Basic Lighting for Magic & Illusion Shows

Basic Lighting for Magic & Illusion Shows


Theatrical lighting design makes a world of difference for the visual look of any stage show. A magic & illusion is no different. World-class shows spend a tremendous amount of money & time to plan and support a performance with good lighting fixtures and designer.

In small non-theatrical venues such as banquet rooms, even a follow spot of a couple of Parcans on lighting trees can do wonders for a show and the experience of the audience.

Very basic lighting for a corporate event can still create a decent stage setting if lit well.

To enhance your show and bring it to the next level, you need to think about the use of theatrical lighting.

Lighting is used to enhance a show, make it look bigger, more exciting or create a certain mood. It is also used as a tool to focus attention on specific objects, people or activities on stage.

For an illusion show, lighting is often used to enhance deception or even conceal methods such as the case for Black Art or thread/ wire work.

Lighting an act or show is not easy and you need to have an experienced lighting designer familiar with the set-up and lighting board to do an effective job. It is a very time-consuming process and a 30-minute illusion show may take 4 – 6 hours to program.

Coloured lights point down vertically can create a stage setting and backdrop against a simple black curtain.

Three basic things you should know are:

  • Be familiar with different lighting fixtures and their functions & capabilities.
  • Conceptually know how to visualize different lighting designs and cues for your various acts. If you do not know, have a lighting designer work out some “template designs” for your various acts.
  • Know how to communicate the lighting designs and cues to other lighting designers who might be programming the lights for your show.

You can learn the basics of lighting by attending a course from a local theatre or you can spend hours working with different lighting designers. There are also many resources online in the form of photos and videos on theatrical lighting for shows and concerts.

Sub Trunk

Savary Rémy (Cie Magic’Emry) with great lighting for his unique-designed Sub Trunk

Here are some basic functions of theatrical lighting that you should know when lighting a stage show.


This can be as simple as ensuring that the illusionist is lit to ensure the audience can see the performer. At a more sophisticated level, the audience should only see what you want them to see, or not see what you do not want them to see. This is particularly important for illusionists, so knowing how and where to light is vital. In this case, this can be called ‘selective visibility’.


This is akin to ‘selective visibility’. Lighting the stage area properly effectively guides your audience to focus on the right places. It could be as simple as directing the attention on the magician on a bigger stage, or it could be more complex like drawing attention away from things the audience should not focus on; direction of attention or in magic terms – misdirection.

Revelation of Form

This is most relevant in theatre shows. In the simplest way of explaining this, it means separating the performer from the backdrop so they do not blend together. However, as illusionists, there are times when you actually want things to blend into your backdrop. Think Black Art.


Is the act “exciting”, “dangerous” or “mystical and magical”? Like music, good lighting design helps place your audience in the right mood.

Story Reinforcement

All good performances tell a story, even if it is not a traditional linear story. The right gobos and strobes can help set a scene and advance a storyline.

Lighting Grid

For a brief overview of common lighting fixtures that has been prepared just for readers of, please download the PDF here.

For more info on producing an illusion show, check out “How to Be an Illusionist” here.


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