EU Proposes Ban on Incandescent Lamps in Theatres

The Stage reported yesterday that “The European Union is considering banning tungsten halogen lamps in entertainment lighting, due to environmental concerns over their energy inefficiency.”  There are so many reasons this is hopelessly misguided.  Let me list a few.

First, the energy consumption of an entertainment venue is so low because the usage is so low, even for a Broadway or West End production with 500 lights.  These theatres run eight shows a week, and average two hours per performance. That’s 16 hours per week, which is only one day of a retail or office space.  So a theatre’s monthly hours of operation is equal to only four days of many other building types.

Second, the energy consumption is much lower than the connected load implies.  500 lights at 575W equals 287,500W.  However, there’s never a time at which every light is on, much less on at full.  A dark, dramatic scene may use only 5% of the total lighting equipment, and that won’t be a full brightness.  One rule of thumb is that the usage of theatrical lighting is about 50%, so the 287,500W of connected load comes to only 2,300 kWH per week.  That’s for huge shows. An off-off-Broadway theatre or community theatre with only 75 lights and five performances per week uses only 108 kWH per week.

Third, the impact on the entertainment industry, especially smaller and poorer companies, would be devastating.  Yes, there are retrofit kits for ETC Source4 lights.  However, all other brands of lekos, Fresnels, PARS, striplights, cyc lights, followspots, etc. don’t have retrofits.  Tens of thousands of perfectly good equipment would have to be scrapped, but with replacement lights costing thousands of dollars (or pounds) many companies would not be able to replace the lost lights resulting in theatres literally going dark.

Fourth, these theatres would need new power and data distribution.  Nearly all LED lights for the entertainment industry have on-board dimming and need to be connected to constant power, not dimmed power.  But, nearly all lighting circuits in theatres are connected to dimmers.  And, these LED lights need connections to the stage lighting control system, but this is an exponential growth in the number of data lines and the number of data parameters that need to be controlled.  So, not only would theatres need new lighting equipment, but they’d need new control systems as well.  Great for theatre consultants like Studio T+L, but ruinously expensive for theatre, opera, and music venues.

Fifth (I’m not done yet!) the quality of light and lighting will suffer.  The most obvious impact is flicker of lights when they are dimming which, despite the assurances of most manufacturers, is a real, pervasive problem.

Why am I so heated about this topic?  Because if it goes through in the UK some bright light of a state or federal legislature will think we should follow their lead.  Again, it would be ruinously expensive for many, many performing arts companies.  The entire lighting industry is converting to LEDs.  In architectural lighting there are very few reasons to decide against using LEDs, so most new installations are mostly LED.  The same is true in the entertainment industry.  However, there is an enormous base of existing equipment for which there are no retrofit options.  Rendering that equipment useless by removing replacement lamps from the market is outrageously heavy handed (and ham handed).  Let the industry organically continue its transition to LEDs, don’t force it.  The damage far outweighs the benefits.

Target Margin Grand Opening

The grand opening of Target Margin Theater’s new Lenore Doxsee Theatre (theatre consulting by Studio T+L) is this weekend.  Here’s a brief notice from the New York Times.  Here’s the link to Target Margin’s web site.

International Code of Practice for Entertainment Rigging Now Available

ESTA and PLASA have announce the release of an International Code of Practice for Entertainment Rigging (ICOPER).  The document, which is an outline of actions to be taken at each stage of rigging, from pre-design through removal from the venue,  is available as a free download at or  ICOPER was created to promote awareness and safety worldwide by providing a model sequence of considerations and actions.  The focus is on arena rigging, however it is applicable to all event production rigging disciplines. Regulations and standards differ around the world, so ICOPER is not prescriptive. However, it provides a series of guidelines that, if followed, are expected to produce predictable results and enhance safe practice.

Evaluating Water Damaged Equipment

Throughout the south there are schools, universities and professional theatres with electrical equipment that has been submerged in flood waters from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  They’re biggest question is, “What can I dry out and use, and what do I have to replace?”  NEMA (the National Electrical Manufacturers Association) has a guide for this (NEMA GD 1-2016 Evaluating Water-Damaged Electrical Equipment) that you can download here.

Some larger pieces of equipment can be reconditioned, but that doesn’t mean simply drying them out.  It includes using appropriate cleaning agents, and the success of reconditioning depends on the “nature of the electrical function, the degree of flooding, the age of the equipment, and the length of time the equipment was exposed to water.”  The problem is that equipment submerged during a flood isn’t just wet, it’s now contaminated with whatever was in the water.

What does that mean for a theatre?  Here are some key items that should be replaced.

  • Fuses, switches, circuit breakers
  • Components containing semiconductors and transistors.  That means lighting and sound control consoles, dimmer rack control and power modules, and all LED fixtures.
  • Transformers.  If the transformer feeding your dimmer racks was submerged, it has to be replaced.
  • Outlets and switches
  • Wiring in conduit
  • Stage cables
  • Uninterruptible power supplies
  • Communications systems
  • Batteries

What might be successfully reconditioned?  Not much.

  • Conduit and tubing, if it can be completely dried out
  • Motors.  Consult the manufacturers of your stage and pit lifts.

Yes, it’s a lot.  But, it’s better to replace damaged equipment than to risk failure, or worse, of equipment with hidden damage.

Here’s the plug for Studio T+L:  Give us a call.  We can help you to determine what needs to be replaced, write a specification for the replacement equipment, bid the replacement, and check up on the contractors as they’re doing the work.  And, we’re nice!

The Levoy Turns 5!

In 2008 we began a four year collaboration with the wonderful people at The Levoy Theatre in Millville, NJ and R2Architects.  In September, The Levoy will have been open for five years and they’ve sent us some statistics on their success.

528 (and counting) public events, concerts, comedy, magic, theatre, movies and more!
200,000+ visitors
187 performances by the Off Broad Street Players
30,000+ hours of volunteer time donated by over 250 volunteers (between Levoy and OBSP!)
10,000+ students attended free or reduced cost school-day live theatre
Congratulations Levoy Theatre!  Here’s to the next five years (and the five after that)!

Building Target Margin Theatre

Earlier this year we started working with New York’s Target Margin Theater on converting a two story warehouse into a new studio theatre, rehearsal spaces, and office space.  Two acoustically isolated rehearsal rooms were built at the beginning of the summer.  When bids for the resilient stage floor were twice as high as expected the team decided that TMT could build it themselves.

TMT hired a technical director to oversee a crew of volunteers installing the resilient floor we designed and building portable seating risers.  The project required:

  • 50+ volunteers over 5 days
  • 125+ sheets of plywood
  • 50+ sheets of masonite
  • 2,000 rubber pads
  • 75+ 2x4s
  • 15 gallons of black paint
  • 3 gallons of wood glue

Target Margin now has a great floor and a set of risers.  Here’s a gallery of photos showing the progress.

Next steps will include a disconnect for stage dimmers, a pipe grid, and a new mechanical system.

The Myth of the Irrelevant Theatre Consultant

Kevin Willmorth has a long and interesting article on his blog in which he argues for the recognition of professional lighting designers, and what a professional lighting designer is and is not.  The post echoes Chapter 1 of Designing With Light, and many of the things I’ve written in the book’s blog, including promoting the lighting design profession, the value of professional lighting design, the need for projects to use a professional lighting designer (here, here and here), and  those other than professional lighting designers making design decisions, among other topics.  I don’t have much to add to Kevin’s post, except to say that it’s well worth reading.

Most of the arguments I’ve made about architectural lighting design apply equally to professional theatre consultants at all levels. At the professional theatre level (commercial theatre, regional theatre, or opera house, for example) no client or architect would begin a project without a professional theatre consultant on the team. However, the farther one gets from these projects, such as community or school theatres, the more likely we are to find owners and/or architects who think they an save money by not engaging a theatre consultant, or an architect who uses sales reps and manufacturers in lieu of a professional theatre consultant. We’ve seen this manifest itself in several ways, all of which are short sighted for a number of reasons, as we’ve outlined here.  The most common arguments are below.

The TD, production designer, or other in-house person can do it

“Theatre consultants won’t listen to us, so we’ll do it ourselves.” I’ve heard this argument many times, and some theatre consultants may have a tendency to think that they know best. There is also a very strong ethic of self-reliance in the theatre. In many, many cases what the design and production team dream up has to be built from scratch, so there’s a great deal of knowledge and a can-do attitude in most theatre organizations. It’s easy to see how that self-reliance would be applied to a theatre construction or renovation project. However, there are two reasons to avoid that path.

The first reason is simple scheduling. A theatre’s staff already has a job designing and producing the season, and designing or renovating a theatre is a full time job. Studio T+L values the input and collaboration of a theatre’s staff, in fact they are essential to a successful project, but the staff needs to focus on productions while we focus on the theatre building.

The second reason is that most people in the theatre don’t have a thorough understanding of architecture, mechanical systems, construction techniques, etc., any more than architects and engineers have a clear understanding of theatre production and operations. Theatre systems must be integrated into the larger building, which requires detailed knowledge in order to effectively communicate and collaborate with the building design team. The alternative is likely to be miscommunication, lost time, and wasted money.

The architect can do it

“The architect has photos of theatres they’ve designed in their portfolio, and they say they can do it.” Theatres are highly specialized buildings, second only to hospitals and laboratories in their complexity, and must meet the unique requirements of the theatre companies or artists that use them. Architects are experts in overall building design and the key contact between owner and design team. However, architects don’t design every building element themselves. They hire a team of specialists that includes engineers, interior designers, landscape designers, and others. The space planning and production systems design of a performing arts venue are best met by knowledgable specialists such as theatre consultants.

This hold true even for smaller projects. In our opinion, there’s no such thing as “just” a community, school, or black box theatre. Theatre as a process, “making theatre”, happens within an understood framework, but the specifics vary widely. A theatre building that is organized along generic or outdated principles will work against the production and the production process. People who have no experience making theatre don’t understand the difference.

My local vendor can do it

As with a technical director, a local equipment supplier has another job. He or she also has other priorities.  An equipment supplier has a financial interest in selling certain manufacturers or products.  A professional theatre consultant has no such conflicts of interest, and focuses on selecting the right system for each project. In addition, a supplier may be able to assist with a one-for-one exchange of old equipment for new, but is certainly not able to invest the time and effort needed throughout the design and construction process.

But the fees

Yes, theatre consultants insist on being paid for their work. However, consider the cost of not having a professional theatre consultant. The theatre will be in use, as designed, for decades. How much is lost if the space planning interferes with backstage operations or the production process instead of supporting them? What is the cost of production systems that are too complicated, or insufficient for the production’s complexities? Whose audience will return again and again if there are poor sightlines or badly arranged audience amenities?

So, call us. If you don’t call us, call someone. But don’t embark on a theatre design or renovation without the expertise needed to do it properly and see it through to completion.

ESTA and USITT Announce New World Rigging Symposium

ESTA and USITT announce the New World Rigging Symposium, on March 13-14, 2018 in conjunction with the USITT Conference and Stage Expo 2018 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The Symposium will provide an opportunity for riggers and those interested in the live entertainment rigging industry to network, discuss current issues and new technologies, and help shape the future of the industry. 

Sessions will give participants opportunities to further their technical knowledge, keep up to date with codes and standards, and learn what it’s like to work as a rigger in other segments of the entertainment industry. Attendees will also hear from experts in related fields such as structural engineering and risk management. The Symposium will carry ETCP education renewal credits for re-certification. 

Symposium attendees will receive free show floor passes to the USITT Stage Expo opening on March 15th as well as a discount on the conference registration. 

You can email to be notified when registration opens.

IES Lighting Terms and Definitions Now Online

ANSI/IES RP-16 Nomenclature and Definitions for Illuminating Engineering has long been one of the two major documents defining terms related to lighting design (the other is CIE ILV: International Lighting Vocabulary).  RP-16-10 (the 2010 version of the Recommended Practice) is now available online as a searchable database.  From the first page you can click on terms to see the definition and you can also search by keyword.  If you don’t already own RP-16 bookmark this now!