How to light your own cabaret show for cruise ships by Dale Barr


Lighting, like sound, can make or break your show. Sometimes I spend more time working with the lighting technician than I do the band. If you’re new to ships dealing with tech staff can be intimidating.

How much information should we give them? Do we need to know technical lighting terms? How much time should we expect the whole process to take? How can we help them to help us? I discuss all these questions and more with Dale Barr – a terrific lighting technician from the UK. If you’ve read Cabaret Secrets you’ll see examples of the lighting plot I use. It’s made up of bullet points giving brief descriptions of the moods I am looking for during each song. Dale says, “as a designer I like to hear buzz words like ‘big, bold and punchy’ or ‘intimate and tight’. Simple descriptive words, even those explaining how you want people to feel.” I often just use words like, exciting, dramatic, moody and crazy. I used to feel a bit stupid doing that, but don’t worry – they’re used to normal everyday language and it works.

It is good to know a few common terms, for example:

  • Gobo – a small metal or glass plate inserted into a light unit that breaks up the beam to create a pattern.
  • Stage wash – a large area of colour, as opposed to a small focussed beam of light. You might ask for a general medium wash for when you’re talking to the audience (your “talk light” or “chat light”).
  • Special or Spot – a single light focussed in one specific place. I might use a special if I’m sitting at the stool singing a ballad.

Also, be familiar with stage positions like Up Stage – referring to the back of the stage, or that part furthest from the audience. Originating from the fact that stages were originally raked at an upward angle from the front to the back of the stage. Down Stage is towards the audience. Stage Left is the left side as you stand on the stage looking out, Stage Right is… well, you get it.

Thankfully though, beyond a few basics, we don’t need to know too many technical terms.

Don’t be too specific. If you overload the tech with too much detail they will find it difficult to give you exactly what you’re looking for without getting bogged down. More importantly, you’re talking away their opportunity for creative input. We are all artistes – not machines. The more you can allow every member of the team to contribute a little of themselves (a solo from a musician, the sound tech to choose the effects) the more they will feel invested in your show. This builds team spirit and encourages everyone to give their best (and in the end, give a shit). As Dale says, “Everyone wants to feel like they are a part of that performance and they’ve put something into that performance to make it happen.”

Rehearse your whole show from top to bottom. This gives the tech a chance to see what you’re doing and get a “feel” for the shape and moods you are trying to create. It’s also a good idea to “block” your show during rehearsal, i.e. be in the same parts of the stage as you will be during the performance. I don’t want to sing everything down stage centre. For each of my songs I know exactly where I’ll be singing. Hitting these marks during the rehearsal helps the light tech light the right parts of the stage.

Keep your ego in check. The world does not revolve around you. A good show is truly a huge team effort. Bad sound, lights and stage management can ruin your show in a moment. The whole production team is eager to help you create something special. They really do care. Passionately. Acknowledge their effort and never forget that you are part of a team.

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