Neon signs and diffuse light boxes are both items that make their appearances onstage. Real neon isn’t a great idea on stage and older products just really couldn’t imitate the real deal with an authenticity – especially in terms of light output. Now there are 2 different options – LED Neon (I found it at Platinum Lighting). It comes in 6 colors (at varying prices). The cost ranges from 11 a foot (red) to 52 a foot (white). The alternative is Neoflex Flexible LED. Same basic idea, comes in 7 colors, and starts at 13 a foot. You can also check out Neoflex at:
I have to say its funny how time passes by. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that rope lights came out, and how they slowly fell in price. Now lots of people have them for Christmas lights, and the blue lights are common in a lot of theatres for backstage lighting during shows. And now of course you can get the LED ropelight so its even brighter.
As for light boxes, between bouncing light off of reflectors for diffusion, Christmas lights, rope lights, and a variety of LED options, there always have been a variety of options. Hotspots are always a problem – individual bulbs, Christmas lights and the like all tend to create a box with differing intensities (which can be worked out, but it takes planning and a lot of light. Diffusion is definitely always needed. I have used sanded plexi, as well as frost gels, but last night on HGTV they built a box using fluorescent bulbs and vellum. I think it would be an interesting experiment to do plans of Plexiglas that have different treatments (sanded, sanded with frost, frost alone) and then different types of lights behind. Like a large divided grid where you could see each configuration first hand.
At work day to day it is hard to find time to experiment. There is not general money available to provide materials, and show budgets are tight as well. Plus in the middle of a production you often don’t have the time to try 3 or 4 different ways of doing something, you have to pick something you know, or are reasonably confident of and move forward. When I was getting my MFA, it was a disappointment that there wasn’t more time to experiment. The production pressure was the same, and if anything the financial situation was worse. I think academia needs to balance real production work with theoretical and experimental work better.