How to Create Lightning Effects on Stage. Lightning effects are used to convey a sense of drama and realism to a stage production when a storm is called for by the script. Here's how to create the illusion of lightning for the stage.
Use a strobe light to mimic the flashes of lightning. This is best done off stage so that the strobe effect can be muffled or bounced against a wall or drape. Use the flash speed knob on your strobe light to adjust the frequency of the flashes for maximum realism. A burst of strobe is most effective for creating a lightning effect.
Create the alternating flashes of light and darkness with your light board. By controlling the lights from the main light board, you can synchronize the sound effects and lightning effects for maximum punch. Various lighting instruments can be placed around the stage area and brought up to full intensity then dropped to create the look of a lightning storm. In nature, lightning typically strikes in one area, then another, so varying the location of the lights you use for your flashes produces the most realistic effect.
Combine sound effects with your lighting effects for maximum impact. The eye believes what it sees in conjunction with the other senses. If the audience is hearing thunder in the background, your lightning effect will be more believable. Recordings of thunderstorms can be played and the volume can be easily adjusted to signify a storm moving closer or moving away, or you can use a thunder sheet hung offstage to produce a very realistic rumble.
People with seizure disorders can sometimes be triggered by strobe lighting. It is a good idea to warn theater patrons about the use of strobes prior to the performance, either by a recording, live voice over, or printing it in the program.