fixture can cast light to a wide enough space within this short throw distance so that all the wash lights working together can provide an even stage wash instead of patches of bright and dark spots on the stage.
To prevent glaring due to the low clearance the fixtures should be mounted on top of the lighting bar if possible instead of hanging underneath it. A larger projection angle is helpful to improve eye-comfort for performers and speakers on stage.
Budget and Value
A lot of public schools rely on donations and sales to fund such investments so it is important to have a system that is reliable, future proof and you can get the most value out of it. There is no point of purchasing lighting fixtures that are feature-rich but the school has no expertise to make use of those features. For example, moving headlights that we see a lot in medium and large venues may not work well on a small stage sometimes. They usually work best with digital consoles which allow you to program efficiently and often need a rarely large number of fixtures to look good. This will greatly increase the cost of the lighting system. Some schools may have only 2 to 4 of these fixtures but without a digital control surface and someone who knows how to use them it is not money well spent.
LED wash pars/panels should be the first priority in our opinion when looking at all the different types of lighting fixtures. This is because they provide the basic stage wash and colour wash which could be all you need. They can also replace fresnels and profiles that are a lot more expensive but only does white light. Moving head lights can be added if you have different spots on the stage that you need to focus to at different times of performance.
It is very important that the lighting control system is easy enough to use and difficult to mess up. If all you have are static wash lights, fresnels and profiles, a basic 192CH controller will allow you to dim lights and change colours. However, we do think it is important to introduce digital consoles to schools for their obvious advantage in efficiency and allowing you to get the most out of your lights by creating more scenes and operate the lighting show with clicks of buttons. There is no need to spend big bucks here since most console brands offer the minimum package of software and a dongle for a few hundred dollars, allowing you to do everything you want with the lights on the computer screen. For schools that can spend more, a basic physical control surface should cost about 1000 dollars including the software. This kind of control surfaces such as Chamsys Mini Wing or Onyx Touch comes with 10 faders plus some programing and execution buttons. In our opinion, this is all you need to get the most out of your stage lighting system.
There are also iPad and phone-based control system such as Luminair 3, which is a wireless solution digital console. It is a simplified less sophisticated option than software on PC but it is powerful enough to handle the basic lighting setups in most public schools with the added benefit of mobility.
Having an up to date system also gives the year 5 and 6 tech-savvy students more chance to learn about lighting programming, and may pave their way to be a successful lighting technician or designer later in life.