We are delighted to share that, with the support of Arts Council England’s Capital Investment Programme, we will be upgrading our lighting system in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Along with 67 other cultural and creative organisations across the nation, we have been awarded vital funding to enhance the environmental performance and technical facilities of our main house theatre. 

The funding will ensure that we can make further steps forward in our journey towards Net Zero, supporting our environmental responsibility pledges and our commitment to trialling the Theatre Green Book, which has recently launched its second edition.

It will also help us enhance the experience of audiences and actors, and help us to provide the best, most up-to-date conditions for training our next generation of lighting technicians and designers.

A woman with blue hair, white shirt, black puffed trousers and braces, holds a blue light in her left hand and looks at it, against a backdrop of pink and purple smoke
The funding will be used to ensure future productions in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre can continue to create extraordinary lighting designs while dramatically cutting our energy consumption
Photo by Pamela Raith © The artist Browse and license our images

The funding will be used to upgrade our lighting system in our main, 1,000+ seat auditorium of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, including replacing all the house lights with LEDs, adding more LED lights to the stage rigs and updating the lighting desks to a new system. 

Head of Lighting, Kevin Sleep, says that the upgrade will have a massive impact on the energy consumption of our largest theatre space, which will reduce dramatically once the new lights are installed.

“The new system will allow the Royal Shakespeare Theatre to become more energy efficient, saving up to 50% of our electricity consumption for stage lighting and 80% for our houselights. The knock-on effect will also be that our air-conditioning use will be much lower, as the old lights currently give off a lot of heat.”

FROM TUNGSTEN TO LED

Changing from traditional to LED lights follows an industry-wide shift following changes in manufacturing regulations.

“Due to EU regulations, the traditional Tungsten and Discharge sources (lights-CUT) are gradually being phased out, some quicker than others so they’re getting prohibitively expensive to replace when they fail and their relative fragility has always made that a risk,” says Kevin.

“The new LED lights have a much longer life and are generally more reliable. For example, a Tungsten lamp needs to be replaced every 350-400 hours, whereas an LED lasts between 40-50,000 hours, so this investment will have a long term return for us.”

Kevin, who has previously overseen a similar scale refit at the English National Opera - of the dimmers and control systems - also highlights the benefits for lighting designers and technicians in the future:

“Having this new rig will allow creative teams a much wider array of lighting states to play with, to allow us to continue making world-class theatre and creatively ambitious productions for our audiences.

Backstage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, a lighting technician looks up at a lighting rig suspended above the stage
The new lights will be far more energy efficient, cutting the overall energy consumption of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Photo by Sam Allard © The artist Browse and license our images

“Each of the new lights will individually have more colour options, there will be more flexibility in terms of patterns (via use of gobos), and can be programmed to move to multiple fixed states throughout one production.

“This automation in particular will mean much smoother productions, as lights will be fully controllable from the desk and won’t have to be manually moved after the initial set up. This will allow directors to experiment more freely during tech fit ups.”

The current stage lights and house lights will be replaced with LED lights, that are more reliable and efficient, and create less heat
Photo by David Tett © The artist Browse and license our images

Kevin says that many theatres had refrained from wholesale changes to LEDs because the technology had not been up to the task. “Initially, LEDs didn’t have the colour range nor the control which theatres, TV and film studios needed them for. Plus, they’re not cheap – so there wasn’t  a wider industry uptake to begin with,” he says.

But due to current demand, manufacturers have risen to the task, and now the new lights, desks and rigs are able to do everything that the industry’s best lighting designers expect and more, while using a fraction of the energy to power them.

Crucially, this new infrastructure will allow us to upskill our lighting technicians, as well as training young apprentices on the most modern systems, supporting our focus on training and developing the next generation of theatre-makers.

IMPACT ON AUDIENCES

The new rigs will also enhance the experience for audiences in relaxed performances, when the house lights are usually left on for guests who experience light or atmospheric sensitivities.

“Potentially this will also allow us to have more control over the house lights for relaxed or chilled performances. This is because we will have greater control over the house and stage lighting levels, and will even be able to programme varied lighting states throughout the auditorium for a more enhanced, personalised experience,” says Kevin.

The new lights will be installed in phases in between productions, so disruption will be very minimal, though it means a lot of work ahead for our exceptional and multi-talented lighting team.

Massive thanks to the Department of Culture, Media and Sports and Arts Council England for helping to ensure our theatre is ready to keep the lights up on exceptional theatre for years to come.

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