‘Concerts Could Go Dark’: Live Performance Sector Unites Against Proposed EU Lighting Regulation

Lights out
– Lights out
The live performance sector unites against proposed EU lighting regulations

European households will remember it well: the year 2009, when the EU banned the glowing light bulb. When the ban became law, exceptions for the theater and live events sectors were put into place. The EU Commission’s Ecodesign Consultation Forum now propose to lift that exemption in 2020. It explains the move with wanting to meet the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Pollstar spoke to Silke Lalvani, EU policy adviser for Pearle, the interest group of Europe’s live performance sector. While she embraced being “eco-friendly and saving resources,” she pointed out that the EU’s new eco-design regulation raised a couple of issues: “The first worry, of course, are costs. We are currently trying to get figures, which is difficult, because there are lots of lights in use.”

The Opera House in Vienna estimated that it would cost 3 to 4 million [Euros] to replace the venue’s lights with EU-approved ones, Lalvani said. “I heard from another theatre that they would have to replace 1,200 lights. If you take into account that one light costs around €2,000 [$2,400], it adds up.”

According to a report by The Stage, “Theaters across the UK face unexpected costs in excess of £180 million [$245 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 [$48 million] as venues are forced to replace most of their lighting equipment, with experts warning that venues could go dark as a result.”

Chrstian Allabauer of Austrian theater technology association OETHG, told Pollstar that the EU Commission’s draft did not affect existing light sources already in use, but only production and import of such light sources from Sept. 2020. The vast amount of lighting wouldn’t have to be replaced immediately, but over time, once the lights wore out. Of course, LED lights matching the EU’s requirements cannot simply be put in place of the old bulbs, which means a venue’s entire lighting fixture would need to be replaced.

Depending on the statistic, it is estimated that 60 to 80 percent of lights in theaters today are so-called Tungsten lights and other forms of lighting that don’t meet the new requirements.

Besides the economic impact, Lalvani pointed towards a technical aspect: tungsten halogen lamps are capable of showing the full spectrum of visible light, imitating natural light very well. LED is limited in that way.

Lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, who has lit ABBA, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Lady Gaga and many others, told the BBC that he’s not sure why the EU has lifted the exemption.

Theatre expert lighting designer Paule Constable added that popular West End shows couldn’t be produced anymore. “If I think about a show like ‘Follies’ for example at the National Theatre, or ‘Warhorse,’ there is no equipment that could create any of the images that you see in those productions that would be allowed under the new legislation.”

She added, “We have been developing new technologies, and working very hard to work with different technologies, using less energy all the time. The shows that we make are a mixture of elements that we work with, but all of those would be banned.”

Woodroffe said that the Rolling Stones tour, which kicks off next month in the UK, will use 50 percent less energy despite being “twice as spectacular” compared to the tour nine years ago. He called the EU’s plans “nonsensical,” given the progress the industry has already made in recent years.

“We’re using much more LED than we used to. But the provisions for LED in the new EU legislation means that even those LED lights that we’ve used to save a huge amount of energy won’t be allowed to be used. If we have to build the light to their strictures, the light would be as big as a refrigerator.”

Constable added, “we could not achieve stage lighting under the parameters they’re giving us. There’s nothing to replace the technologies they’re going to render obsolete for us.”

PRG confirmed that lighting kits in use prior to Sept. 2020 won’t be affected, but emphasized: “Events like concerts, musicals, theatre, exhibitions, corporate events, TV productions, fashion shows, film shoots and sporting events could go dark as it would be illegal to supply new lighting fixtures and lamps that do not meet the new EU energy standards beyond September 2020. That means that nearly every single lighting fixture on the market would be affected, be it discharge, tungsten or LED.”

The so-called “Green Theatre” report, commissioned by the mayor of London in 2008, found that the all electricals used on stage in theaters combined – lighting, sound and automation – were responsible for nine percent of the venue’s carbon footprint. Given the huge costs involved in a potential lighting transition, and considering the waste generated by the old materials, the sector is questioning the vailidity of the EU’s regulatory proposal.

Lalvani said the sector has been forming coalitions to exert the maximum amount of pressure on the EU Commission. They include theatre technicians, lighting designers and manufacturers.  Many industry professionals and associations have encouraged their members and the public to sign an online petition that aims to convince the EU to keep stage lighting exempt from its proposed legislation changes.