Whether you’re watching Seussical or the upcoming Annie (TYA)— the formula for an optimal theatrical experience relies on the perfect combination of good writing, solid acting, decent sets and lighting.

To set the mood, elicit emotions from the audience and brilliantly entertain — theatres rely heavily on the right lighting.  Toronto’s Young People’s Theatre (YPT) takes entertaining seriously, respects the environment and does their part to reduce energy consumption without sacrificing the quality of their productions.

Receiving a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation last year, YPT took the initiative to use some of the money to replace and upgrade to newer and more energy efficient equipment for their productions. It had been something they wanted to do for a while, and with the award, it’s been possible.

The transition to energy efficient lighting

In theatre, traditional lighting fixtures are high in wattage — producing bright lights that can be focused to shine on specific spots on the stage. Where they go, how bright they are serves to paint the picture of the show.

In charge of seeing overall production, sets, scenic art, lighting, audio, video, costumes and props, technical director of Young People’s Theatre, Alexis Buset was enthused when they tried out some new energy efficient lights.

“At the very back of the theatre, there’s a cyclorama,” says Buset, “By colouring it — it denotes the passage of day, sets the mood.”

The bank of lights for this used to be high in wattage — before, there would be six on top and six on the bottom — each light with four different colour options. Now, they’re using Color Force 72 LED RGBA lights that have unlimited colour mixing capabilities and longer lives.

Traditional Ampro cyc lighting in the banks would need 3000 watts per unit — with the six across the top and six across the bottom, it would take 36,000 watts to light them all at full capacity. While it’s unlikely they’d use all 12 lights at full brightness all the time, traditional lighting still demands a lot of wattage to light the fabric above and below to create the look of a sky.

With the replacement of Color Force 72 LED cyc lights, they run at 660 watts per unit.

“We went from using potentially 36,000 to 7,920 [watts],” says Buset, “We’re saving a huge amount.”

That’s not all.

For those lights that hang above the stage to add colour to the stage and actors — the ones that pop them out from the scenery to offer the audience a nice sculpted image — they’ve been upgraded too.

“We replaced 15 Fresnels at 1000 watts per unit,” says Buset about the change from Fresnel lights to RevEAL Studios by Prism Projection, “[We] bought nine of them — the optics are so good they cover more area and run at 230 watts per unit.”

Over the summer, they also upgraded six work lights that ran at 1000 watts per unit to LED work lights (120 watts per unit).

Right now, they’re seeing about a 10 per cent savings on their energy bill. Of course, it’s hard to gage because every show is different. But with the upgraded energy efficient lighting — it’s clear that there’s a huge reduction in wattage used. 

More energy savings is in production

Next week YPT is changing the isle lights to LED and they’re also looking to replace the lights around the mirrors in the dressing rooms. The 20 light bulbs serve to give a good colour temperature so people’s faces look appropriate before a show.

“We’d like to change them to at least compact fluorescent,” says Buset, “We have to be careful what we put there. Colour temperature is very important.”

In the future, technology may even allow for theatres to give up the use of gels (the coloured covers that go over lights for traditional fixtures) — this would mean a waste reduction.

The historical children’s theatre has a vested interest in doing what they can for the environment as they have a concern for children.

“We want them to have a beautiful home to grow up to in,” says Buset, “I personally feel strong about that — so does the theatre.”


Image credit: Young People’s Theatre
#261  -  Clockwise from top: Jajube Mandiela, Jasmine Chen, Aaron Stern, Jakob Ehman, Rylan Wilkie, P.J. Prudat and Darrel Gamotin in a scene from Blue Planet at Young People’s Theatre (2013); Set & Costume Design by Camellia Koo, Lighting Design by Jason Hand; Photo by Mark Seow