Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).


Elements of Lighting Design – Light & Shadows

A lesson on the use of light and its effects in a performance space.


Subject: Language & Literature, Education & Career Guidance, Drama, Science, Art


Level: Lower Secondary, Upper Secondary

Recommended time: 45 minutes


  • Students will be able to utilise light to illuminate stage performance.
  • Students will explore effects of light on the actor, set, stage, etc.
  • Students will experiment with light and the absence of light.


  • Demonstrate the creative process of using lighting in space.
  • Demonstrate ways lighting design can function to illuminate, create mood and atmosphere.
  • Utilise model forms and sketches on shadows as means to explore lighting design ideas.
  • Employ lighting design to show its capabilities beyond illumination.
  • Ability to show light as a moving and non-static element on stage that contributes to the stage picture.
  • Ability to illustrate parallels between model and stage lighting.
  • Ability to show how persons and objects on stage are affected by the light that is placed on them through the use of shadows.

Activity 1: Watch and think

In this activity, students will watch this video to find out more about what a Technical Manager does before answering the questions below.

1. Who is Ismahadie and what does he do at the Esplanade?

2. What were some of Ismahadie’s misconception about someone working in Lighting Design?

3. According to Ismahadie, what were the two aspects of lighting and how did he feel about it?

4. What kind of shows or performances did Ismahadie highlight that lighting is able to enhance, and what were some of the effects of lighting?

5. What were some of the things that Ismahadie mentioned that contributed to the meaningfulness of his job as a Technical Manager at Esplanade, one that is ‘behind-the-scenes’?

6. What were some of Ismahadie’s advice to a young person pursuing a career like his?

Download and refer to Handout 3: Educator's Notes on Elements of Lighting Design for suggested answers.

Activity 2: Placement and movement of light and shadows

In this activity, students will collaborate to build a mock theatre stage before carrying out the following activities and completing the quiz. The mock theatre stage allows students to visualise the various scenarios.

Distribute Handout 1: Quiz on Elements of Lighting Design. Instruct students to complete the quiz only after completing Activities 2 and 3. 

Building a Theatre Stage

Required material:

  • Torchlight
  • Small neutral-coloured stationery items like paperweight, erasers, sharpers, etc. (about 2-5cm in height)
  • A3 Black construction paper (3-4 pieces per student/team)

    Optional material:

  • Plastic toys (e.g. plastic soldiers)


    1. Fold two sheets of the black construction paper in half; Stand them up like a “greeting card’ to create theatre walls. Use another sheet as a theatre floor. There should be a completely black space for students to experiment with various lighting options.
    2. Arrange the stationery items on the theatre stage.
    3. Turn off the classroom lights.
    4. Using the torchlight, ‘light’ the items on the stage. Explore the following:

      a. shine the light from an angle (45 degrees to the floor) and see where the shadows are casted for the items.
      b. shine the light directly above an item and see the effects on the shadow (and the other items nearby)

    5. Arrange the stationery items on the theatre stage.

    Optional Activities

    1. Use plastic toys to relate the use of lights to the scale of the performer
    Explore the potential and possibility of light as an element of design. This activity allows students to explore lighting in its bare form, in isolation, by using a single (and multiple) light source(s), neutral paper and neutral items. Teachers may also guide the discussion further, putting light in context with the actor, line, scale, color and texture. Allow students to experiment and discover on their own by reconfiguring the items and try new angles.

    2. Further exploration of the role of light in visual storytelling
    The exercise can be elaborated with multiple flashlights, different type bulbs (incandescent, tungsten vs. LED), gel colour pieces, a larger model of the “theatre” space, more elaborate sets/items used, more time to create an environment, introduction of color and texture, etc. This will further illustrate the skill and considered nuances it takes to truly recreate a specific look on stage.

    Activity 3: Lighting the face and body

    In this activity, there are two tasks. Students will find out how light can illuminate the face and how light can be used to create shadows in a performance space.

    Task 1

    Distribute Handout 2: Facial Lighting. In this task, students should aim to fully harness the ability of light to illuminate the actors (especially the facials on stage). Refer students to Handout 2. Using the facial template provided in Handout 2, suggest how light and shadows can create various facial effects. 

    Shade the effect on the face if there is/are...

      a. one light source that is shining from the left side of the actor;
      b. one light source that is shining from above the actor;
      c. one light source that is shining from below the actor;
      d. two light sources that are shining from both the left and right side of the actor;
      e. two light sources that are shining from above and below the actor;
      f. three light sources that shining from the top, left and right of the actor.

    Task 2

    Refer to Handout 2: Body Figure Lighting. In this task, students should also be able to imagine the effects of light in casting shadows of the human body in a performance space. Using the template in Handout 2, explore the effects of light when placed and coming from different parts of the stage. Students may shade the shadow on the stage floor.

    Below is a diagrammatic suggestion of directions of where the lighting source can be placed. Teachers and students may feel free to experiment or introduce new directions.

    Contributed by:

    Khairul Nizam

    Khairul Nizam is a theatre and drama educator in Singapore. He has shared his teaching practices through conferences, open classrooms, and on international sharing panels. He is currently serving as the Vice-President of Singapore Drama Educators Association (SDEA).