Designers fight to save traditional theatre lighting
Olivier award-winning lighting designers Paule Constable and Neil Austin are spearheading a global campaign aimed at protecting the future of the traditional tungsten light bulb in theatre productions.
The campaign is lobbying major manufacturers to continue production of tungsten lamps, following concerns that legislation banning retailers from selling incandescent light bulbs to domestic users has resulted in manufacturers producing fewer of them. The law was introduced in 2009, but has been phased in gradually over the last three years.
Lighting designers claim that traditional bulbs are vital for theatre productions because of the natural and warm light they provide, and the fact they can be faded up and down. They argue that they are needed alongside other light sources – such as LED lamps – to ensure lighting can be tailored according to a production’s needs.
The campaign’s Facebook page states that manufacturers are “starting to push towards other sources and are phasing out tungsten lamps by stealth”.
Austin, who won an Olivier award for The White Guard at the National Theatre, said he could understand that some manufacturers view theatre as a small part of their output, but added: “What we are trying to do is make sure they don’t stop manufacturing these types of lamps, which have a very specific usage for us. As lighting designers, we deal with manipulating people’s emotions to help tell a story. We want to make sure we are left with the tools we need to achieve that.”
Lighting designer Michael Hulls, who initiated the campaign, said there was particular concern around some lamps that are considered domestic but which “are very widely used in live performances and theatrical luminaires”.
He said that legislation around these products was unclear.
“A special-purpose exemption applies to theatrical tungsten lamps but we have yet to ascertain exactly which are in and which are out, especially if they cross the line into domestic use,” said Hulls.
He added: “It’s not just about legislation. The campaign is focused on lamp manufacturers who may be considering, for commercial reasons, to de-invest in tungsten research and development, and attempt to lead us into an LED-dominated future where it becomes increasingly difficult to source theatrical tungsten lamps.”
Constable, whose credits include War Horse, stressed that the campaign is not anti-LED lighting.
“The campaign is not saying we should not be responsible users. But it says, ‘Please don’t assume we [will] continue to do what we do with resources being taken away from us,” she added.
Green arts organisation Julie’s Bicycle is supporting the campaign. Founder and chief executive Alison Tickell described the increase in LED lighting as “a good thing”, but said: “Given the low number of hours they are actually on, tungsten stage lighting creates a comparatively small environmental impact, especially in comparison with front-of-house and auditorium lighting, which create between 9% and 15% of a theatre’s overall carbon emissions.”
Tickell added that until “an aesthetic equivalent to tungsten fixtures” exists, manufacturers should work with creative practitioners and designers “to make sure new products are fit for purpose”, and claimed that legislation should allow for a “phased transition”.
The campaigners have already had assurance from Osram, one of the biggest manufacturers of tungsten bulbs, that it will continue making the lamps.
“We appreciate the industry’s passion for this trusted lighting solution, and look forward to continuing to illuminate today and tomorrow’s entertainment stars on countless stages and studios with our Osram tungsten lamps,” it said.
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