Lighting Practitioners

The following list is entirely subjective, and highlights some people who I feel have made the art of lighting design what it is today.

  • Adolphe Appia
  • Fred Bentham
  • Edward Gordon Craig
  • Stanley McCandless
  • Jo Mielziner
  • Tharon Musser
  • Robert Ornbo
  • Richard Pilbrow
  • Max Reinhardt
  • Jean Rosenthal
  • Adrian Samoiloff
  • Josef Svoboda

Adolphe Appia (1862 – 1928)

Swiss theorist of modern stage lighting and décor. In interpreting Wagner’s ideas in scenic designs for his operas, Appia rejected painted scenery for the three-dimensional set; he felt that shade was as necessary as light to link the actor to this setting in time and space. His use of light, through intensity, color, and mobility, to set the atmosphere and mood of a play created a new perspective in scene design and stage lighting. (from
Further reading: Adolphe Appia: Texts on Theatre by Richard Beacham (Routledge)

Fred Bentham (1911 – 2001)

Fred Bentham was a rare combination of artist and engineer whose life’s work had been devoted to theatre, cinema and TV. During his 42 years with the same company, Strand Electric, he not only invented and initiated equipment, but pioneered ways of using it. The artist in him developed the use of coloured light as an art form – colour music – which was recognised by the Art Workers’ Guild who elected him as ‘Decorative Colour Worker’ in 1936. His energies were directed towards the design of theatres and scenery, writing, lecturing and demonstrating lighting
Further reading: Sixty Years of Light Work by Fred Bentham (Entertainment Technology Press)

Edward Gordon Craig (1872 – 1966)

On the Art of Theatre
Craig was one of the most influential designers of the early twentieth century. He trained under Henry Irving and worked as an actor before designing a series of productions that demonstrate the influence of symbolism. His artistic collaborators included Otto Brahm, Eleonora Duse, Isadora Duncan and Konstantin Stanislavski. In 1905, he published The Art of the Theatre, which called for the development of a non-naturalistic æsthetic. From 1908 to 1929, he edited a quarterly journal entitled The Mask, which presented Craig’s theories.
Edward Gordon Craig Theatric Society

1872-1966, English scene designer, producer, and actor. The son of Ellen Terry, Gordon Craig began acting with Henry Irving’s Lyceum company (1885-97). Feeling that the realism in vogue was too limiting, he turned to scene design and developed new theories. He strove for the poetic and suggestive in his designs in order to capture the essential spirit of the play. His ideas gave new freedom to scene design, although many were impractical in execution. Among his notable productions were The Vikings and Much Ado about Nothing (both in 1903 for Ellen Terry) and Hamlet (with the Moscow Art Theatre in 1912). At Florence, Italy, he founded (1913) the Gordon Craig School for the Art of the Theatre; he also edited a magazine, The Mask (1908-29). He wrote On the Art of the Theatre (1911, rev. ed. 1957), The Theatre Advancing (1921), Scene (1923), and biographies of Henry Irving (1930) and Ellen Terry (1931).

Stanley McCandless (1897 – 1967)

The father of modern stage lighting design.

His book ‘A Method of Lighting the Stage’ (1958) proposed the three-angle approach to stage lighting still taught and used widely today, along with the use of contrasting (warm/cool) colours in the front light.
This is known as the McCandless Method.

Joseph “Jo” Mielziner (March 19, 1901 – March 15, 1976)

An American theatrical scenic, and lighting designer born in Paris, France. He is “the most successful set designer of the Golden era of Broadway”, and worked on both stage plays and musicals.

Mielziner was considered one of the most influential theatre designers of the 20th century, designing the scenery and often the lighting for more than 200 productions, many of which became American classics. He “pioneered ‘selective realism’ in scenic design” [Barranger, Milly S. – Mielziner in Theatre: A Way of Seeing, Cengage Learning, 2005, ISBN 0-495-00472-3, p. 258].
According to his obituary, he was perhaps “praised most often…for his sweeping canvas of people under the Brooklyn Bridge, used as a backdrop for Maxwell Anderson’s Winterset.

Robert Ornbo (1931 – 2008)

Pioneer of the use of scenic projection in the UK theatre.


Richard Pilbrow

See separate page


Max Reinhardt (1873-1943)

German Expressionist theatre director. Massive influence on one of his actors, F W Murnau (who later directed the expressionist classic Nosferatu).

Jean Rosenthal (1912 – 1969)

  • Pioneered the position of ‘lighting designer’ as a legitimate career, when the electrician or set designer ‘did the lights’.
  • Collaborator with Martha Graham.
  • Joined the Federal Theatre Project in 1935, leading to collaborations with Orson Welles and John Houseman.
  • Book, “Magic of Light” published posthumously in 1972.

Some of her major contributions were the elimination of shadows by using floods of upstage lighting and controlling angles and mass of illumination to create contrasts without shadows. She designed over 200 Broadway shows for Martha Graham, New York City Ballet, and the Metropolitan Opera. She also brought to Broadway such famous musicals as West Side Story (1957), The Sound of Music (1959), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), Hello Dolly! (1964), and Cabaret (1966). 

Some of her work has been documented at

Adrian Samoiloff ( – )

Russian artistic ‘electro-technician’ who perpetrated colour tricks using lights of complementory colours. By using red and green lights, he was able, for example, to turn the king of comedy, George Robey, into a ‘negro in green striped pyjamas’. His tricks with coloured lighting were originally seen at the London Hippodrome in the early 20th century and are now standard practice in pantomimes and on television.

Josef Svoboda – Scenographer (1920-2002)

From the Laterna Magika website:
Josef Svoboda was born May 10; 1920 in the town Cáslav. After completing his secondary studies; he apprenticed as a cabinet-maker. Following a master´s course; he enrolled in the Central School of Housing Industry in Prague. However; he was drawn to the theatre; where while in his home town and later in Prague he acquired his first practical experiences. Shortly after World War II he enrolled in scenography courses at the Prague Conservatory and studied architecture at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague.

One of the predominant characteristics of Josef Svoboda was his consistent confrontation of theory and practice; in 1945; during his studies he participated in the founding of the Grand Opera of the May 5 Theatre. He became the theatre´s chief stage designer; as well as collaborating with the Theatre of Satire and the Studio of the National Theatre. In 1948; he joined the staff of the National Theatre; initially as stage designer and; as of 1951; as the head of its artistic and technical operations. Until 1992; he remained loyal to the National Theatre; when he left – and became the managing director of the independent Lantern Magic Theatre; where he had also served as artistic director since 1973.

In the May 5 Theatre he met his two principal directors – Alfréd Radok and Václav Kašlík. His collaboration with Radok refined his sense of the director´s concept of scenography and of the functional incorporation of the stage design into the context of the other components of a theatre production. Their common desire for discovery led them to a series of experimentations; the result of which was the founding of Lantern Magic; the creation of the polyekran (multiple screens); and other audiovisual forms. Svoboda´s cooperation with opera director Václav Kašlík inspired his love for music; which helped to introduce a number of excellent operatic works to theatres both at home and abroad. During the nineteen-sixties; he met other outstanding directors; among them Otomar Krejca and Miroslav Machácek; resulting in yet other outstanding works staged at the National Theatre in Prague; and; in Krejca´s case; at the Divadlo za branou in Prague; as well as numerous theatres around Europe. In the nineteen-eighties; Svoboda´s collaboration with stage director Evald Schorm in Lantern Magic signalled a major change in the orientation of this unique theatre.

Josef Svoboda created stage designs for more than 700 theatre performances in his own country and abroad. During the second half of the 20th century; hardly any prominent director could be found worldwide with whom Svoboda would not have collaborated. These particular artists include A. Delcampe; J. Dexter; C.H. Drese; A. Everding; G. Friedrich; G. Strehler; L. Olivier; R. Petit; J.-C. Riber; and others. He was at all times appreciated more abroad than in his home country; obtaining awards and titles; such as Dr.h.c. at the Royal College of Arts in London (1969); International Theatre Award in New York (1976); Chevalier de l´Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in Paris (1976); Doctor of Fine Arts at Denison University and Western Michigan University in the U.S.A. (1978-84); a prize of the U.S. Institute for Theater Technology in the U.S.A. (1986); the title The Royal Industry Designer in London (1989); the French Légion d´Honneur in 1993; and Dr.h.c. at the Université Catholique de Louvaine-la-Neuve in 2001.

Svoboda enjoyed the young generation; he gave his experiences at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague; where he brought up a strong generation of Czech scenographers; and also at institutes and universities throughout the world. Only one dream he failed to fulfil – that of designing and building a theatre in Prague; one that could materialise his ample theatre experiences and demands.

Further information:

The secret of theatrical space : the memoirs of Josef Svoboda