By Steven Louis Shelley
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Additional resources for A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting, Second Edition
Dimmers were assembled in mechanical groups called piano boards, so named because their appearance resembled an upright piano. A piano board was mechanically constructed so that its individual dimmers could be collectively interlocked and controlled by a single handle, called a grand master. These dimmers were bulky, hot, and hazardous. The number of dimmers required for a light plot directly translated into the same number of individual moving handles, which in turn defined the number of light board operators.
That’s the epitome of a successful backdrop wash; an even wash of light, without hot spots, dark spots, or horizontal bands of lower intensity, that completely covers the piece of goods, horizontally from leg to leg, and vertically starting at the bottom where the goods touch the floor all the way up to where the black border visually cuts off the top. For the purists, the black masking is a black portal—there’s no light on either the black legs or the black border; there’s no “shadow line” across the top of the goods (caused by the black border being in between the lighting and the goods; and there are no “scallops” of light across the top of the goods (from striplights being too close to the goods or trimmed too low).
If a scenic design consists of several walls, on the other hand, a system of templated instruments can be focused high on the walls. At a reduced intensity, the breakup pattern can visually add texture and subtle interest to the flat surfaces. Third, templates can be used to supply texture and dimensionality to animate or inanimate objects on the stage. One example of this is templates inserted in low-hung sidelights. When focused as part of a typical boom sidelight wash, the “mottled” light can be seen on the sides of performers’ bodies as they move about the stage.