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Designers campaign to prevent lighting ban that threatens to leave theatres ‘going dark’

The National Theatre's Angels in America is one of many high-profile shows that rely on tungsten halogen lamps. Photo: Helen Maybanks
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Designers including Paule Constable are fighting a proposed ban on traditional theatre lighting, which they claim could result in hundreds of venues “literally going dark”.

The European Union is considering banning tungsten halogen lamps in entertainment lighting, due to environmental concerns over their energy inefficiency.

Since legislation was introduced in 2009, retailers have been banned from selling tungsten lighting for domestic use, but are permitted to do so for use in theatres, which are exempted from the ban.

The 2009 legislation prompted lighting designers to lobby manufacturers to continue producing tungsten lamps, with brands including Philips giving assurances that production would continue. Designers like the lamps because of the natural and warm light they provide.

Campaign to keep traditional theatre lighting goes global

Now the European Union considering new legislation removing the exemption of entertainment lighting, which would mean that by 2020 theatres would no longer be able to buy new tungsten lamps.

The Association of Lighting Designers is co-ordinating a high-speed effort to gather reasons why this ban should not move forward, calling for responses to be submitted as soon as possible before the end of a consultation period on January 26.

The proposed EU ban will be on placing tungsten lighting in the market, meaning that product that is already in the supply chain can be sold, but that no new product can be manufactured or imported.

Constable said: “This is misguided on so many levels. Not only do so many of the shows we all know and cherish rely upon tungsten technology, there are all the smaller theatres around the country that absolutely depend upon older tungsten lights and will have no budget available to replace them.

“Rendering all these older lights obsolete would be unbelievably wasteful. The way forwards is to reduce, reuse and recycle. In the theatre, we are remarkably good at this. We don’t have the budgets to be profligate.”

Constable said that the proposed change would have a “drastic effect” on the work we see in theatre, most of which could not be recreated using LED lighting.

She added: “Shows such as War Horse, The Curious Incident, Follies, Angels in America – none of them could look as they do without the occasional use of tungsten units. A blanket ban would be costly – prohibitively so to many. It would change the landscape entirely.”

Lighting designer Michael Hulls, who is leading fight to oppose the ban as a continuation of his 2013 Save Tungsten campaign, said the new legislation fails to consider that the power used by tungsten is relatively low, as lights are dimmed and performances only last for a few hours.

Hulls explained that replacing tungsten lighting with LED equivalents would be “prohibitively, sometimes ruinously” expensive, and that lighting designers had been considering the other tools available to them, but on some occasions nothing could replicate the “very particular properties of tungsten”.

“[Once the ban was announced] those who could afford to would start stockpiling. Then the smallest, most vulnerable theatres, including pub theatres, studios, and fringe venues, would be looking to spend a couple of thousand at least on replacing the tungsten lighting, which means they will either go dark – literally – or have to close because they can’t afford it,” Hulls said.

Hulls added that even if the UK is no longer subject to the legislation when it leaves the EU, the British theatre market alone for tungsten lighting will not be large enough for manufactures to sustain production.

More than 2,800 people have liked a Facebook page for Hulls’ original Save Tungsten campaign, also supported by many others including Constable, Neil Austin and David Finn, which has been revived in light of the new proposed ban.

Email savetungsten@ald.org.uk for more details.

EU lighting proposals: Everything you need to know

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