Theatre uses lighting to cut its carbon footprint

26th March 2008

With its aim of becoming the world’s first carbon neutral theatre, London’s Arcola Theatre in Hackney has recently revamped its lighting to help keep its peak power consumption during a show below 4.5kW, following the installation of a hydrogen fuel cell.

The new lighting equipment, which was installed by ETC, includes nine 375W Source Fours and a SmartFade ML control desk, which is also able to control the LED and fluorescent lighting on the show.

"I have a pet hate of West End shows that are over lit and can even end up dazzling the audience," said ETC's technical director Adam Bennette, "so it was nice to be able to work on a show in which we had to make the lighting work really effectively. There is still no alternative to tungsten lighting for getting the right skin tones for actors on stage, but LED and fluorescent works well for wash and effects and makes a little power go a long way.
Because you'll never get all the lighting on at the same time, the show uses no more power than a three-bar electric fire."

Source Fours were designed from the outset with efficiency in mind: the high-performance lamp and a dichroic ellipsoidal reflector push more light out of the front and heat out of the back. This means a 375W Source Four is as bright as other lights of 500W or more.

"The motivation for using this technology is to demonstrate that theatres can light shows on a budget,” said the theatre’s executive director Dr Ben Todd.
“The cell, while not carbon neutral, proves the technology works. It also gives us a power limit; we've got a very real understanding of how much power is being consumed. That's a far greater motivator than simply giving a designer an artificial limit.

"Lighting is one of the things that people get very excited about in the theatre, and, although it's not the most significant aspect of making theatres sustainable – looking at how the audience gets to the theatre, and at administration, such as paper consumed in theoffice and for programmes would be far better – it nevertheless captures the public's imagination. With lighting being a huge consumer of electrical energy overall, theatre can be used as a demonstration. By employing exciting lighting that uses very little power at the theatre, we can prove that efficient lighting can be done at home or at work without too much effort."

The first show to be powered by the fuel cell is Simple8's The Living Unknown Soldier, produced by Strawberry Vale Productions, and the environmental impact of all aspects of the production have been minimised, including set construction, marketing, company travel and show lighting. The production's environmental footprint will be evaluated by leading sustainability advisers Global Action Plan and the lessons learned published for the benefit of other practitioners.