Spotlighting the Wings: Theatre Technology Takes Centre Stage

{{ vm.tagsGroup }}

14 May 2024

5 Min Read

Esther Ng (Guest Contributor)


Let's raise the curtain on the creations and innovations of theatre technology, where lights and sounds work together to bring the stage to life!

Have you ever been swept away by a performance, captivated by the actors and the world they create? When the actors take their final bow, the curtain closes on only a part of the story. It's as if the magic of theatre extends only as far as the edges of the stage, leaving the wings — those hidden realms where creativity and innovation are imagined and realised — shrouded in obscurity.


It's time to cast a spotlight on the unsung heroes of theatre: the designers, technicians, and engineers who have put in their all to craft the immersive experience that transports us to another world.

How Theatre is Experienced

Musicians performing on stage

The theatre has captivated audiences in all forms and cultures for at least 2,500 years. Its roots stem not from a single origin but from multiple origins within different cultures and customs. From honouring gods and enacting folklore to sparking social change with agitprop theatre, its forms are as diverse as its purposes.


While we often associate theatre with the grand stages of ancient Greece and Rome, a fascinating fact emerges: Asian puppet theatre, for instance, dates back to 1500 BCE, predating its Greek counterpart by a millennium. There are diverse forms of theatre around the globe, from the ritual ceremonies in Africa to the Kabuki performance in Japan; even in our diverse country of Malaysia, we have our very own forms of theatre, such as Wayang KulitRejang Beuh, and Mak Yong. The East pulsates with theatrical traditions as captivating as those from the West. By acknowledging our world's rich history, we gain a deeper appreciation for the power of theatre as a universal language. This allows us to move beyond the limited Western view and embrace the global stage.


The broad definition of theatre in the early days encompassed everything from poetry recitals to acrobatic feats. Looking back, it's evident how the early forms of theatrical performance have influenced what we regard as theatre today! The historic global influence is everywhere, with prominent theatrical districts scattered throughout. Modernisation has further revolutionised the stage and empowered performers to deliver even more impactful performances. Technology plays a key role, with advancements in lighting and sound pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

How the Stage is Illuminated

Early theatrical productions were either staged in theatres that faced east to west or lit using gaslights to improve their lighting. The first recorded use of stage lights dates back to the 16th century when candles and torches were filtered through coloured glass panes, but they posed a safety hazard as fires would break out frequently. The innovation of limelights in the 19th century made performances more visually appealing. These lights were created by heating a piece of lime (calcium oxide) to a high temperature until it emitted a bright white light. Modern stage lighting, on the other hand, plays a more nuanced role. Instead of merely providing visibility, it helps set the mood, guides the audience's focus, and creates an atmosphere sure to captivate. With digital lighting consoles and light-emitting diode (LED) stage lighting, the production team can create more intricate lighting sequences with smoother colour changes.

Stage lighting

Yet, more than the method of illuminating the stage, it's what the light reveals that truly matters. 3D printing revolutionises set design and prop construction, offering an alternative to labour-intensive methods. Prototypes crafted from sustainable materials can be swiftly tested on stage before finalisation, with adjustments made seamlessly online. This innovative approach saves the production team significant time and effort, which is crucial in an industry known for its tight schedules and unpredictable challenges.


The future holds even more exciting possibilities for theatre. Immersive technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality are currently being explored to enhance the audience experience. Virtual reality, in particular, promises a revolutionary shift. Audiences will soon be able to experience a play from any vantage point, creating a personalised and immersive encounter with the performance.

How the Performance is Heard

When theatre first began, actors had to project their voices to reach audiences. However, with the advent of technology, actors now benefit not only from microphones but also from an entire team dedicated to sound design. Sound design has emerged as a crucial element in production, weaving a tapestry of sound that immerses us in the heart of the story. It involves more than just 'clicking some buttons'; it encompasses the creation of music, the design of a sound system tailored to each production and venue (as no two plays and venues are the same), and collaboration with the director to select appropriate sounds for the performance. From microphones to mixers, every element plays a vital role in delivering an immersive auditory experience to the audience with precision and directionality.

Sound engineer in control booth

Imagine this heart-wrenching scene by Shakespeare: Romeo witnesses Juliet lying lifeless, and the weight of tragedy hangs heavy in the air. Now, picture this same scene accompanied by the chirping of birds — wouldn't the effect be jarring? Regardless of the audience's musical background, they will recognise how disruptive a mismatched noise can be. The power of sound design directly impacts storytelling, musicality, and the emotional journey of a performance. After all, a play is only a collection of words until it's given a breath of life through sights and sounds!


The magic of theatre is not solely the product of the performers on stage but also owes much to the countless individuals who work tirelessly behind the scenes, aided by the creations and innovations of technology. Shaping the art form and transforming the way we experience storytelling, technology has become a silent partner of theatre, enhancing every aspect of the production process and expanding the experience for actors and audiences alike. Ultimately, it is the creativity and ingenuity of those who work with technology that makes theatre, as we know and love, possible.

Ready to take centre stage in the world of theatre technology? Delve deeper into our Foundation in Arts and Bachelor of Performing Arts (Honours) programmes to discover your leading role!

Esther Ng Yi Ke pursued a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Honours) at Taylor's University before transferring to the University of Bristol. She combines her passion for advocacy with her love for writing to craft impactful narratives that inspire change and promote inclusivity within society.

{{ item.articleDate ? vm.formatDate(item.articleDate) : '' }}
{{ item.readTime }} Min Read