The 4 Functions of Light

LESSON 4: The 4 Functions of Light


Students will demonstrate their understanding of the 4 functions of light by watching a short scene and writing their responses.


Materials Needed:

The main auditorium/stage of your school (all lighting and sound equipment needs to be available for use), 5 or 6 flashlights, 3 actors for scene performances, and enough copies of the “4 Functions of Light” handout for each student.

Lesson 4.The 4 Functions of Light Handout




Anticipatory Set/Hook: Have some mood music playing in the background. Have the students come in and take their seats. When class begins, ask the students to please be quiet. When everyone is quiet, wait for a few seconds and then blackout the room. After a moment, bring the lights on the stage up, and acting students will be in place to do a scene for the class. Throughout the scene the two main characters will be mostly in darkness or very dim light. Have an extra actor, who doesn’t ever say anything or have any kind of importance in the scene, sitting at a table to the right of the main characters and have them lit brightly so as to pull the focus to them.


Step 1: Transition—When the scene is finished, bring up the house lights and ask the students if they noticed any problem with the lighting. After you feel that you’ve had enough answers from them, move into a discussion on selective focus and then visibility.


Instruction—Explain to them that selective focus means to direct the audiences attention to a specific place, and that by making one spot of the stage brighter than the rest of the stage, the audience is forced to look at the brightest spot.


Checking for Understanding/Discussion—Refer back to the scene they just saw and ask them how selective focus could have been used better to bring out the true focus of the scene. Ask them why “selective focus” is important. Ask them how the lights can help us know what the focus in the scene is?


Instruction—Refer back to the light quality of “movement” and tell them that the follow spot is an example of “movement” and also of “selective focus.”


Step 2: Transition—Have one of your actors from the previous scene come out and stand on the stage. Bring down the house lights, blackout the stage, and ask the students to be quiet and listen. The actor on stage will have prepared a short monologue from any show of your choice, and they will perform the monologue in the dark. When they are finished, have the lights on stage brought up to full, and make sure the actor on stage is very well lit. Ask the students to listen closely and observe whether they understand or hear the monologue any better this time. After the actor finishes, bring up the house lights.


Discussion—Ask them if one performance of the monologue was easier to understand or hear than when it was with the lights out. They will, of course, tell you that the well-lit monologue was easier to understand because lessons always go just as planned. But if by chance they don’t give you the right answer, you still need to discuss with them why having an actor well lit helps the audience to hear them and understand them better. Refer to the theatre adage that “if you can’t see’em, you can’t hear’em.” Ask them why that would be the case. Ask them what other aspects of a production could be affected by visibility. Explain that sets, costumes, props, etc. could all be affected by visibility. Ask them why that is.

Instruction—Explain that if these aspects are not lit well, then the audience won’t know exactly what they are, or they will not be able to see them in enough to detail for the conceptual ideas of the design to come across.


Step 3: Transition—Ask for volunteers come up to the front of the class. Bring down the house and stage lights, and shine a flashlight on them one at a time, from different angles, and talk about how the use of light changes their appearance. Give every student that wants to the chance to both shine the flashlight on people and to be the person being shined upon. While shining the flashlight on each individual person, ask the class to tell you how the different angles of lighting are affecting them, and for what kind of show they could use this type of lighting.


Instruction—Explain that this function of light is called “modeling.” Tell them that the primary quality of light that is used in “modeling” is “direction, but that all of the other qualities of light affect modeling as well.


Checking for Understanding/Discussion—Ask them why modeling would be important and how it could effect/enhance a show.


Step 4: Transition—Bring down the house lights again, and bring up dramatic lighting on the stage. Have your actors do a short bit of the scene from “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge has a change of heart at the end and starts giving presents to people. Light the scene dark and dramatically (and possibly with a color that says anything but happiness). Start the scene where Scrooge thinks he is going to die, but when the scene changes from to Scrooge being happy keep the lights the same.


Checking for Understanding/Discussion—Ask the students if they noticed any problems with the scene, in terms of lighting. Explain how this function of light is called “mood.” Ask them what types of moods you could create with lighting, and how they think it could be created. Ask them what types of environments you could create with lighting and what kind of moods these environments convey (again, ask them how they might go about creating these environments).


Step 5: Directions—Pass out the “4 Functions of Light” handout, and tell them to keep it in their class binder. Remind them to bring their gloves to class next time.


Assessment: Have the students pull out a piece of paper and put their name on it. Tell them that the actors will do one final scene, and that as the scene is being performed you want them to write down one or more ways you could use each function of light to light this scene. Have them turn it in before they leave class.