I don’t know where it has come from, but I suddenly have a terrible case of eco guilt. Maybe it’s looking at the future through the eyes of your children. Maybe it’s watching a remarkable teenager who doesn’t back down even to bullying presidents and is unafraid to tell it as it is. We’re running out of time; if we don’t do something we’re doomed. One voice really can make a difference.
How is this guilt manifesting itself? Turning down the lights in our house as people leave rooms (for the planet, not just being a tight-wad). I am finding myself seriously contemplating an electric car. Maybe it’s changes like that we need to make.
Theatre lighting is an interesting place to have these dilemmas. While it’s true, it can feel like self-justification to say that yes, we turn lights on to illuminate events, but we do it with careful consideration – we want just the right amount of light in just the right place, not inefficient broad strokes everywhere.
There’s always more to be done. We could be choosing equipment on environmental, not just artistic, grounds. We should be talking out loud about our choices so that they become part of everyone’s conversations – being more aware, constantly aware of what we’re doing.
I’ve been working abroad recently, in a building where the power is made by an on-site industrial generator, because (rightly) no one trusts the power grid. While you’re lighting, you can hear it. Turn the lights up, hear it work harder. Turn everything off, hear it gratefully relax. The sound is omnipresent, a visceral reminder of when you’re using more power and when you’re using less.
A traditional theatre environment gives you none of these reminders. Maybe, until we can be sure our power is coming from a renewable source, we need our lighting console to show a power meter (or play a generator sound effect) – a gentle nag to remind us that maybe we could turn things down a bit. For the human eye, brightness is largely relative. It depends what we’ve been looking at before. If the audience had never seen the brighter version, would they know the difference?
Of course, traditionally we would fear the note we would get from the director. But Rufus Norris’ recent column makes it clear that others share our eco guilt – this is now being discussed at the highest levels of theatre. So don’t fear the note, try the change. Of course it’s a drop in the ocean: others need to make much bigger changes. But it’s a start and now is a good time to make it.
Rob Halliday is a lighting designer and programmer. Read more of his columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/Rob-Halliday