Posted in education on September 14, 2015 2:06 pm EDT

The Art of Specifying Theatrical Lighting Fixtures

The way it was, the way it is, and a glimpse at some of the latest product choices.











Sign up for our bi-monthly newsletter Designer Today to stay up to date with all we do at Designer and with what's going on in the field of house of worship architecture.


TAGS: avl design, fixtures, lighting, specification, sustainability, theatrical lighting,


By Greg Persinger

Walk into any church built before 1990 that still has its original lighting system and you are almost sure to be in a church where the platform lighting is of a poor quality.

During this era of church design, lighting was not a priority and was regarded as more of a necessary evil, fulfilling a utilitarian role, and not considered to be important. Yes, a church needed some lighting to light the front of the room, but it was generally of a simplistic, low cost design. Usually it consisted of some type of track light with a screw in reflector lamp in a smaller room, or a cage of PAR lamps in a larger room.

"… in new construction you can lower the amount of electrical work that is required for an LED-based lighting system. LEDs also work well in retrofits, especially if there is limited power available in the building."

—Greg Persinger

Sometimes there was a dimming system, but many times it was just a bank of switches on the wall for control. While these designs did light the platform, the overall quality of light wasn’t really considered—and it wasn’t very good.

A.C. Lighting: Chroma-Q: ColorForce

{The Chroma-Q Color Force linear LED battens provide beautiful soft-white light with a high CRI to ensure the architectural and interior design elements are lit accurately and compliment the design of the building. In addition to natural white light, the Color Force is designed to provide a wide range of colors from bold saturated colors to nice, soft pastels. The unique asymmetrical lens design ensures smooth, even coverage and allows the fixture to be mounted within inches of the wall providing for a clean and neat installation. Prices starting at: $1,280}

In the 1990s things began to change as the quality of the lighting became more important. Video was beginning to be integrated for both image magnification (IMAG) as well as broadcast, and this forced churches to begin to invest in better lighting. In addition, churches wanted to add more of a concert-type look to worship. As a result, more and more churches began adopting lighting techniques that were used in theater, television, and the concert tours of the time. More and more theatrical fixtures and moving lights began to show up in churches, and as the technology evolved and became less expensive, churches adopted more of it.


Today most new church builds include a theatrical lighting system that includes some of the latest and greatest lighting technology, while those existing churches that don’t have a theatrical lighting system are retrofitting their buildings and adding a theatrical system.

The technology has changed over the years, but what is required to have a working lighting system has not. You still need four key ingredients to have a working system: These are the hang positions where the lighting fixtures are mounted, either dimmed or non-dimmed power to those positions, lighting fixtures, and some type of control system. All four are required to have a working system, however, the overall quality of the lighting system is heavily dependent on correct positioning of the hang positions, as well as good fixture choices.


When designing a lighting system the angle in which the light hits the platform is very important. Ideally, you want the angle of incidence to be 45 degrees since this keeps the shadows on the face to a minimum, yet still keeps the light from being directly in the speaker’s eyes. Maintaining the angle in the design becomes a function of height and distance from the platform. It also determines the length of the throw from the hang position to where the light lands on the platform.

ACT Lighting: MA Lighting Dot2 Control Console

{The MA Lighting dot2 control console is the new range of consoles from MA Lighting. The console is designed for small- and mid-sized venues, and focuses on combining advanced functionality with ease-of-use. Full tracking backup is available via plug-and-play networking and it comes in three different hardware configurations as well as a PC version. A visualization software package is also available.List price: POA}

Throw distance is important to know when you are specifying theatrical fixtures in a church because to understand what the light will do when it gets to the platform you have to factor in the throw distance. A short throw distance generally means the light will cover a smaller area but be brighter; a long throw distance has the opposite effect—the light covers more area but is dimmer. All of this has to be taken into account when specifying fixtures.

Beyond the pure design criteria of brightness and coverage, there are other things to keep in mind as you specify lighting fixtures: energy consumption, quality of light, maintenance, life expectancy, fixture cost, and functionality of the fixtures.  continued >>