New Victory Arts Break: Lighting and Sound Design

The artists of Manual Cinema use overhead projectors, cameras, shadow and paper puppets, and a whole lot of live music and foley to bring the world of Leonardo! A Wonderful Show About a Terrible Monster to life on stage and on screen. This week, we’ll explore how designing lighting and sound to accompany our performances can take our storytelling skills to the next level.

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New Victory Arts Break: Lighting and Sounds Design

Some of the videos in this Arts Break were filmed at the New Victory Theater. We acknowledge that New Victory resides on the seized homeland of the Lenape people and the intertribal territory of many First Nations. We celebrate and pay deep respect to all Indigenous peoples, past, present and future.

Lights, Sound, Action!

So much of the magic of theater comes in the form of light and sound. These design elements are essential to storytelling, and changing them can change a story’s whole vibe. Let’s follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Drew Petersen as he teaches us some tricks for adding light and sound to our own performances.

Materials: A flashlight or two (the light on a phone or tablet will work!), a device that plays music, markers and a piece of clear plastic like a ziplock bag (optional)

Step One: Find the darkest place in your home. Drew suggested the bathroom, since bathrooms often don’t have any windows. Plus you can see yourself in the mirror!

Step Two: Turn on your flashlight and move it around to test how the light hits your face from different angles. You can also change the color of your light by making your own gel! Grab a ziplock bag or a piece of plastic, color it in with a marker, and let your light shine through it.

A blue light shines on Drew's face from the gelled flashlight in his hand.
Step Three: Think of a simple line of dialogue you can deliver. Drew offered, “Well, what do we have here?” Practice delivering this line a couple of times in the mirror. Then, using your flashlight, see how different lighting angles inspire different emotions or deliveries when you say the line. For example, if you light your face from below, you might put on a spooky voice!

Drew lights his face from below (scary!) and from above (wondrous!)
Step Four:
Find a piece of music that suits the mood of your lighting and play it back as you perform. If sound effects would enhance the atmosphere of your scene, you can make them yourself, or enlist a friend or family member.

Have fun testing out different lighting angles, colors, music and sound effects to change the mood of your space and set the scene for your performance!

Monster Emotions

Puppets are great at expressing big feelings, and lighting and sound can help dial up the emotion to new heights! In this activity, we’ll add a sprinkle of lighting and sound design to a paper puppet performance and set the scene for our puppet to shine.

Materials: Monster cutout template, blank sheets of paper, a pen or black marker, a flashlight or phone light, colorful markers and a ziplock bag or piece of plastic (to make a gel)

Step One: Print out the template below, or use it as inspiration to draw your own monster puppet. Cut out the center to create a window for the various faces you’ll create in Step Four.

Monster cutout template

Step Two: Following Drew’s ziplock bag technique, use your markers to create a single-color gel for your flashlight.

Step Three: Grab your supplies and head to a dark space—it could be the bathroom, a closet or even a dark corner. Just make sure you have enough darkness for your flashlight and gel to shine in vivid color. Spotlight your monster in the color you chose.

Step Four: Inspired by the color of the light, think about where your monster could be and how they feel about it. If the light is yellow, maybe they’re enjoying a day at the beach. Or, if the light is green, perhaps they’re on a sweaty rainforest hike! Draw their expression on a blank sheet of paper and insert it behind the cutout circle.

Step Five: Switch your monster’s expression with new faces on additional blank sheets of paper. Where else could they be? How do they feel now? For each expression, add some sound to let your audience know where your monster is and how they’re feeling.

You’re well on your way to becoming a lighting designer! Keep practicing using color to help establish a setting and influence your characters’ emotions. For inspiration, check out this read-along of The Color Monster, A Story About Emotions by Anna Llenas from Storytime with Elena.

Party Vibes

It’s your party, and you’ll feel how you want to! From lighting and decorations to music and dancing, there are lots of ways to make a party lively and inviting. In this activity, we’ll play around with throwing a party inspired by an emotion and use lighting and sound to set the mood.

Step One: Think of one emotion—happy, sad or angry are all great places to start. This emotion will be the theme of your party.

Step Two: With your chosen emotion in mind, think:

  • What color do you associate with this emotion?
  • What sounds do you associate with this emotion?
  • What type of music do you associate with this emotion?

Step Three: Select a room in your home to style for your emotion party! Fill the space with the color, music and sounds you associated with your chosen emotion to make your theme come to life.

New 42 Youth Corps members Melissa and Daisy threw an angry party! They chose the color red and made irritated faces while stomping to loud music.

Melissa and Daisy stomp and pout at their Angry Party

BONUS: Can you change the vibe mid-party? Adjust your lighting and music choices to see how the atmosphere and the theme can evolve, and ask your party guests what emotions they associate with your lighting and sound choices!

For more fun changing your environment with things you can find around the house, check out the Arts Break activities from Theater Sounds and Props Week.

New Victory Arts Break Supporters

New Victory Arts Break is funded, in part, by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council,and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.