In combination with lighting fixtures, designers can use other accessories to create a variety of looks onstage. Among these accessories are gobos, fog machines, hazers, strobe lights, black lights, and projectors. All of these accessories interact with or create light that can enhance the mood and meaning of a theatrical experience when used appropriately and in moderation.
Projections made by gobos can be very abstract and used to create texture, or they can be more realistic and used to suggest a realistic object, such as a tree. Basie gobos are patterns cut into small circles of steel, but many companies are now making more complex and complicated gobos out of glass because they can hold more detail and depth than steel. Atmospheric devices such as fog machines or hazers can also be used to enhance the look of a scene. They pump certain safe chemicals into the atmosphere in order to replicate different atmospheric conditions onstage. For instance, a fog machine can create a dense white fog that will make it hard for both the audience and actors to see, helping to increase the intensity of certain scenes or to direct the eye with the beam of light being east through the fog. Dry-iee foggers can be used to create low-lying fog that will mimic steam rising from the ground. Hazers will fill the whole theatre with a mist that mimics a very humid day. This mist not only affects the atmosphere and the audience’s perceptions, but also allows the light beams to be visible to the audience. These beams can be followed from the light source to the area of the stage that it is illuminating.
The 2010 production of The Inspector General, National Theatre of Cluj, Romania. Set design by Mi hai Ciu pe.
A wide variety of other special effects equipment can be used in productions; some were specifically developed for theatrical production, and others have been adapted from other fields. These include disco balls, strobe lights, and projectors. Many were developed for specific applications not related to theatre but have been appropriated to create specific special effects. For instance, a strobe light is often used to create a lightning effect onstage, but it was originally developed by Harold Edgerton to freeze objects in motion in order to capture their image on film. This common camera flash technology has been appropriated by lighting designers for many years. When strobes are used, however, care must be taken to inform the audience, as they can cause an adverse reaction with people with medical conditions such as epilepsy.
Disco balls, also known as mirror balls or glitter balls, are round surfaces covered with tiny mirror or reflective pieces. When light is projected at the ball, it is reflected back at different angles, spreading tiny points of light around a given area. The balls are often mounted on a motor to slowly rotate and east light around a room. While the history of the disco ball is muddy at best, it appears that they were first commonly used in dance halls in the early part of the nineteenth century and quickly became a common element of the dance hall and music scene. For theatrical purposes, disco balls are used to re-create these environments or to create a special effect based on the ideas of the lighting designer and the director. A dream world full of stars or a night sky are some of the possible uses.
All lighting is a form of projection. Specialized projectors are becoming more and more common as lighting tools. These projectors can be anything from a slide projector to a common computer digital projector to highly advanced and interactive large-format screens that can show still images as well as moving video. Projectors allow for lighting to provide scenery. Large blank screen surfaces can be set up and projected upon to create a variety of different looks within any given production. How much projection is incorporated into any production is a decision that must be made carefully by any design team. Overusing projections can detract. However, when used skillfully, they can broaden the scope and enhance the beauty of an otherwise ordinary piece.
The 2012 production of Roberto Zucco, University of Florida (featuring Greg Jones, directed by Ralf Remshardt, projection design by Brittany Merenda). Photo by Shari Thompson.
Because of recent advances in computer technology, the options for projectors seem limitless. In fact, many organizations that use projections heavily are investing in projection designers whose sole job is to create and program all projections used in a show.