In 2020 a new law will come into place across Europe which aims to make lighting more efficient. This is a Good Thing. Tungsten bulbs have, in the past, clocked in ridiculously high wattages for absurdly low outputs, and given that large swathes of everywhere are in danger of being flooded by man-made global warming in the coming decades, every little helps.
I mean, regulating industry properly would be great too, but hey…
The technology of lighting has leapt forward in the last ten years by leaps and bounds, and this is reflected in theatre and gigging too. LED is the saviour of the hour, and there is much rejoicing.
The new regulations contain a number of clauses which are so stringent, so well-intentioned and so hard to meet that the knock-on effect is essentially going to be that every fixture in every theatre in every country in Europe will no longer comply.
From the National Theatre to the back room of your local boozer, decades worth of lighting kit, thousands upon thousands of units – and thousands upon thousands of dimmers and the infrastructure that operates them – will cease to be compliant with the law. No one will manufacture spare bulbs or parts for them, and venues will quite literally go dark.
For the vast majority of small venues, which in the UK have been starved of funding for ten years or more and live entirely by shoestrings and grit, this will be the end of lighting. The cost of replacing every lovingly cobbled-together fixture that you’ve scraped life into for the last thirty years (and much of the kit I use on a daily basis was designed in the days of dial-up modems) and every shred of infrastructure will be simply insupportable. There will be no more stage lighting.
For large venues, even if the millions of pounds (and it will run into millions) could be raised to replace every single light you’ve got – the technology isn’t yet there. There aren’t enough lights with a low enough wattage to literally light up a large stage. So if you were planning on seeing your favourite comic at the Apollo, your favourite band at Wembley or your favourite musical in the West End, prepare to see them by flourescent strip light, because the science simply hasn’t solved this one.
And sure, there’s gonna be some numpties who argue that we don’t even need lighting. The purity of the text! The power of the acting! Etc.. And occassionally, very, very rarely, that can be true. The Globe Theatre pulls it off (although there too is a huge ongoing controversy) but in doing so the very nature of the plays are changed. New options arrive, but the options that you destroy, the choices you can’t make by killing off lighting design are legion. Every shred of atmosphere, every trick of the eye, every magical moment and easy transformation, and to a large degree every hidden whisper of emotion smuggled into a lighting design, will be gone. And if you do want to cite Shakespeare as being fine without lighting, I’d suggest that you go watch a matinee of King Lear in the open air. Any dude who goes on that much about spouting hurricanes and the roaring heavens would have been in love with the 21st century smoke machine.
As for music gigs… it’ll be hands down an unmitigated disaster.
I agree that the technology needs to change. Hell, theatre needs to change, and a few venues – the Arcola being a good example – are working to become carbon neutral. Climate change is a problem we all need to get on board with.
But this is not the way. While we legislate for fracking in our national parks and flip-flop over whether wind farms are a good idea, the relative gain from this law is tiny compared to the cataclysmic destruction of our cultural venues.
The will is there, but we need time and technology. Until then, please help us by signing the petition, and following the campaign on twitter #SaveStageLighting and reminding your MEPs and MPs just how much your venues mean to you.