In recent weeks, the work of theatre lighting designers has come under threat from new proposed legislation from the EU.
While the proposals are part of a drive to bring the energy efficiency of stage and studio lighting in line with that of homes and offices, certain tools will be removed from the market by September 2020, making some theatre lighting equipment obsolete, and designers’ work almost impossible. Replacing parts will cost millions.
Many lighting designers have joined together to fight the proposals with the #SaveStageLighting campaign, launched with the aim of protecting their art and profession.
“It’s hard to describe the enormity of the problem,” says Bruno Poet, whose formidable CV includes lighting at the Royal Opera House, National Theatre, Sigur Ros’s world tour and a number of international venues.
“Imagine a regulation that banned all petrol and diesel from sale: it would make nearly all vehicles obsolete and worthless, they’d have to be scrapped,” Poet argues. “The waste would be ridiculous.”
Whilst designers agree that the goals are laudable, many have argued that it would make more sense to set energy-saving targets elsewhere rather than an unachievable ‘one size fits all’ policy for lighting.
The EU’s proposals boil down to two crucial things: if certain stock (eg tungsten lightbulbs) is no longer available to buy, theatres will have to replace the fixtures themselves rather than just the lightbulb – an extremely costly undertaking. Secondly, replacing these fixtures is currently not possible, since there are not yet any bodies that will pass the regulations and do the same job.
Manufacturers have told designers that they are unable to create a light that is bright enough.
Robbie Butler, who is a lighting designer and working on leading the #SaveStageLighting campaign, estimates that the total cost to the theatre industry alone will be £1.2 billion – and the costs will have a trickle down effect, with smaller venues likely to be unable to afford to replace their equipment. “They face going dark and being forced to close,” he says.
What does this mean for audiences? Quite simply, imagine no longer being able to see actors lit by spotlights. Shows like Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables and The Lion King will have to be “radically reinvented”, as the lighting rigs they have relied on for years will become unusable.
Poet believes that more energy-efficient modern lighting technology is “already pushing the boundaries of what’s possible”, but even that will not be acceptable under new regulations.
He recently designed the lighting for Tina using new LED moving lights. “They are the best lights for the job, as well as saving energy. I’d estimate that the Tina rig uses less than half the electricity of the similiar-sized Miss Saigon rig I designed four years ago because the technology has got better,” he says. “But sadly, even the new Tina rig could not satisfy the EU proposals.”
With the proposals slated for September 2020, everything could change.
As an industry, what can we do to support the UK’s theatre industry in the face of these proposals?
Find out more about #SaveStageLighting at ald.org.uk/resources/savestagelighting
Adapted from an article originally published in the Evening Standard’s GO London Newsletter, written by JESSIE THOMPSON