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Lighting Techniques for Theatre-in-the-Round

Foreword by Sir Alan Ayckbourn

The first title in ETP’s Application and Techniques Series, Jackie Staines’ Lighting Techniques for Theatre-in-the-Round will prove to be a unique reference source for those working on lighting design for theatre-in-the-round for the first time. It is the first title to be published specifically on the subject, it also provides some anecdotes and ideas for more challenging shows, and attempts to blow away some of the myths surrounding lighting in this format.

"Theatre-in-the-round can be challenging, but also extremely rewarding,” says the author. “It is a very natural staging format and offers plenty of opportunity for good fun lighting as well as pure naturalism.”

The book includes lighting plans and production photography and woven into its content is the story of the author’s seven-year ‘run’ as technician and lighting designer at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, the ‘home’ venue for the first production of the majority of Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s plays. Its appeal will cover a broad spectrum, from those studying theatre and theatre lighting to the professionals working in lighting design and production, and also to the general reader with a lively interest in the various theatre arts.

Author: Jackie Staines
Publication Date: 10th October 2000
Book Format: Paperback
Kindle Version: Click here to buy from Amazon
Price: £24.95


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As many an LD will testify, lighting a production ‘in-the-round’ is by no means an easy task. The addition of a fourth viewing angle creates another set of dilemmas, new techniques to learn and all against the customary tight budget and ‘need’ for something special. Having spent seven years at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, the author has become adept at lighting such productions. Throughout the book, the author conveys the rewarding experience gained through working in the original, pioneering venue of in-the-round theatre.

The book commences with a historical introduction to the origins of such performances in the UK and the original work done by Stephen Joseph up until his death in 1967, along with the later input of Sir Alan Ayckbourn and the late Ken Boden. One of the first problems associated with such theatre styles is the lighting coverage required – In a traditional proscenium setting one can light a subject adequately with two lights; in the round this doubles to four to maintain the necessary illumination. The second chapter deals with gaining enough coverage with minimal sources, and the tricks used to do so.

As there is invariably little set on an in-the-round production, only furniture or other props, the lighting designer is also faced with creating the atmosphere with little help from stage flats and the like. This does give the designer free reign as there is no requirement to take into consideration ‘the rest of the set’, and the stage floor becomes a canvas that is used to effect. The author gives fair consideration to painting the stage in such a manner, and goes on to cover elements such as voms, walls, stairs and other obstacles which may become part of the stage, and demonstrates how to light them accordingly. 

There is also input from other experienced designers in this area, including Jo Dawson, David Taylor and Mick Hughes. On the whole, the book is a very readable guide to designing lighting in such situations, and is well illustrated with designs, examples and photographs. There even follows at the end an extract from Stephen Joseph’s ‘Planning New Forms of Theatre’, published by Strand Electric in 1966 and showing his original works on in-the-round designs.

Lighting + Sound International



Specialist lighting books are not a particularly attractive proposition for traditional publishers whose cottage industry operations have, in recent years, been absorbed by corporate conglomerates seduced by the sales figures which can be achieved in an airport departure lounge. It can take years for a successful lighting book to ring up the sales that Jeffrey Archer can log in a day. But we now live in a digital world where information technology can support short runs, even print-on-demand. So John Offord, the lateral thinking veteran of theatre publishing, has established a web operation - etnow.com - to provide information on line and books on paper.

ETNOW’s opening list is headed by an indispensable book for lighting designers.

Lighting Techniques for Theatre-in-the-Round is for all of us, even if we are in love with the proscenium stage. Jackie Staines has written a book which is full of lighting wisdom, not just from Jackie herself but colleagues such as Kath Geraghty, Mick Hughes, Jo Dawson, David Taylor, Michael Northen and, of course, the great Stephen Joseph who not only god-fathered British theatre-in-the-round but was a prime animateur in making the monthly Friday meetings of the infant ABTT into one of the major engines which drove the great creative surge in the British theatre of the 1960s.

My personal excursions into theatre-in-the-round have been relatively few but I carry the scars from several 1960s Edinburgh festival battles to add more bars to the original Tyrone Guthrie minimal lighting grid for the thrust stage in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall (now interim home to the Scottish Parliament). Lighting at Chichester for the first time a couple of years ago, I found a “grid” where an assortment of bars, added year-upon-year out of necessity, map the archaeology of lighting’s leap through the proscenium and currently provide 21 overlapping areas, with faces lit at 90 degree separation plus directionally flexible backlight. On all stages, including proscenium, I have always felt more comfortable with 4 lights at 90 degree separation than three at 120 degrees. So I have huge admiration for the way Jackie makes it work with three. Indeed the more I read her book, the more I realise how pathetically inadequate have been my explorations of the full possibilities of non-proscenium lighting.

We live in an age when the actor does not always seem to be the first priority in lighting - there have been times, particularly in central Europe, when I wished I had asked the box office which side the HMI was before I bought my ticket. Theatre-in-the-round places emphasis on the actor yet the angles for face lighting are much more critical than in any other stage form. Many of the techniques we currently use on the proscenium stage were first developed on thrusting and surrounded stages. Jackie Staines has convinced me that there remain further opportunities.

Each and every member of ALD should read this book. Buying is easy: just go to www.etnow.com and click your mouse. If you have not already been to the site, you will almost certainly feel the need to bookmark it.

Francis Reid.

FOCUS magazine



I was given this book to review. Had I not been given it, I would have bought it. It’s a whole book—173 pages—about arena lighting, a subject covered in most other lighting books in perhaps half a dozen pages. Jackie Staines’s Lighting Techniques for Theatre-in-the-Round is a very thorough and a very personal expli-cation of arena lighting techniques and the aesthetic and practical choices a designer must make. It’s a useful book for any designer who works in an arena configuration, particularly any designer who must work with a limited budget or limited equipment inventory. The basic scheme for lighting-in--the-round explained in this book is essentially what you will find described in other books: the stage is divided into focus areas and each is illuminated from all sides, either by three luminaires arrayed 120 degrees apart in plan view, or by four lumi-naires 90 degrees apart. Of course, a successful lighting design is likely to use a rig with more equipment than this simple scheme implies, and there is much more to a design than simply choosing where to place the lighting instruments, but this is where lighting the stage usually starts. Most texts leave it at that, but in her book Staines explores the rela-tive advantages of the two schemes, various ways of dividing the stage into focusing areas, and how to gain maximum color flexibility with a minimum of equipment.

Theatre-in-the-round has several advantages over other theatre forms—lending itself to creating an intimate, communal theatrical experience among them—but the multiple points of view of the audience complicate the designer’s job. Staines examines these complications and the problems they cause, and discusses an array of solutions. For example, other writers might sim-ply note the problem that a strong keylight that looks like interesting sidelight for one part of the audience will be backlight for another part of the audience, and a flattening, straight-on frontlight for another, and leave it at that. Staines offers suggestions on how the cues can be plotted so that the keylight’s statement can be made, but no part of the audience sees a less satisfying show than any other part of the audience.

This is a personal book in that Staines draws from her own experience and uses the personal pronoun “I” for stating what she believes or recommends. However, she has interviewed many other notable designers who work in arena houses, and includes their observations on the problems, solutions, and rewards of working in-the-round. The book is liberally illustrated with examples from Staines’s design work and from others, and is a good source of inspiration for the designer-reader.

This is also a personal book in that it is an homage to Stephen Joseph, who made news in 1955 by producing in-the-round in Scarborough, England. This first production was the beginning of a fruitful career cut short by Joseph’s untimely death in 1967 that resulted in the foundation of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in the Round and several other arena theatres in the U.K. The book starts with a foreword by Sir Alan Ayckbourn, who credits Joseph with having a profound influence on him, and then goes on to the first chapter, which is a summary of Joseph’s career.

Karl ruling, PROTOCOL magazine