courtesy of
Dance Magazine

first published
December 1956



     Another lighting instrument that is often found in auditoriums is the floodlight, often called an olivette.  This kind of light is simply a big box with one side open and a large high-powered (500 to 2000 watt) lamp.  The inside of the box is painted white or aluminum so that it can reflect as much light as possible.

     Floods are usually found mounted on top of a standard and sitting in a corner backstage, which is exactly where they should be, as far as I am concerned.  Since they are little more than a bare bulb they illuminate everything and spill light all over the stage and draperies, and usually into the auditorium too.  Given a great deal of time and patience it is possible to mask them down so they don’t spill, but then they don’t give much more light than a two-battery flashlight.

     Actually I’m being very unkind.  The floodlight does have some uses (and the standard on which it is mounted can always be used to mount a spotlight).  My primary objection is that it is uncontrollable light, but sometimes this is an advantage:   1)  It is excellent for lighting a sky drop or a painted scenic drop since it produces an even sheet of light.  If several floods can be hung on a batten in front of the drop the results will be quite good, especially if all of the lighting instruments are focused carefully so that they do not cast any shadows onto the drop;   2)  where there are no borderlights they can be used in the wings or overhead to flood the stage with a dark blue or red or whatever color you may want;   3)  floods can be mounted on overhead battens for backlighting simply by focusing them downstage, and will give the stage and the dancer a fine third dimension;   4) and they make awfully good worklights.

Foots and Borders

     Footlights and borderlights vary in design from tin trough with bare bulbs mounted in porcelain sockets to compartmentalized strips of reflector lamps with glass rondels.  Some are permanently installed in theatres and permanently wired to their own dimmerboards; others are completely portable.  The footlights are used for the curtain light or, glowing dimly during the ballet, to add a color value to the costumes and scenery.

     Foots and borders are usually wired in three or four circuits so that each color circuit can have its own dimmer or switch.  The primary colors (red, blue and green) are the most practical colors to install, because by mixing them in various combinations and intensities any color of the rainbow can be produced.  Unless they are used very dimly, however, they make shadows on the backdrop and distort the body and costume of the dancer because of their “unnatural” angle.  To get more intensity of light many footlights have red, white and blue circuits.  White footlights are rarely of any value, except as a fourth circuit, and should never be used at full brightness.

     Borderlights, too, are most practical if they are equipped with red, blue and green colors.  Since blue is the least powerful of colors it is wise to use bulbs of double intensity (or twice as many) in the blue circuit.  This is especially true for the borderlights that are farthest upstage.  These borders are most often used to illuminate the sky drop, which is usually a shade of blue.

     The type of foots and borders that use colored bulbs are very weak.  A sky drop must have a stronger source of light.  They do very well for foots, however, since they are appropriately dim.

     If there are few spotlights available, and most of the illumination has to come from the foots and borders with just enough spotlights to provide accent and form, remember that white light from a bare bulb is most unattractive.  Try instead to mix colors to arrive at a tint.  In the “Spit and Scotch Tape School” of lighting there are various methods of arriving at an attractive tint.  If there are no dimmers it may be necessary to unscrew many of the bulbs, or replace them with other colors, or tape gelatine over the face of the trough.  If dimmers are available, however, it is not difficult at all, and each number can use a different tint for great variety.

     If you have a few spotlights and the only available dimmers are permanently wired to the foots and borders, it’s quite simple to decide which circuits of the foots and borders you are least likely to use and unscrew all of its bulbs.  The run an extension cord from the spotlight to the footlight or borderlight circuit you have eliminated and the spotlight can be controlled by a dimmer.

     If a new auditorium is being built and the lighting budget is limited, it is much more practical to spend whatever money is available on spotlights and a dimmerboard before investing in foots and borders.  There’s nothing a footlight or borderlight can do that two or three spotlights can’t do just as well, and at a fraction of the cost.

Next month:  recital problems