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Why Is It So Important to Save Stage Lighting?

Posted by Matt Humphrey on 1 May, 2018

Stage Lighting as we know it is under threat. This is not an exaggeration or a hyperbolic statement. This is real, and we must act now as an industry to do what we can to save it.

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Photo (Matt Humphrey): Follies, National Theatre - lit by Paule Constable

As a production and backstage photographer, my job is made possible, and helped massively by the lights both onstage and offstage. Without light, I cannot work. I use available light whenever I am shooting in a theatre, and this light is provided by the on and offstage sources within the design of the rig for that particular production.

This light is not just functional, it has a fluidity, a movement and a subtlety that takes it far beyond its original purpose to illuminate. Like the creatives who craft a design narrative that complements the production and vision of the director, I use light. In my recent chat with renowned lighting designer Paule Constable, she spoke about how she paints with light. She and other lighting designers are creatives, visionaries, but they also know how to harness the tools and instruments at their disposal to create beautiful moments and stories on stage.

Light is used to highlight and emphasise, to pinpoint, to distract, to detract, to add to as much as subtract from, to show movement as well as static. This creativity and all that can be accomplished with stage lighting that we see on stages large and small is seriously in danger.

Although I have my own settings and adjustments when I take a photograph, I have never really given much thought to the technical specifications of these light sources – until now. The current EU proposals to regulate lighting fixtures and bulbs is heavily technical and has implications that will affect this and the wider entertainment industry for years to come.

These changes affect us all – cast members who perform in the light, backstage technicians who stay out of it, other creatives whose design work complements light, producers who budget for the cost of the rigs, theatre owners who host productions and illuminate public spaces, and of course the audience members who watch the shows.

As part of a pan-European energy-saving efficiency drive, the EU have consulted with engineers and come up with a set of proposals that addresses the use of lumens, watts and electricity. The problem is that this is based on how light is used throughout carparks, industrial warehouses, lifts and other places where light is purely functional – not on stage.

Previously the EU have exempted stage and event lighting from these regulations – this is not currently the case, which is why we need to act. To hear the full interview with award-winning lighting designer Paule Constable, check out our podcast.

I feel strongly about this and believe that together we can effect change. I have huge admiration for lighting designers, as well as technicians, and think that if the regulations go ahead as planned, this will be a travesty for the industry and our cultural impact as a whole. Over the course of the last few years I have been lucky enough to capture many productions in theatres and playing spaces of all manner of sizes. Sometimes these are moments onstage, but there are so many moments offstage to capture too. I’ve assembled a few of my favourite shots (and designers work) in a gallery here.

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TOP 5 TAKEAWAYS

  1. Energy Saves - Show lighting currently accounts for only 5% of the total energy bills for theatres. The amount of scrap and carbon waste that will be produced by disposed and out-dated equipment is significant.
  2. Not just theatre - the EU regulations will affect all stage productions including live music, gigs, opera, dance, ballet etc.
  3. Expense - to change current fixtures and bulbs will be hugely expensive for venues. From September 2020 none of the existing fixtures will be supported by manufacturers. Entire
  4. Across the board - this affects all venues where light fittings are used. From subsidised venues to village halls. Everywhere across Europe, regardless of Brexit outcome.
  5. Action - you can do something by signing the petition, and spreading the word. Appeal to your tribe - and let your voice be heard.

OTHER RESOURCES

Exclusive interview with Paule Constable

More information about the #SaveStageLighting campaign

Photo Gallery: Stage Lighting - an appreciation

Association of Lighting Designers official campaign information

Topics: News

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