...a dark stage,
and then a beam of light,
and you can see me and my guitar."
This Spectacle trope comes from the theatre, and like many other things in the theatre, this is a method for directing the audience's attention. All the stage lights go out, save for one spotlight that shines down on something, and suddenly that something has become everything. Most often it is a character, saying or doing something that really matters. Sometimes there are more than one spotlight at work, simultaneously or not. But the point is always to momentarily reduce the world to a small, enclosed space where there are no distractions.
A Sub-Trope of Chiaroscuro. The contrast between light and dark is what makes it work.
This trope is found in most media, including animation, where no physical lights are involved. It has existed for longer than even electrical stage lighting (the term 'in the limelight' comes from the pre-electric chemical method, making it Older Than Radio), and can still claim to have both popularity and credibility. It is also a staple of Film Noir; in film posters, often the Dick or some streetwalker would be standing under a street light, and everything else would be black.
The closest thing you can find to a Real Life example of this is using a spotlight on a stage for delivering a speech or something similar. The Dramatic Spotlight very effectively creates a dramatic mood, and since it is so effective, it is also easy to misuse. If you have a poorly-written character whose troubles you haven't made the viewers care about, the Dramatic Spotlight isn't likely to make them start caring; it is likely to produce Narm. When Played for Laughs, however, there is a lot of humour to be found in deliberate overdramatization. Large Hams thrive and flourish in this light.
This trope can be seen as a more extreme version of Notice This and Conspicuously Light Patch, where something also stands out in an image. In those tropes the focus point wins the fight for attention easily, while in this trope, there isn't really a fight.
Often worked into the Corner of Woe.
Super-Trope for Natural Spotlight (Mother Nature doing this trope).
Compare Emerging from the Shadows.
- Hetalia: Axis Powers:
- When France finds out that the other Allied nations are having fun without him, he's shown in a spotlight while Biting the Handkerchief.
- When Germany hugs Italy in the second "Buon San Valentino" episode, they are highlighted by a spotlight.
- The ending theme to Excel♡Saga has Menchi in a dramatic spotlight, singing about how sad she is that her fate is to be eaten, all while a hand sprinkles her with salt.
- In Dragon Ball GT, when Vegeta's daughter Bulla demands he shave off his mustache, informing him that "it makes you look like a total geek", he stands in one of these to further highlight his Comical Overreacting, shaking and shuddering with Hidden Eyes while total geek...total geek...total geek... echoes in his ears.
- Tamagotchi: One shines over Kuromametchi twice in episode 16b - once when he's embarrassed over the Eco-usatchi triplets talking about how he showed up at an ice skating event, and again after he responds to Mametchi and friends asking if he wants to try out new food at the Tama Cafe, contradicting the "lone wolf" personality he usually displays.
- Parodied in Soul Hunter by the Elder of Tousenkyuu: he claims to be wise and all-knowing, but whenever they point out he isn't or ask him a question, he's suddenly covered by a veritable dramatic lightshow as he yells either apologies or that he doesn't know what they're talking of.
- Happy Heroes: In Season 2 episode 24, Big M. starts to cry under a spotlight that he's done for when he finds out his book of ultimate weapons has disappeared.
- Mechamato: When Paintasso is gleeful to become a walking masterpiece, he dances around and a spotlight can be seen shining down on him at one point.
- BoBoiBoy: In Season 2 episode 7, BoBoiBoy takes on the Pose of Supplication after being hit by Adu Du's Y Emotive Pistol and laments about the lack of hope he has for everyone, a spotlight shining on him as he does so.
- Puss in Boots (2011): Spotlights follow Puss and Kitty around during their confrontation at the Glitter Box, highlighting the action. It is mostly downplayed, since the area outside the spotlights is just dim, not pitch black, although there are some moments that turn up the contrast, like the spotlight on Kitty when Puss first spots her and as he approaches.
- On the old The Jimmy Durante Show, Jimmy would close the show by singing a closing number while walking away from the audience, stepping from spotlight to spotlight across a darkened stage (simulating street lights).
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Vampire Luke is beginning "The Harvest" on the stage of the Bronze, illuminated by a spotlight. Buffy, who's entered via a skylight, ends up getting into a fight with the vampire on the catwalk who's pointing it at him.
- Night and Day deploys this to sinister effect in our first introduction to the Big Bad, Danny Dexter. In the middle of a crowded pub during his son Dennis Doyle's birthday party, we cut to entirely to black and silence with the exception of Roxanne, Dennis's mum, who is lit by a single spotlight. We then hear Danny's voice say: 'Hello, Red.'
- Ever since the 7th Season of Jeopardy! still does today. During the final Jeopardy round, They dimmed the stage lights dark and leaving the spotlight of three contestants as they write down their question and how much they bet as the Think Music plays.
- In the opening to Kids Court on Nickelodeon where kids argue on what their situation problem is.
- Blake's 7. In "Voice from the Past", a group of revolutionaries find their meeting hall plunged into darkness, then armed Federation troopers are revealed by spotlights and Servalan appears on the auditorium movie screen for some Evil Gloating. As Evil Is Hammy in The 'Verse, presumably Servalan thought she'd better make a right proper production of her Dynamic Entry, given that the rebels had been so considerate as to provide the theatre.
- In the play The Actor's Nightmare the lead character is alone on stage doing a soliloquy (which he doesn't know) and the spotlight moves around - he keeps having to jump to a new place.
- There is a similar segment in Cirque du Soleil's Varekai in which a clown must chase down the spotlight that is apparently uninterested in the sad song he's singing.
- In the Australian play Lenny & Lee, the stagelights go out and a spotlight shines on Lenny Bruce whenever he turns to address the audience, because it's done in the style of his stand-up comedy routine.
- During the Archives bit of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, there is a (barely) playable flashback from when Daniel first laid hands on an Orb, during the expedition in Algeria. There is a pedestal with the Orb on it, in a circle of light. Everything else is darkness.
- Devil May Cry 4: Before and after the boss fight against Agnus in Mission 17, the Opera House is mostly dim, save for a spotlight that shines on Agnus and Dante whenever they speak their theatrical lines. Then again, these cutscenes are referencing Hamlet, justifying the existence of a spotlight.
- Left 4 Dead: happens from your perspective when the character you are playing as uses a first aid kit (white) or is getting killed by a special infected (red).
- Ghost Trick loves this. Complete with animations and sound effects to really make it feel like a theater production.
- The Mother series uses the trope in its Game Over screens, with the main character appearing under a spotlight in a dark room.
- In El Goonish Shive, a filler strip features Tedd and Grace embracing under a spotlight.
- Team RWBY appears under spotlight in the third opening; they all look depressed except for Ruby. This foreshadows the end of the volume, where three of them have every reason to be depressed and Ruby is the sole one moving forward.
- Played for Laughs in the Volume 3 episode "Lessons Learned"; Qrow's flashback shows him sinking to his knees underneath a dramatic spotlight as he declares he was defeated... by the sight of the innkeeper's short skirt. Ruby is amused, Yang less so.
- When Ironwood makes his announcement to the Kingdom of Atlas in Volume 8, he is a shining white figure underneath a spotlight as he speaks. He is announcing his intention to bomb Mantle unless the heroes agree to his terms, and the spotlight emphasises his evil resolve.
- Ruby is highlighted by a spotlight as she walks through the Ever After in the Volume 9 episode "Tea Amidst Terrible Trouble". Having abandoned all her friends, the spotlight emphasises the isolation and depression that Ruby now feels.
- "Deadpool: The Musical": Deadpool steps away from a bar brawl and a bright spotlight shines on him while he reminisces in song about humping his stuffed unicorn every morning.
- In an episode of The Simpsons where Krusty reveals to the world he's Jewish, he asks for a spotlight, and the spotlight operator thinks he's doing a bit.
Boys and girls, I'd like to be serious for a moment if I may. Spotlight, please. I just wanted (spotlight moves away from Krusty) I just wan- (spotlight moves away again) Come on guys, I'm not doing the spotlight bit!
- In another episode a depressed Abe Simpson walks off into a row of spotlights like Jimmy Durante only to be stopped by the usual lawyer who warns him to stop as it is copyright infringement
- Two of the songs in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic feature this trope: "Winter Wrap Up" in the episode of the same name, and "Find a Pet" in "May the Best Pet Win!".
- In the same show, the trope is parodied in the episode "Party of One". Pinkie Pie draws the (wrong) conclusion that her friends have all turned against her from her interrogation of Spike, and declares so in a Dramatic Spotlight. Then it turns out the light comes from the lamp she used to interrogate him with, as he turns it off.
- The trope is parodied again in the "Hearth's Warming Eve" episode. Spike the baby dragon gets one when he starts Chewing the Scenery during his narration of a play, but since he's on a stage, it's justified in-universe.
- Spike gets another one when he sings a heart-breaking solo in "The Times They Are a Changeling".
- Linus asks for one of these in A Charlie Brown Christmas for his True Meaning of Christmas speech.
- There is a sequence like this in Batman: The Animated Series, in the episode where Baby Doll first appears.
- Genie conjures several of these during his "Friend Like Me" song in Disney's Aladdin.
- Happens during the song "Hakuna Matata" in The Lion King (1994).
- Phineas and Ferb: "Tip of the Day" - Candace gets one during the Aglet song. They bring up the lights as she begins ranting about how it doesn't matter that the end of a shoelace is called an Aglet. *
- During the Curse of the Golden Banana song-and-dance in Donkey Kong Country, a spotlight appears on Cranky as he tells DK, "The curse will bring the destruction of the entire island, and there'll be no bananas left for you to eat!"
- The ending to the Dexter's Laboratory episode "LABretto"
- In the musical episode of Daria, the title character gets one of these for her solo. Of course, being Daria, it's all very, very tongue-in-cheek—and yet played straight at the same time.
- Jelly Jamm: One appears over the King in "Inner Space" when he thinks Bello and Goomo have run away after being denied permission to play with his spaceship toy.
- Ready Jet Go!: In "Sydney 2", a spotlight appears on Jet 2 when Sydney talks about how lonely he is.
- When Mel Blanc, the main voice actor for the classic Looney Tunes cartoons died, a memorial cartoon called "Speechless" was drawn in his honor. The cartoon shows a group of the most popular Looney Tunes characters standing with bowed heads behind a microphone that has a dramatic spotlight on it. But there's nobody at the microphone, indicating the loss of Blanc, who created the voices of the characters behind the microphone.