The History of the Yeagerlab 20X20

 A presentation for The University of Tennessee Open Mic Night series.




Slide 1

Hi there.

I have been asking myself a question since 1989, “How do you effectively teach theatre lighting, if you don’t have a theatre to teach it in?” The answer- many universities and most high schools just don’t. I’ve been desperately looking for a way to effectively teach lighting in a standard classroom, and this 1-to-6 scale fully working theatre is it.


Kid in PraugeSlide 2

I first got this idea at the Prague Quadrennial, an international theatre design conference. There I had the chance to teach master classes in Henk Vander Geest’s 1-to-4 scale theatre lab, including this one, where I explored children’s emotional response to color in light. I was totally hooked. As soon as I got home I began working on a scaled lighting lab.


Original LabSlide 3

My first 1-to-6 model lab was a little rough. It was built from steel and some old lighting gear I had “liberated” from the Clarence Brown Theatre. The following year, I received University funding to build a larger, more sophisticated 1-to-4 lab here at UT. The lab was the first of its kind in the US and one of only 3 in the world and was FANTASTIC!


Yeagerlab Version 2Slide 4

But even though I now had my fabulous 1-to-4 lab, I continued working on these smaller classroom versions. This is a shot of the second generation 1-to-6 lab. I was becoming obsessed with the idea that most schools, especially high schools, should have a classroom lab to teach lighting and there was nothing out there to help.


Cutting pipeSlide 5

So I thought “I need to do that”. I just needed to design a theatre lab that anyone could put into their classroom and be comfortable using. I spent the next two years with my new friend here in my basement workshop cutting thousands of feet of all different types of pipe and channel until I found a workable system.


Version 3Slide 6

Generation III, pictured here on my back porch, is a completely flexible tabletop theatre frame. As a kid my favorite toy was an erector set and now I have a grown up version that can be easily reconfigured to replicate any type of theater you want to study.

One day it could be a proscenium or a thrust and the next it could be in the round or be a small black box theatre.


Soft good addedSlide 7

Next, to make this frame a theatre, I designed a series of draperies to replicate what we actually use in the profession.

Legs, Borders, Cycs, Scrims, Projections Screens, all of it.

Now the observant among you may have noticed that 1-to-6 scale is actually Barbie size. She is such a universal image that when you put her on the stage, everybody understands the 1-to-6 scale.


Lab SETC 11Slide 8

Then generation IV came along. This is the new floor model loaded with moving lights, color mixing cyc lights and an 8 speaker sound system. Now I had it and just when I thought I was getting done with this, my journey took a sharp turn. I realized that in creating my perfect light lab I had actually created a fabulous theatre lab that went way beyond lighting.


Cyc lightsSlide 9

Not that lighting is not important. The advent of LED technology has allowed us to represent accurately what is happening in the field today and reduce the total electrical usage so the lab can plug into a single classroom outlet. You can literally unplug your coffee pot and plug in this entire system and begin teaching.


Rigging close upSlide 10

Suddenly I wanted to be able to teach more than just lighting with this lab. We are currently working on a complete rigging system for flying scenery. The lab will soon have multiple technologies, including counterweight systems, hemp and sand bag systems and even roll drops. The goal is to teach as many aspects of theatre as possible in the lab.


Fly railSlide 11

There is even a pin rail with belaying pins and a sandbags to teach how to load weight and tie the proper knots. Students get very little time in well equipped theatres and now many schools have restrictive rules about students on ladders and cat walks. This lab allows a student to learn everything safely from the ground. It is even fully handicap accessible.


R and JSlide 12

Now we can teach; all aspects of stage design and composition, directing and blocking, even stage management with this mini theatre. You can even pre-tech a show and tryout everything before you move into stage. This saves a great deal of time and frustration during dress rehearsals. This time savings allows us to take our productions creatively farther, as we never really finish a show, we just open it.


Model 2Slide 13

Every time I describe these labs to somebody they immediately ask “Oh, is this to light scenic models?” And I say “Yes it is fabulous at that but this is not a model light lab, it is a fully equipped teaching theatre”. But, if you’re going to light a set model you might as well do it right and this lab has everything you could possibly need.


Street Car ModelSlide 14

More important than that though, is now designers and directors can work together to create the looks, moods, and cues they need. The lighting designer can now explore the design with real light, then draft the light plot and paperwork from what they’ve learned. Most designers are still sitting at a computer, drafting an engineering drawing instead of working with light. I hope this new tool changes that habit.


Barbie and Ken DanceSlide 15

Dance is notorious for not having enough time in the theatre. This lab allows the choreographer, the stage manager and all of the designers to work out both the creative choices and the technical details before they hit the stage and the mad time crunch begins. The work becomes so much more sophisticated when there is time to explore the creative possibilities, together.


FlyingSlide 16

We are beginning to experiment with flying actors as well as scenery. How cool would it be to have a fully working flying rig in your classroom, to pre-choreograph productions and teach students the creative and technical requirements of areal design? We have also just added full stage, front and rear video projection capability. This allows sound, lights, and media to all work together.


SETC ArticleSlide 17

This idea is starting to take off. Two years ago there was a great 3 page article in Southern Theatre Magazine about what can be done in these labs. Universities and high schools around the region suddenly began calling about how to get a lab, so I put up a web site: that describes everything you need know including how to secure funding for one.



Last spring we were on the Expo floor at USITT, the largest stage design and technology convention in the country. Since then universities in New York, Kansas and Michigan have purchased labs and are now teaching with them. This makes 10 universities, 2 high schools, and 1 middle school currently using these labs.


The first lab shipsSlide 19

This is a shot of the very first lab that went out. It went to Beverly Emmons, a Tony award winning Broadway lighting designer who is currently using it to teach workshops and private lessons in advanced lighting design in NYC. Last week a 2 page Yeagerlabs article was published in an Italian lighting magazine focusing on the unification of theatre training.


OpeningSlide 20

Theatre is a collaborative art, yet we all teach it in isolation, separating out actors, designers, technicians, directors and pretty much everybody else into separate classes. So now I want to ask a new question “What if we use a tool like this to get us all in the room together to discover the communal art that is theatre”. If the training echoed the art, how might that advance the field? Thank you