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Rob Halliday: EU lighting changes threaten the entire theatre industry

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child lighting designer Neil Austin is among those opposing the ban. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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Whether you think you care about lighting or not, it is vital that you pay attention right now. Please.

Otherwise, in just over two years, you may wake up to find that everything about lighting – the way that shows, their sets, their costumes, their props and their performers appear on stage – will be completely different. And very possibly worse.

The European Union is proposing new rules for lighting that would come into force in September 2020. You might have read about this under ‘Save tungsten lighting’ headlines some weeks ago. But a closer reading of the proposals has shown things are much worse than just losing the traditional, familiar tungsten light source.

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

While no existing tungsten fixtures meet the proposed energy-efficiency requirements, it turns out that many of the LED fixtures – which have finally provided a good-quality, workable alternative – don’t meet these standards either. Products that don’t meet the standards can’t be sold after September 2020; once stocks are gone, they’re gone.

Worse still: some key manufacturers don’t think they’ll be able to make versions of these fixtures that do meet the new standards in time. This is not for want of trying, but for some fixture types, particularly additive colour-mixing profile spots, they’re running up against the laws of physics.

An exemption is needed for show lighting in the rules to reflect the way we use lighting equipment. They are only on for limited periods of time, never all on together, very often not at full power. Studies have shown that performance lighting on average makes up 5% or less of a theatre’s total power consumption.

The current version of these rules has such an exemption. The new proposals do not.

Without it, once the supply of tungsten bulbs dries up, lights that have given good service for decades will become scrap metal and glass. And fixtures good enough to replace them may no longer be available.

The entire way we light shows across Europe might have to change. Shows that have run for decades – hit musicals, rep operas and ballets – might have to change. On stage or behind the scenes, this would affect you.

What can you do? One, read up: the Save Stage Lighting page on the Association of Lighting Designers’ website contains a comprehensive guide to the new rules. It also has form letters to send to anyone you think needs to know (those who run the organisations you work in, say) or might be able to help, starting with your MP and MEP.

Two, respond: an EU public consultation period runs until May 7, details are also on the ALD site. Respond to this: the more replies, the better the chance the EU will understand what an issue this is.

It’s easy to assume others will do this, that you don’t need to bother. Don’t do that this time. Please, everyone, just respond. This is too important not to.

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