Theatres face shock £180m bill under EU lighting proposals
Theatres across the UK face unexpected costs in excess of £180 million under “devastating” EU proposals to ban the vast majority of stage lighting by 2020.
Costs in London alone are expected to reach £35 million as venues are forced to replace most of their lighting equipment, with experts warning that venues could go dark as a result.
Industry leaders including West End theatre owner Nica Burns and Olivier Award-winning lighting designer Paule Constable have described the issue as “deeply alarming”, with Burns urging theatres across Europe to enlist the support of politicians to prevent the ban from going ahead.
The European Union is considering banning the sale of most lighting fixtures that are currently in use, from 2020, due to concerns over energy efficiency.
In a column for The Stage, lighting designer Rob Halliday said the proposals were “much worse” than originally thought, as they will affect not only tungsten lighting but also many of the LED fixtures that can provide a workable alternative for theatres.
If the changes go ahead, they will have a “very serious financial and artistic impact on all theatres”, according to head of UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre Julian Bird.
The Association of Lighting Designers has estimated that the cost of moving to equipment that does not rely on the supply of light bulbs that would become obsolete after 2020 in an “average-sized theatre” would be £142,000. The Theatres Trust estimates that there are more than 1,300 active theatres in the UK, meaning a total bill of more than £180 million across the UK industry.
Bryan Raven, managing director at supplier White Light, warned that the changes would have a significant artistic impact and would be akin to seeing theatre shows “lit by street lights or office lights”.
Legislation introduced in 2009 banned retailers from selling tungsten lighting for domestic use, but permitted them to do so for use in theatres, which are exempt from the ban.
Campaigners are calling for the same exemption for theatres to be included in the new regulations.
Nimax Theatres co-owner Burns called on “every theatre in Europe” to tell their local MP to explain why “all theatres should be exempt from these regulations”.
She said: “Great lighting is an essential part of a brilliant production, and everyone who works in theatre wants one thing: excellence on stage.
“This legislation is rooted in a good desire to reduce power usage, and I believe that it was never intended to destroy artistic greatness.”
But she added: “Lighting uses no more than 5% of a theatre’s electric usage, which is nothing compared to the devastating effect the regulations will have on artistic endeavour across Europe.”
Constable argued that not a single show she had lit – including Les Miserables, War Horse and Follies – could have existed if the proposed regulations went through.
“The closer a unit gets to being useful for theatre, the more likely it is to fail the energy standards as proposed,” she said. “There are no newer units that adhere and would create the light we need. We would go dark. Seriously.”
She added that the proposals would “wreak damage” within all the public spaces that amateur, youth groups, schools and communities use.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child lighting designer Neil Austin echoed her comments, adding: “The regulations fail to understand the huge carbon footprint of scrapping the current lighting inventory of every theatre – which, most likely, will wipe out any saving to the planet.
“Nothing is greener than the recycled lanterns passed down from theatre to theatre and still in use 40 years later.”
ALD chair Johanna Town described the proposals as “deeply alarming” and said they would “crush new and existing shows”.
She added: “The reduction of energy consumption is of course a goal we all share, but the proposal shows no understanding of the tools we use in lighting design.
“Should this proposal go ahead as written, and unchecked, the effect on show lighting in Europe, as well as the UK, will be truly devastating.”
The ALD has launched a campaign called Save Stage Lighting, which includes further information on what can be done, such as how people can contact their local MP on the issue.
The Professional Lighting and Sound Association will hold two consultations for those affected by the issues, in London on April 25 and in Leeds on May 1.
A spokeswoman for the European Commission said it was currently “analysing comments” which will be fed into the proposals. She said member states would vote on the final wording of the legislation by the end of the year.