Apr. 27, 2023

Stunning theatrical lighting design with ARRI SkyPanels for “The Children Act”

Lighting designer Annette ter Meulen uses SkyPanels creatively and effectively at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg.

Apr. 27, 2023

About the play “The Children Act” - directed by Karin Beier

The theatrical version of the book “The Children Act” by Ian McEwan follows the deliberations of a judge who is tasked to decide in a court case whether a 17-year-old boy suffering from leukemia may receive a blood transfusion against his will and the will of his parents. The parents and the boy are Jehovah's Witnesses and their religion prohibits them from receiving a foreign blood transfusion. However, since the boy is underage, a Iegal case is raised over whether the hospital has the right to administer medication or not. The play also examines the private life of the judge who finds herself in a childless marriage made difficult due to her husband’s affair. In the end, the judge decides in favor of the medical treatment, which saves the boy's life but results in long-term consequences. The judge’s decision is not just based on the facts, but she also allows herself to be influenced emotionally and on a personal level.

This conflict between a high degree of objectivity and high emotional stakes is reflected by the choice and combination of light sources that were chosen for this piece: ARRI SkyPanels, ARRI Compact 4kw, and (incandescent) PAR lamps. Lighting designer Annette ter Meulen recalls: “With this play, I was interested in working with the stage design as purely and minimalistically as possible so that the narrative of this story could have its space.”

The technical challenges in lighting “The Children Act”

The artistic stage design by Johannes Schütz envisaged a white ceiling of the same size above a white podium measuring 6.5 meter by 11 meter. This ceiling was to be a brilliant white, continuously adjustable, and homogeneously illuminated surface.

In the construction rehearsal, the lighting department was able to illuminate the plafond surface (a luminous rectangle, constructed out of a light transmitting theatre fabric) very well from a great distance with a single ARRI Compact 4kw light, but the surface reflected so strongly that the stage area was significantly illuminated by scattered light. Also, the issue of infinitely variable brightness control and shadow-free illumination by an ARRI Compact 4kw with a shutter was not optimally solved.

To keep the stage house as dark as possible, a fabric funnel was designed to be fixed between the ceiling and its light source. The fabric funnel intercepted the stray light and the surrounding stage house remained dark. However, for design reasons, this meant that the distance for the light source at the ceiling had to be limited to a maximum of seven meters. From this rather small distance, it was then no longer possible to illuminate the ceiling homogeneously with an ARRI Compact 4kw or moving lights. On the one hand, the overlapping of the individual light cones on the stretched fabric surface could not be compensated, and on the other, there was shadowing at the edges of the stretched rectangle, due to the construction of the ceiling.

Only by using eight SkyPanel S60-Cs, hanging at a height of seven meters above the ceiling, was the team able to achieve a complete illumination of the ceiling. The SkyPanels allow both, stepless intensity control and color temperature variation. In addition, an ARRI Compact 4kw lighting fixture without shutter in a scene seamlessly added the desired additional brilliance.

The advantages in using SkyPanels in this play

SkyPanels proved beneficial for the production. Technically seen, they were the best solution for allowing an absolute evenly lit plafond and yet using from the same direction a single ARRI Compact 4kw lighting fixture to add a certain brilliance. In addition, the SkyPanels are also very good in terms of their weight and ease of use; they are easy to move in daily assembly and disassembly.

Artistically the SkyPanels allow such subtle and smooth color temperature changes in the range of white light, that it is really a joy to work with them during the lighting design process!

Annette ter Meulen, lighting designer

Basically, there is a deliberate dramaturgical tension between the light of the plafonds (HMI and LED in the daylight spectrum) and the light for the performers, which is primarily provided by alley light (PAR64 spotlights unfiltered or filtered with Lee 201). The color temperature of the PAR64 fixtures is 3200 Kelvin maximum unfiltered, that of the ARRI Compact 4kw is 5600/6000 Kelvin and that of the SkyPanels varies between 5600 and 10000 Kelvin depending on the scene.

Therefore, it is possible to produce an approximately similar color temperature with the PARs filtered in Lee 201 and the SkyPanels / the ARRI Compact 4kw . The figure on stage is in a uniform white light space, which is experienced by the audience as cool and rather objective.

The further the color temperatures drift apart between the sidelight and the plafond, the greater the perceived arc of tension. The bright white ceiling and the white floor of the platform appear in clear contrast to the players, who are illuminated in warm white. Annette ter Meulen explains: “The perceptible difference between the light that illuminates the actors and the light that describes the space opens up the possibility for viewers to connect the content of the narrative with their own emotional interpretation.”

In one of the last scenes, the plafond takes on the color temperature of the unfiltered, dimmed pars (2700° Kelvin) and the sidelight here is in the higher, cool-white color temperature range.


Stage illuminated by SkyPanels in the higher, cool-white color temperature range with approx. 7600K°.

General usage of ARRI SkyPanels at Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg

The Deutsches Schauspielhaus has 28 S60-Cs and 5 S30-Cs in its repertoire, which can be variably suspended or partially built into stage sets or used along on the floor.

The Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg is a repertory theater, which means every evening a different performance from their repertoire is played. Parallel to this, during the day there are always rehearsals for the play that will premiere next. Therefore, it must be possible to change the stage set and lighting very quickly. SkyPanel S120-Cs are permanently mounted under the theater’s portal bridge. They are very suitable since they produce enough bright working light for technical conversions and they are useful for stage lighting designers when diffused light is wanted.

Since I acquired the SkyPanels, they have been used in almost every piece. Their quality and brightness of light, stepless controllability, wide range in color temperature, along with their easy handling and light weight make the SkyPanels a very interesting and multi-use lighting instrument.

Annette ter Meulen, lighting designer

About Lighting Designer Annette ter Meulen

Annette ter Meulen has been the head of lighting department of the Deutsches Schauspielhaus since 2008. Prior to this, Annette ter Meulen worked in various capacities in lighting design and started her theater career as an assistant stage designer and assistant director. It was during this time that she had the opportunity to work as an assistant to Jennifer Tipton, one of the most renowned American lighting designers. Inspired by this experience, Annette ter Meulen decided to pursue a study of lighting design at Yale University in the United States, as this type of program was not yet available in Germany. This combination of theoretical and practical knowledge has made her a highly respected figure in the world of lighting design.

Annette ter Meulen has also shared her expertise with others, teaching lighting design regularly at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Regie Hamburg, as well as at fine arts schools in Hamburg and Dresden. She also conducts workshops internationally, helping to inspire and educate the next generation of lighting designers.