Opened in 1881, the Savoy Theatre in London has become notable in lighting circles for being the first entirely electrically-lit public building in the world. One can only imagine the feelings of Richard D’Oyly Carte’s customers as they stepped into this palace of entertainment – without the heat, smell and soot that accompanied the gas lighting that preceded it.
For the management of the Savoy, there were also to be boons – the safety of the electric light bulb in comparison to gas was inordinate. Electric light would prove to be more easily controlled remotely, and ultimately leap from auditorium to stage to revolutionise the spectacle as well as the experience of the spectator.
As low-energy LED lighting has now found its way into the corridors and bars of our performance venues one area has been late to join the party – the auditorium. Auditoria require a very particular kind of lighting system. It’s part architectural – to illuminate the features, especially in older buildings – and part functional – to illuminate the space for the public.
One of its key features – and my goodness me, how key – is its ability to lead the audience into the performance they are about to see. Experience (with a bit of tradition) dictates that a slow fade to zero intensity is the way to do this. Some new LED fittings can achieve this fade, but not all are practical for installation into listed buildings – either because of appearance, dimensions or power/data cabling requirements.
Retrofit LED lamps that fade have been available for some time – and many of the best-known names now produce lamps with good colour temperature that will dim smoothly to a few percent. Unfortunately, a sudden jump from a few percent to zero makes all the difference – with hundreds of lamps in auditoria, the leap – sometimes accompanied by random flickering – destroys the theatricality of the moment. There are a few beautiful venues around at present that have been stung by the promise of smooth LED houselight dimming – some contractors just do not understand why it’s so important to a venue to be able to achieve this particular feat.
Step in GDS. Specialists in entertainment LED equipment, the Bristol-based company has been developing its ArcSystem houselight hardware for some years now, and notably achieved the smooth fade-to-zero for its new luminaires some years ago. Unfortunately, that was little help to venues for which the aesthetic was crucial, a more elegant solution was needed – and in the form of the ArcLamp, that has now arrived.
The 4 Watt retrofit LED lamp, available with either a clear or frosted envelope (with multiple chips meaning that chandeliers can be sparklingly lit with it), the lamp is controlled via the ArcMesh wireless control system – and as a result, the Savoy Theatre, part of the Ambassador Theatre Group, felt that the technology was mature enough to go to full deployment.
At the theatre, aging cold-cathode lighting either needed to be replaced like-for-like – committing the building for many further years to the system – or replaced by new technology. By combining the ArcLamp with ArcSystem Strip (above right, in situ), a uniform solution was found, and the venue achieved another first - first venue to house a wirelessly dimmed retrofit LED dim-to-zero lamp. London-based White Light Ltd managed supply and installation of the 234 metres of cold-cathode substitute, the 269 ArcLamp candle lamp replacements, as well as the ArcMesh control system (click here to see photographs taken during and after the install).
Certain hard-to-reach elements of the Savoy’s lighting meant scaffolding had to be installed to allow White Light’s technicians to access the equipment. In the top circle, cold-cathode failure had been particularly high, leading to the silver-leafed walls having little light to reflect.
House lighting systems are disproportionate resource-suckers – they can end up being used as cleaners’ lights and working lights, and their often hard-to-access locations make maintenance a time- and money-consuming exercise. The Savoy’s new system makes a 90% energy saving, meaning payback will be swift. To assist in this endeavour even further, a remote switch for the houselights was installed at Stage Door, to ensure that the system is switched off completely every night – saving energy still further.
It is unlikely that the customers of the Savoy’s current show, Broadway musical transfer Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, will notice the innovative lighting in the way their predecessors 133 years ago would have done, but there is no doubt that auditorium lighting has moved into a new era. The Savoy Theatre, resplendent again, demonstrates that properly designed, good quality LED equipment continues to have a place in the public realm, without compromising output or, indeed, the audience experience.
See more photos from the installation in our photo album!
Have you been the victim of a substandard LED houselight install? Did you ever get it rectified? Share your houselight upgrade experiences below to help others know what to avoid!
Main picture: James Mackenzie Install pictures Fanny Saint-Pasteur/White Light Ltd
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