Careful where you step
Hold on a sec. Before throwing the switch, someone on the crew—usually the stage manager—makes an announcement that the house is “going dark.” This is a welcome warning for anyone on stage or in the auditorium that they are about to be plunged into blackness.
The reason is to make sure an actor doesn’t accidentally bump into the scenery, step off the edge of the stage into the orchestra pit, or fall through a trap. That’s the kind of drama you never want to experience in a theatre.
A blackout—when all the lights in the house are suddenly turned off, on cue—may happen during a performance to bring a scene to a close (or, perhaps, mid-scene, if the show is set on a dark and stormy night). But what about during rehearsals, especially during tech? Say the lighting designer wants to make an adjustment, or the director decides to repeat a scene that begins with a blackout. Imagine if this happens before everyone has learned their cues—not just the actors, but also the stagehands, running crew, and everyone else. Being unexpectedly shrouded into darkness isn’t a lot of fun. So the company gets a warning that the theatre is going dark.
The phrase also has another, entirely different meaning in the theatre. A playhouse is “lit” when there’s a show running in it—until the production shutters and the theatre is said to “go dark.” That’s almost never a good thing, at least as far as the building’s landlord is concerned. With luck, it won’t be long until a new show loads in and the theatre is lit again.
— Ben Pesner