Article for Luce e Design - October 2011 Issue

By Kenton Yeager

Luce design


I began teaching lighting design in 1987and have been fascinated by how we as teachers try to communicate to students, the concepts of lighting design. I have taught in standard class rooms, theaters, and fully equipped state of the art light labs but each of these have major limitations. If you have a one hour class and you spend 50 minutes on ladders trying to get a project lit you have no time left to critique the students work.


That all changed in 2003 when, while attending the Prague Quadrennial International Stage Design Exhibit, I came across a 1 to 4 scale lighting lab. The idea of a scaled model light lab seemed like a great way to teach! Why weren't we doing this? I spoke with Henk van der Geest who brought the lab from his studio in Amsterdam and the wheels started spinning. I became fascinated by trying to develop the idea of fully functional theatre lab that could fit into a standard class room. That idea moved me out of the 1 to 4 scale and into the 1 to 6 scale. I spent 5 years researching this on my own, then in 2009 the University of Tennessee awarded me a $28,000 grant for creative achievement in the arts and humanities. This now gave me the funding to really design the theatre lab.


Last year I launched the company Yeagerlabs,inc. In one year, ten other universities, two high schools and one Broadway designer have incorporated these labs into their teaching curriculum.


The key to this innovation was the advent of LED technology. I spent years researching every small scale lighting unit I could get my hands on and many worked well in application but used too much power. My goal was to get the entire lab to work off of one standard 20 amp electrical outlet. This was the key to making these labs usable to everyone teaching. This would allow it to be used in most any standard classroom in the world. Six months ago I reached that goal. A well equipped Yeagerlab with a full complement of top and bottom LED color mixing cyc lights, 14 incandescent stage units, 4 LED moving lights, 10 color mixing LED stage wash units, the control console, and even a small sound system just fit into the 20 amp limit.


The second important factor was getting the overall lab size down to a small enough size to allow the entire system to fit into a classroom. The design finalized on a flexible system that could simulate a proscenium style theater with maximum stage dimensions of 38’ wide, 24’ high and 24’deep. This staging system is designed to be fully flexible so it can change to reconfigure to any theatre size you need. It can even change to represent a thrust stage or full theatre in the round. The entire lab can also be disassembled in about 1 hour and stored when not needed.


What happed next was a surprise to me. I set out to design the “perfect” light lab but really more people wanted a full theatre lab. We added a full set of drapes: legs, borders, cyclorama, white scrim, black scrim, bounce drop, projection screen and printed drops. We are working on adding working fly systems, stage turntables, stage lifts and traps, projection systems and sound systems. These labs are now being used to teach not only lighting design but scenic design, stage technology, directing, stage management, sound design and media design. We are using them to “pre-tech” all of our productions at the university. This is allowing exploration in real life and not on a digital screen, just how all of the designs work together BEFORE we move into the theatre. This collaborative work with the entire creative team not only allows us to make corrections before the actual work is completed but saves us a great deal of time, money, and frustration as we move into the theatre. It is also amazing to watch the students to develop their visual, communication, and creative skills without the pressure of being in a tech rehearsal with everyone waiting. This “safe” environment has done more for our student’s creative development than anything else I can think of.


My real dream though, now that we have this tool (which could not have happened before LED technology became affordable) is to integrate the teaching of theatre. Currently most theatre education is done in isolated, specific classes. The lighting class is in the light lab, the sound class is in the sound studio, the directing class is in a rehearsal hall, and the technical class is in the shop. I would like to see this lab help to promote crossover classes so that you can have a lighting student, a sound student, a directing student and a stage management student all working together to explore the collaborative art that is theatre. If we integrate this into our educational structure and pedagogy, we will develop a deeply rooted understanding of collaboration in our next generation of theatre artist. Theatre is a team sport so let’s start teaching it in a team!


I would like to think that advances in lighting technology have brought about a better way to teach all aspects of theatre not just lighting design.