A long time ago, our indoor theatres were lit only with foot lights. Those foot lights were initially lanterns with a live flame surrounded by glass. There are obvious safety issues with this, which lead to many deaths. Electricity was invented and the light bulb came into existence. Foot lights began using lamps. Theatrical lighting advances certainly didn’t stop there and we now have the modern theatrical fixtures of today
There was a problem though. The theatres that were in existence did not have any place to mount lights. One method used was to hang a light on a pipe onstage. This was a fairly quick solution to positions on stage, because the pipes were already used to flying scenery and backdrops up and down. Putting a light on a pipe was no great stretch. The front of house, though, was a much greater challenge. Unsurprisingly, theatrical people are inventive. They came up with two initial ideas, the Box Boom and the Balcony Rail. This post will discuss the Box Boom.
When you hear the description of Box Boom you really have to break the word down into two parts. The Box and the Boom. The Box comes from where people would sit in the elevated sides of the auditorium. The Boom was a vertical pipe that was already being used onstage. Put the two together and voila(!) you have a vertical lighting pipe where people used to sit. It was a very easy solution that created a place to mount some lights in the front of house area.
There were also some artistic benefits that I believe happened by accident. Side lighting is one of the most attractive angles of lighting to the body. A Box Boom position is side light that is slightly pulled to the front. This gives you the benefit of side light, and the light reaches across the face of the performer a little. If lit from both sides by the Box Boom you can have an incredibly attractive look on the stage that includes front visibility. Put that together with a really tight head-shot from a follow-spot and you have what I believe is today’s most popular “Broadway” look. If I had to go into a theatre that had absolutely no lighting positions and was told to pick one, a Box Boom is what I would choose.
Here are some examples of some Box Boom positions.