To see or not to see: will proposed EU regulations turn UK gigs and theatres dark?

This week #SaveStageLighting has been splashed across many of the UK’s theatres. Launched by the Association of Lighting Designers, the Save Stage Lighting campaign is aiming to draw attention to proposed EU regulations which have been described as an “enormous threat” to the UK’s theatre and live music industries.

The EU’s Eco-design Working Plan 2016-2019, which is currently under consultation, proposes to make stage lighting subject to new EU lighting efficiency regulations. The impact would be that, if implemented, the vast majority of lighting used at UK theatres, entertainment venues and festivals would not meet the efficiency standards expected and would become defunct, says the ALD. Once existing stocks of bulbs are exhausted, theatres would have to install entirely new lighting rigs at great artistic and financial cost.

Lamps and bulbs have long been regulated by EU law, however under the current regulation (Commission Regulation (EU) No 1194/2012) a specific exemption was made for “lighting applications where the spectral distribution of the light is adjusted to the specific needs of particular technical equipment in addition to making the scene of object visible for humans (such as studio lighting, show effect lighting, theatre lighting).”

The new regulations leave out such an exemption. All light sources with a defined chromacity range, and a luminous flux between 60 and 82000 lumens will be covered. Only lights such as status display, pilot and decorative lamps, at the lower end, and “very powerful lamps for e.g. sports lighting, theatre-, stage- and studio-lighting”, at the upper end, will fall outside of this range. The ALD says that the vast majority of light sources used in entertainment lighting do not exceed the 82000 lumen upper limit and will fall within the range to which the efficiency limits will be imposed.

The EU’s aim, to reduce energy consumption, is clearly important, however it is widely accepted that stage lighting is attributable to only 5% of electricity used in theatres. As a result, the energy saving to be achieved by the application of the new regulations to the live entertainment industry is expected to be negligible.

The industry is particularly concerned that it is currently technically “impossible” to produce certain types of stage lighting, including focusable spotlights and additive RGB (multi-coloured) lights, which would meet the proposed efficiency requirements. Lighting designers have said that the impact on the quality of the designs they will be able to achieve will be dramatic.

Further, the ALD estimates that the cost to the average theatre of changing its lighting to meet the EU’s proposed minimum efficiency requirements would be £142,000, at a cost of £180 million to the UK theatre industry alone.

Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty states that the EU “shall respect its rich cultural and linguistic diversity, and shall ensure that Europe’s cultural heritage is safeguarded and enhanced.”

In light of the objections raised to the proposed regulations in the context of Article 2 of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU will have to consider carefully how those regulations can properly be made in their current form.

Only this week British excellence in theatre design was again internationally recognised with three British productions, now on Broadway, being nominated for lighting design awards at the Tony Awards.

The live entertainment industry has real concern that, unless the EU heeds their warning, such success will be unable to continue and that many smaller UK venues will be forced to go dark.