Here’s a glossary of over 200 theatre lighting terms that will prove helpful for any student or teacher of drama or theatre, plus budding industry professionals. This dictionary of lighting terms also includes several embedded videos on various aspects of stage lighting, which students will find useful in their studies.
Theatre lighting is a critical component of stage production, serving to illuminate performers, create mood, and enhance the overall visual storytelling. Its terminology is diverse and technical, reflecting the complexity and creativity inherent in stage lighting design.
There are a variety of names for different types of lighting fixtures, terms for the placement and intensity of stage lights, and terms for the various technologies used in theatre lighting, including lighting consoles, patch panels, dimmers and more. There is also colour theory to learn, terms relating to electrical systems, and specific terms associated with functions such as fade, crossfade, blackout, and more.
Of all the areas of production, theatre lighting has perhaps the most terminology to learn, understand and use in practice. This glossary of theatre lighting terms should prove critical for use in the theatre classroom and beyond.
Theatre Lighting Terms
Accent Lighting: Focused lighting used to emphasise a particular object or area on stage.
Ambient Light: The general, natural or artificial light in a space before any theatrical lighting is added.
Articulated Boom: A type of movable arm used to position lights in hard-to-reach places.
Automated Lighting: Advanced lighting fixtures that can move and change colours and patterns automatically, controlled by a lighting console.
Back Projection: The technique of projecting images onto a translucent screen from behind, often used for background visuals.
Backlight: Lighting that comes from behind a subject to create a silhouette or to separate them from the background.
Backlight Wash: Lighting from behind the scene, used to separate subjects from the background.
Balcony Rail: A lighting position located on the front edge of a balcony, used for front lighting the stage.
Barn Doors: An accessory attached to the front of a spotlight to control the spread of light.
Batten (Fly Bar): A horizontal pipe or bar in the theatre, from which lighting fixtures, scenery, and curtains are hung.
Beam Angle: The angle at which light is emitted from a fixture, affecting the size and intensity of the light pool.
Beamlight: A lighting fixture producing a narrow, intense beam of light, used to highlight a specific area or object.
Beam Projector: A type of lighting instrument that produces a strong, concentrated light beam without lenses.
Beam Splitter: A device that divides a beam of light into two or more separate beams, often used in complex lighting setups.
Beam Shaper: A device used in lighting fixtures to manipulate the shape of the light beam.
Black Light: A type of light that emits ultraviolet radiation, creating a glowing effect on fluorescent materials.
Blackout: A lighting cue where all stage lights are turned off simultaneously.
Bleed Through: Unintended light passing through a material, often used to refer to light leakage in scrims or backdrops.
Bounce Light: Light that is reflected off a surface (like a wall or a floor) to create a diffuse, indirect lighting effect.
Build: Gradual increase in the intensity or complexity of lighting to enhance a scene’s mood or impact.
Cable Run: The path and management of electrical cables for lighting instruments.
Cabling: The arrangement and management of electrical cables for lighting fixtures.
Call: Notification of a scheduled time, typically for performers or crew to be present for a rehearsal or performance.
Cans: Colloquial term for lighting fixtures, often referring to older, simpler types of spotlights (PARCANs). Also, the term for microphone headsets commonly used in the theatre.
Channel: A control or grouping mechanism on a lighting console that allows the operator to control multiple lights together.
Chase Controller: A device that controls the sequencing of lights, typically used to create a dynamic ‘chase’ effect.
Chase: A lighting effect where lights turn on and off in sequence, often used for dynamic or dramatic effects.
Chaser: A lighting effect where lights are turned on and off sequentially to create a dynamic pattern.
Cheat Sheet (Magic Sheet): A quick reference guide for lighting settings or cues during a production.
Clamp: A device used to attach lighting fixtures to the grid or truss.
Colour Mixer: A device or feature in a lighting console that blends different coloured lights to create various hues.
Colour Mixing: Combining different colours of light to create new hues, often done in LED fixtures.
Colour Scroller: An older device attached to a light to change colour gels automatically.
Colour Fade: A gradual transition between different colours in a lighting design, achieved through the control of lighting instruments.
Colour Temperature: A characteristic of visible light that describes its colour, measured in Kelvin (K). Warmer light has a lower colour temperature, while cooler light has a higher temperature.
Colour Theory: The study of colour and its use in design, crucial for effective lighting design.
Control Protocol: The language or system used for transmitting information between lighting consoles and fixtures, such as DMX512.
Cookie: Short for “cucoloris”; a device used to cast shadows or silhouettes to create a textured lighting effect.
Crossfade: Transition where one lighting state is gradually replaced by another, with the two overlapping.
Cue: A specific instruction for lighting changes, sound, or other technical elements during a performance.
Cue Light: A visual signal used to indicate to performers or technicians when to start their action or cue.
Cue List: A detailed list of all lighting cues in a show, often including timing, intensity, and other parameters.
Cue Stack: A sequence of lighting cues programmed into the lighting console, designed to be executed in a specific order.
Cue-to-Cue: A rehearsal focusing on the technical elements, such as lighting and sound cues, rather than the full performance.
Cyclorama (Cyc): A large curtain or wall, often curved, at the back of the stage, used for projecting light and creating atmospheric effects.
Cyc Flood: A lighting fixture designed to evenly illuminate a cyclorama or backdrop.
Day for Night: A technique where scenes meant to occur at night are filmed in daylight and then altered with lighting and filters.
Dichroic Filter: A type of colour filter that reflects unwanted colours instead of absorbing them, resulting in less heat.
Dimmer: A device that controls the brightness of a light.
Dimmer Curve: The response characteristic of a dimmer, defining how it transitions from low to high intensity.
Dimmer Doubling: A technique where two lighting circuits are connected to a single dimmer, used when dimmer channels are limited.
Dimmer Rack: A collection of dimmers in one location, controlling multiple lighting circuits.
DMX (Digital Multiplex): A standard for digital communication networks commonly used to control stage lighting and effects.
DMX Splitter: A device that distributes DMX signals to multiple outputs, allowing for extended and complex lighting control networks.
DMX Universe: A single DMX line controlling up to 512 channels in a lighting system.
Douser: A device used to quickly dim or shut off a light, particularly in follow spots.
Downlight: Lighting directed downwards, typically from overhead fixtures.
Downstage: Refers to the area of the stage closest to the audience.
Dress Rehearsal: A full run of the production with all elements, including costumes, lighting, and sound, as in a live performance.
Edge Blending: A technique used to seamlessly blend the edges of two or more light projections.
Electrics (LX): Refers to all electrical elements in theatre, especially relating to lighting.
Electronic Ballast: A device that regulates the power supply to a light, often used in discharge lamps.
Ellipsoidal: A type of spotlight known for its sharp focus and versatility in beam shaping.
Ellipsoidal Reflector: The part of certain spotlights that focuses the light into a beam.
Ellipsoidal Reflector Spotlight (ERS): A versatile type of spotlight with a strong, well-defined beam, often used for highlighting specific stage areas.
Fade: The gradual increase (fade in) or decrease (fade out) of light intensity.
Fader: A control on a lighting console used to adjust the intensity of lights.
Field Angle: The angle where the light intensity falls to 50% of its maximum, wider than the beam angle.
Fixture: Any lighting unit or equipment used in the production.
Fixture Library: In lighting consoles, a database containing information on various lighting fixtures, like their control attributes and channel usage.
Flash Button: A button on a lighting console that momentarily brings a channel to full intensity.
Flicker Effect: A lighting effect that creates the appearance of flickering light, often used to simulate the effect of flames, candles, or a malfunctioning light source.
Flies: The area above the stage where scenery and lighting equipment are suspended.
Flood Light: A broad-beamed, high-intensity light used to illuminate a large area evenly.
Follow Spot: A spotlight controlled by an operator, used to follow a performer as they move across the stage.
Footlight: A lighting source placed at the front of a stage, near the floor, used to provide illumination upwards onto performers.
Focal Length: Refers to the distance from the light source to the point where the light rays converge in lighting.
Focus: The adjustment of the direction and quality of a light beam.
Fresnel: A type of spotlight with a softer edge, used for general area lighting.
Fresnel Lens: A type of lens used in Fresnel spotlights, characterized by its concentric circular ridges.
Front Projection: Projected images onto a screen or surface from the front, typically from projectors located in the audience or lighting booth.
Gel: A thin, coloured sheet placed in front of a light to change its colour.
Gel Extender: A tube placed on the front of a lighting fixture to prevent melting of the gel from the heat.
Gel Frame: A holder for colour gels that fits into a lighting fixture.
Gel Longevity: Refers to the lifespan of a gel colour filter before it degrades due to heat and light exposure.
Gel Swatchbook: A sample book of lighting gels used to select and specify colours for lighting design.
Gobo: A stencil or template placed inside or in front of a light source to create shaped shadows or patterns.
Gobo Holder: A device that holds the gobo in place in a lighting fixture.
Gobo Size: The physical dimensions of a gobo, important for ensuring compatibility with specific lighting instruments.
Gobo Rotator: A device that allows a gobo to rotate, creating dynamic patterns or effects.
Gobo Wheel: A component in intelligent lighting fixtures that holds multiple gobos for easy switching.
Ground Row: A row of lights placed on the ground, often used to light backdrops or cycloramas from below.
Hanging Plot: A diagram showing where each lighting fixture is to be hung in the theatre’s rigging system.
Hard Light: A type of lighting that creates sharp, well-defined shadows.
High Side Lighting: Lighting coming from a high angle at the side of the stage, used to sculpt and define the actors’ bodies.
Hook Clamp: A clamp used to attach lighting fixtures to battens or pipes.
House Fade: Gradual dimming or brightening of the auditorium or house lights.
House Lights: Lights used to illuminate the audience area of a theatre.
Hot Patching: The process of connecting or disconnecting lighting fixtures while the power is still on, a practice generally discouraged due to safety risks.
Hotspot: The brightest part of a light beam, typically at its centre.
Incandescent Lighting: Traditional lighting using a filament that is heated to produce light.
Ingress Protection (IP) Rating: A rating system that specifies the degree of protection offered against the intrusion of solid objects and liquids in electrical enclosures, important for lighting fixtures used in outdoor or exposed environments.
Intensity: The brightness or strength of a light.
Intelligent Console: A specialized lighting console designed for controlling complex lighting systems with automated fixtures.
Intelligent Lighting: Automated lighting fixtures that can move, change colours, and alter patterns without manual adjustment.
Intelligent Mirror: A feature in some automated lighting fixtures that allows for rapid changes in direction and projection.
Iris: An adjustable aperture in a spotlight used to change the diameter of the light beam.
Juker: A tool used to control the dimming of a lighting circuit manually.
Kelvin Scale: A scale used to measure the colour temperature of light sources, with lower values indicating warmer (redder) light and higher values cooler (bluer) light.
Key Light: The primary source of light for a particular area or actor, typically creating the most significant illumination and shadows.
Kicker Light: A light placed to the side or behind a subject to provide definition or highlight contours.
Lamp: The light-producing element within a lighting fixture or bulb.
Lantern: Another term for a lighting fixture, commonly used in the UK.
LED (Light Emitting Diode): A type of lighting instrument that is energy-efficient and can produce a variety of colours without the need for gels.
Leko: Short for “Lekolite”, a brand name for a popular type of ellipsoidal reflector spotlight.
Light Curtain: An arrangement of lights to create a curtain-like effect, often used as a backdrop or for dramatic reveals.
Lighting Booms: Tall, vertical stands used to mount lights at the sides of the stage.
Lighting Console: The control board or interface used to program and operate the lighting for a show.
Lighting Cue: A specific moment when the lighting changes, as determined by the lighting designer and noted in the script or score.
Lighting Grid: An overhead network of bars and pipes from which lighting fixtures are hung.
Lighting Key: The dominant lighting style or approach for a scene or production.
Lighting Operator: The person responsible for operating the lighting console during a show.
Lighting Plan: A detailed diagram showing the layout and configuration of lighting fixtures for a production.
Lumen: A measure of the total amount of visible light emitted by a source.
Luminaire: Another term for a lighting instrument or fixture.
Luminance: The measure of the brightness or intensity of light emitted from a surface, important in determining the visual impact of a lighting design.
Magic Sheet: A quick reference guide used by lighting designers and technicians, showing the layout of the lighting channels and their functions.
Masking: Blocking part of a light beam or stage area to shape the light or hide unwanted areas.
Master Fader: A control on a lighting console that adjusts the overall intensity of all lights.
Mirrorball: A spherical object covered with mirrors, used to reflect light in multiple directions.
Mood Lighting: Lighting that creates a specific atmosphere or feeling on stage.
Moving Light: A versatile lighting fixture capable of changing position, colour, and focus.
Neon Lighting: A type of lighting using neon gas-filled tubes, often for special effects or signage.
Node: A device in a networked lighting system that converts input signals into a format usable by fixtures.
Opacity: The measure of transparency or translucency of materials such as gels, scrims, and filters.
Open White: A term used to describe a light without colour gels, producing white light.
Opposite Prompt: The side of the stage opposite to the prompt side, typically stage right from the performer’s viewpoint.
Optical System: The lenses and reflectors in a lighting fixture that shape and direct the light.
Par Can: A simple, versatile type of lighting instrument, often used for concerts or as part of a larger lighting setup.
Parabolic Aluminized Reflector (PAR): A type of light fixture with a parabolic reflector, often used for concerts or as part of a larger lighting setup.
Patch Panel: A board or panel where lighting circuits are connected to dimmers or control systems.
Patching: The process of assigning control channels on a lighting console to specific lighting fixtures or circuits.
Phantom Power: A small amount of power sent through a lighting system to maintain control without fully illuminating the lights.
Photometrics: The study and measurement of light as it is perceived by the human eye, important in designing lighting that is both effective and visually pleasing.
Plotting Session: A planning session where the lighting design is created and refined.
Practical: A lighting source that is visible on stage and part of the scenery, like a lamp or chandelier.
Practical Effects: Lighting effects achieved physically on stage, as opposed to through post-production or digital means.
Preset: A pre-programmed lighting state or scene on a console.
Preview: Reviewing and adjusting lighting cues without an audience present.
Production Desk: A workspace in the theatre where the lighting and other technical controls are located.
Profile Spot: A type of spotlight used to project a controlled and shaped beam of light.
Prompt Side: The side of the stage where the stage manager and prompter are located, typically stage left from the performer’s viewpoint.
Proscenium Lights: Lighting fixtures that are positioned in the proscenium arch, usually to light the front part of the stage.
RDM (Remote Device Management): A protocol that allows two-way communication between lighting fixtures and the control console.
Reflector: A part of a lighting fixture that redirects light from the source towards the stage.
Render: A visual representation or simulation of a lighting design, often created using specialized software.
Rigging: The system used to hang and position lighting instruments above the stage.
Rosco: A popular brand of gels and other lighting equipment.
Running Plot: A detailed list of lighting cues and changes used during a performance.
Safety Cable: A cable used as a safety measure to prevent a lighting fixture from falling if its primary support fails.
Scratch Disk: In lighting design software, this is a virtual space used for temporary data storage.
Scrim: A type of fabric drop that can appear opaque or transparent depending on how it is lit.
Shutters: Blades within a light fixture used to shape the light beam.
Side Light: Lighting that comes from the side of the stage, often used to highlight the actors’ profiles or to add depth.
Sidelight Boom: A vertical stand or structure to which sidelights are attached, used to light actors from the sides.
Signal Distribution: The method by which control signals are sent from the lighting console to the fixtures.
Silhouette: A lighting effect where actors or objects are backlit, appearing as dark shapes against a lighter background.
Sky Pan: A large, broad light used to simulate natural light from above.
Smoke Machine (Fog Machine, Hazer): A device that produces a smoke-like atmospheric effect.
Soft Light: Lighting that creates a diffuse, gentle illumination with soft shadows.
Source Four: A popular type of ellipsoidal reflector spotlight known for its efficiency and versatility.
Special: A lighting instrument placed for a specific effect or to light a specific stage area.
Spike Tape: Coloured tape used to mark positions on stage, particularly useful for marking lighting areas.
Spill: Unwanted light that extends beyond the intended area.
Spill Kill: A technique or device used to prevent unwanted light spill from lighting fixtures.
Spotlight: A strong, focused light used to highlight a specific performer or area on stage.
Splitter: A device that distributes a single DMX input into multiple outputs.
Stage Left/Right: Directions from the actor’s perspective, crucial for lighting design and placement.
Strobe Light: A high-intensity light that produces bright, rapid flashes, often used for special effects.
Swatch: A sample or example of a gel colour used for selecting lighting colours.
Tabs: Curtains at the sides of the stage used to mask the wings or as part of the set design.
Technical Rehearsal: A rehearsal focusing on the technical aspects of a performance, including lighting.
Template: Another term for a gobo, used in profile spots to project patterns.
Tilt: The vertical movement or adjustment of a lighting fixture.
Three-Point Lighting: A standard method of lighting a subject on stage to achieve dimension, with two lights at 45-degree angles from the subject at the front and one centred light from the subject’s rear.
Throw: The distance light travels from a fixture to the area it illuminates.
Throw Distance: The distance from a lighting fixture to the area it is illuminating.
Top Light: Lighting that comes from directly above the stage, often used to create depth or highlight the top of objects.
Truss: A modular metal structure used to support lighting fixtures above the stage.
Tungsten-Halogen: A type of incandescent light bulb that contains a small amount of halogen gas, improving efficiency and lifespan.
Uplight: Lighting directed upwards, often used to create dramatic effects.
Upstage: Refers to the area of the stage farthest from the audience.
Upstage Lighting: Lighting positioned at the back of the stage, often used to create depth or background illumination.
UV Filter: A filter that blocks ultraviolet light, used to protect materials on stage from UV damage or to control the effect of UV light on stage.
UV Light: Ultraviolet light used to create glowing effects on stage, particularly with white or fluorescent colours.
Variable Focus: A feature of some lighting fixtures that allows the focus or sharpness of the light beam to be adjusted.
Venue Patch: The configuration of lighting connections specific to a particular venue.
Visualizer: Software that simulates how lights will look in a space, often used in the planning phase.
Voltage Drop: A decrease in electrical voltage along a cable, significant in planning lighting layouts.
Wash: Lighting that covers a large area in fairly even light, used to create general illumination.
Wash Fixture: A type of lighting fixture designed to provide broad, even illumination across a large area.
Wing Lights: Lights positioned in the wings (sides) of the stage, often used for side lighting.
Wing Space: The areas to the sides of the stage, important for planning side lighting positions.
Wireless DMX: A system that uses wireless communication to transmit DMX signals, allowing for greater flexibility in lighting setup.
XLR Connector: A type of connector commonly used for lighting control signals.
Yoke: The bracket or bar on a lighting fixture that allows it to be tilted and rotated.
Zoom Ellipsoidal: An ellipsoidal spotlight with an adjustable beam width.
Zoom Lens: A lens in a lighting fixture that can adjust the size of the beam angle.
Zoom Profile: A type of spotlight with a variable focal length, allowing changes in beam size.