All the (DJ’s) World is a Stage: Why DJs could learn Lighting Lessons from the Theatre By: Geoff Short

October 12, 2011 by CHAUVET DJ

Like many DJs, I have a varied entertainment background.  Being a well-rounded performer can only help a DJ be a more effective entertainer.  In addition to being a DJ, I’m a singer and currently the Band Leader of a 10-piece wedding band, but I have also spent a lifetime performing in live musical theatre productions and have directed them as well. So it’s not surprising that I often look at the profession – and, indeed, the art – of DJing through the lens of other performing art forms, especially theatre which naturally has a lot in common with DJing – rehearsal, public speaking, interaction with a live audience and technical elements including live sound reinforcement and of course, creative lighting.

Typical DJ gigs don’t involve curtain calls, but a look at some of the basic ways lighting is used in live theatre productions might get us closer to a standing ovation at the end of the night.

I was just reading a thread on one of the seemingly infinite online DJ forums.  This particular discussion caught my attention because it posed a question I’ve thought a lot about lately. Whether or not modern DJs actually need tons of state-of-the-art gear many of us seem obsessed with to be truly great entertainers.   I am still fairly new to the mobile DJ scene so it feels like I still have an objective point of view about the DJ profession.  I’ve been amazed at how much focus there has been in the mobile DJ community on gear that doesn’t actually make any music – specifically lighting.

I have a theory.  We dig toys.

Just kidding.  I mean, we do, but I think there really is something a bit more noble at play here than just keeping up with the Joneses or the simple (but costly) over-accumulation of shiny things that blink and strobe.

Modern mobile DJs are recognizing that “extra-audio” equipment like lighting is an important – dare I suggest, vital ingredient in the recipe for engineering events that thrill special event guests and have new clients clamoring for similar bells and whistles.    Great examples of this can be found in the art of live theatre.

I’ve trod the boards of community and professional theatre since I was a kid so the importance of lighting to any production is practically part of my DNA. The most effective DJs are, in fact, artists and performers very similar to actors.  The wedding receptions, Bar Mitzvahs, School Dances and other special events that DJs host are actually all mini musical productions.  DJs are recognizing what theatre artists have always known. The impact of artfully executed lighting designs can make or break a production.

Examine a few of the ways* lighting helps tell the stories of theatrical stage plays and musicals:

  • Mood – Lights are the most effective way to set the mood or tone for a play or for any given scene. For instance, natural light can give a sense of normalcy, while the use of gels in dark greens or purples can give a scene an unsettling, otherwordly feel.
  • Special Effects – Lighting can be used to execute a variety of stage directions and special effects. These can range from weather (lightning, snow, rain, clouds) to fire to the illusion of explosions or gunfire.
  • Focus – The absence of light can also be a useful tool. By darkening certain portions of the stage, the remaining illuminated areas become focal points, thus directing the attention of the audience.

It’s not a leap of faith to envision mobile DJs enjoying the same benefits in their own “theatres” like reception halls and ballrooms.  A DJ’s “scenes” are the songs he or she plays, balancing the romantic feel of a ballad with the thrill of the latest uptempo chart topper. The formal elements of the events we are charged with producing are also like scenes in a play.  Shouldn’t there be a different mood created for the bridal first dance than the garter toss? A pin spot or artfully placed par can can certainly put focus on the wedding cake or the head table. As far asspecial effects go, throw a couple Chauvet Intimidators onto a dance floor and a DJ’s “production” is heading for a standing ovation and rave reviews.

The fact of the matter is that we are being called upon to create events that go beyond audio-centric experiences.  Today’s special event clients want more for their money so we must have the tools to give it to them.  And it doesn’t have to take multi-million dollar Broadway budgets. With a little creativity and an even smaller budget, I’ve managed to create some really cool effects using my Chauvet 4-Bar/4-Play combination system controlled with an Obey 10 controller along with a Mini 4-Bar light rig.

Speaking of Chauvet, that company’s mission is built around the theory of “V.I.P” – Value, Innovation and Performance.  I think successful contemporary DJs (and theatre artists) should focus on the same things.  Creating value for clients and audiences, and being innovative in producing events culminating in well-rehearsed and flawlessly executed performances.

Of course more toys can’t replace inherent talent and the ability to guide an event smoothly through it’s timeline and entertain guests.  Without raw talent, audiences could very well be watching a killer light show with a bomb of a performance.  Nothing can replace talent and experience.

But kick-ass lighting can sure make it look better.
So take your bows.

*from Why Lighting Is Important to the Theatre by Tucker Cummings, E-How Contributor

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