How Reds, Blues, and Greens Can Spark our Emotions

An audience member enters a theatre expecting to be taken on a journey through the eyes of someone else. They wish to see and feel the things the characters experience before them, and create an emotional connection through the night. Accomplishing this is a task that must be shared among the Designers, Actors, and Production team. Today we are going to focus on the Lighting Designers role in creating emotion with color.

To many the sun is represented in art by colors of yellow, Orange, and on occasion red. The night is on the opposite end of this spectrum usually shown with blues, violets, and black. The stage displays these in a similar manner, and the audience gets it’s first visual cue from these two distinctions. If the stage rises on a living room do we see sunlight streaming in through the windows or is it a pale blue streaming in. With that simple coloring of the light we have established something on which to base our knowledge of the scene. Now we can dive deeper into what the colors of the light is trying to convey. Does the sun seem more orange almost as if it is a dry, hot day or does the blue look almost purple and black like a storm is outside the window. These color cues are how a lighting designer does their part in conveying the emotion, setting, and plot of a scene.

Lighting design uses three primary colors Red, Green, and Blue. These colors when mixed will produce a lighter color, for example the three colors mixed at once will create white light. Out of these colors we build our shows. In the days before LED’s designers used gels in order to blend the colors. A designer would combine gels of multiple colors to create their desired shade, much like a painter would mix paints. However with LED’s becoming more prevalent it allows for the color mixing abilities of a designer to become even more versatile. Designers can now mix colors using programs on their lighting rigs to mix and match colors in a multitude of ways.

Lighting design usually comes about once the world has been created. The sets have all been painted and the costumes adorn the actors. This way the designer may light the world in a way that compliments the other design elements. It also allows for the use of colors in scenes that have been staged and provide a certain emotion. This would be like a tragic death scene in the heat of a battle. A designer may have originally planned for an intense red wash in order to remind the audience of the bloodshed. However the lead actor may have been blocked to step forward and give a heart wrenching speech. this can shift the designers vision in order to compliment this choice and create a lighting change that reflects the change in emotion.

Those who may be teaching students about the effect of color on emotion try this little exercise. Have each of your students take a piece of paper and sit in your theatre space onstage. Put different wash colors on the stage and have them write down the first thing they feel when sitting in that light. Run through as many colors as you like, but make sure to include Red, Green, and Blue. Once you have ran through the colors you wish gather your students and ask them all to share what the wrote down. This excersie will not only help them to understand what the color may mean for them, but also what the colors mean to others as well.

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