Professional design programs across the country rely heavily on working designers as well as full-time educators to teach the various design disciplines on both undergraduate and graduate levels. We wondered what, if any, textbooks are most commonly used in the various fields, and queried a few professors to see what books they bring to the classroom. (While some of the books mentioned here are officially out of print, copies can often be found by surfing some of the big book sellers' sites on the Web.)

“Yes of course there are textbooks,” says Stan Kaye, associate professor of lighting design at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “My students read the books I assign, but I teach them what I know. In other words, I don't spend time in the classroom going over the material in the textbook. If I did, what would they need me for? I go beyond the book.” Kaye emphasizes that he does ask the students if they have questions about the readings. “I have really bright kids. If they don't have questions that means they understood the information in the book and can apply it to their work.”

The book that Kaye assigns first is Steve Shelley's A Practical Guide to Stage Lighting. “I love it because he examines the practices of professional LDs, Jennifer Tipton's introduction is terrific, and it includes invaluable things like Jean Rosenthal's dance plot,” says Kaye, who is also a professional lighting designer and theatre consultant. “I use this book as a foundation for the first-level graduate students in lighting design, along with The Dramatic Imagination by Robert Edmund Jones, and Light On The Subject by David Hayes.”

Kaye also assigns selected readings from The Magic of Light by Jean Rosenthal. “Some things are just so beautifully said in her book,” he notes, pointing out sadly that it is currently out-of-print (it was originally published by Little Brown). “I wish someone would get the rights and republish this book; it's a gem. I came across this book at Brooklyn College in the theatre program while I was master electrician at Kingsboro Community College in New York City.”

For his second-level grad students, in a combined course for theatre lighting design students and architects (made possible by funding from the Nuckols Funds), Kaye asks his students to read The Empty Space by Peter Brook. His choice of textbook for architectural lighting is David Egan's Architectural Lighting. “The program's website has supplemental readings, and a lot of software for lighting designers,” says Kaye, who also uses magazine articles as teaching tools. “I like Brad Schiller's articles on programming, for example.”

Another book cited by Kaye is Theatrical Design and Production from Carnegie Mellon and published by Parker Smith and Block. “This is a good nuts and bolts book for undergraduate lighting and sound 101,” says Kaye.

While Kaye has found a range of books to suit his needs, not all professors are so blessed. “Sorry I can't help,” says Paul Anderson the TD/shop manager, at Hope College. “I only teach a half dozen or so labs (and an occasional independent study in welding or CAD) so haven't picked any texts. If I need to refer to a text I use whatever the professor is using for theatre crafts, and I have put together my own material for the independent studies from various sources.”

Alan Hendrickson, adjunct professor of technical design and production at the Yale Drama School, also found it difficult to answer the query about textbooks. “People need to write more,” he says. “Because there are no texts available in any of the six graduate level courses I teach: Physics of Stage Machinery (I am in the process of writing a book for this); Hydraulics and Pneumatics (industrial books are available, but no theatre-specific ones); Mechanical Design; Stage Automation Control; Electricity (we use mainly the National Electrical Code); and the History of Theatre Architecture. (I recommend Theatre and Playhouse, by Richard and Helen Leacroft, as the best of only a handful ever written on the subject, but it has been out of print for 10+ years.)”

Dean Mogle, professor of costume design at the University of Cincinnati, uses several books in his classes. “For Costume History, I use Tortora/Eubanks Survey of Historic Costume, 3rd edition;for Costume Design, Rosemary Ingham and Liz Covey's The Costume Designer's Handbook, 2nd edition. For me, there is no other costume design book that so clearly illustrates the process of design,” says Mogle, who considers this book to be the industry standard. “I recommend it to directing students and other design students as well.”

Also on Mogle's desk might be a copy of Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters by Lynn Pecktal. “I find this book to be a great source of inspiration for young designers working on the development of their own styles of drawing, painting and presentation,” he says. “The interviews offer insight, of course, but pale to the value of the visuals! For inspiration I send my students to The Dramatic Imagination by Robert Edmund Jones, this brief, timeless volume speaks to all generations of designers' and directors' imaginations without the reliance on new technologies.”

A professional lighting designer, for both entertainment and architecture, Tom Ruzika teaches at the University of California, Irvine, where he is lecturer and program director for lighting design. He helps prepare his students for the realities of the professional world by also having them look to other designers. “I don't use any textbooks; the books that are out there that I prefer are really more inspirational sort of material, like Richard Pilbrow's book (Stage Lighting Design) or Steve Shelley's book. I think they get more if I suggest that they read that kind of material,” he says.

Ruzika suggests that perhaps a true textbook is not the right approach to teaching lighting. “I personally find it hard to teach lighting from a textbook,” he says. “They have some good inspirational kind of things in sections but overall to find a textbook that is really current also with the technology is very hard. I always suggest that they read lighting books for the inspiration-see a different way of looking at something-but not as a manual of lighting. I also always urge them to see as much work as possible, really see how the technology is being used. Does it inspire or just make the design predictable?”

To balance the demands of the techno age, Tom Korder, technical director and assistant professor in graduate technology curriculum at the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, still relies on a strong collection of books. “We also stress to students that they need to build up a library of resource books that can be used in many of their classes, and in the future when they are working in the field,” he says. His recommendations include: The Backstage Handbook, Stock Scenery Construction, and The Stage Rigging Handbook.

“In terms of textbooks, currently I teach graduate level technology courses and there are not any texts for these areas (fluid power, motors, health and safety, technical management) that are specific to theatre. We are always looking for general textbooks that fit the needs of people who work in the arts,” Korder adds. “Many people have written good stagecraft textbooks and I probably have all of them on my shelf. In the past when I taught classes at the undergraduate level, I found I was pulling the best sections from a variety of books; this also included some non-theatre sources.”

Lighting design professor at Carnegie Mellon, Cindy Limauro does not require her students to read any textbooks. “I use resources from everywhere,” she says, explaining that she pulls reading assignments from various books, Lighting Dimensions magazine, and case studies from the IALD (International Association of Lighting Designers). “I found that textbooks tend to follow the approach of just one person,” she adds. “I pulls bits and pieces from a lot of sources. And since we have a light lab, the students get a lot of hands-on teaching.”

That said, there are books that Limauro recommends or pulls from. Like Kaye, she likes Steve Shelley's book, and also books by Linda Essig (Lighting and the Design Idea and Speed of Light: Dialogues on Lighting Design and Technological Change) and Michael Gillette's Designing With Light.

Essig herself, who teaches lighting design at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, wrote her books out of necessity. “When I looked around for a textbook ten years ago, I didn't find any that I felt dealt effectively with design issues, so I wrote one myself,” she says. Lighting and the Design Idea was published by Harcourt Brace in 1996 and will appear in a newly revised, expanded and updated second edition in the fall of 2004 (published by Wadsworth/Thomson Learning which bought Harcourt a few years ago). I use this book in my first-year lighting design course that can have as many as 60 students in it annually. For graduate students, I supplement this text with Max Keller's Light Fantastic.”

Many years ago, Limauro also had the idea to write a book about dance lighting and began to interview lighting designers who had a long-term collaboration with one choreographer. “In dance you can see more of an influence of the lighting designer on the work than in the theatre,” she says, although these interviews are still on the shelf. If Limauro gets around to writing this book, there will be one more text for her fellow professors to choose from.


  • Lighting and the Design Idea
    By Linda Essig
    ISBN: 0155020692
    Publisher: Thomson Learning
  • Speed of Light: Dialogues on Lighting Design and Technological Change
    By Linda Essig
    ISBN: 0325005087
    Publisher: National Book Network
  • Stage Lighting Design: The Art, The Craft, The Life
    By Richard Pilbrow
    ISBN: 0896762351
    Publisher: Quite Specific Media Group Ltd
    (Foreword By: Harold Prince)
  • Designing with Light
    By J. Michael Gillette
    ISBN: 0874844207
    Publisher: Mayfield Publishing
    Company; 2nd edition
  • The Dramatic Imagination: Reflections and Speculations on the Art of Theatre
    By Robert Edmond Jones
    ISBN: 0878305920
    Publisher: Theatre Arts Books
  • Magic of Light: The Craft and Career of Jean Rosenthal, Pioneer in Lighting for the Modern Stage
    By Jean Rosenthal
    ISBN: 0316931209
    Publisher: Little Brown & Co
  • The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate
    By Peter Brook
    ISBN: 0684829576
    Publisher: Penguin Literary Criticism
  • Architectural Lighting
    By David Egan
    ISBN: 0070205876
    Publisher: McGraw Hill Science
  • Theatre and Playhouse: An Illustrated Survey of Theatre Buildings from Ancient Greece to the Present Day
    By Richard Leacroft, Helen Leacroft
    ASIN: 0413529401
    Publisher: Methuen Drama (Out of print - can be found online)
  • Survey of Historic Costume: A History of Western Dress
    By Phyllis G. Tortora, Keith Eubank
    ISBN: 1563671425
    Publisher: Fairchild Publicatiions,3rd edition
  • The Costume Designer's Handbook
    By Rosemary Ingham, Liz Covey
    ISBN: 0435086073
    Publisher: Heinemann; 2nd edition
  • Costume Design: Techniques of Modern Masters
    By Lynn Pecktal.
    ISBN: 082308812X
    Publisher: Back Stage Books; Reprint edition
  • The Backstage Handbook: An Illustrated Almanac of Technical Information
    By Paul Carter
    ISBN: 0911747397
    Publisher: Broadway Press; 3rd edition
  • Stock Scenery Construction: A Handbook
    By Bill Raoul
    ASIN: 0911747230
    Publisher: Broadway Press; New edition
  • Stage Rigging Handbook
    By Jay O. Glerum
    ISBN: 0809317443
    Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press; 2nd edition