The University Theatre at the University of Colorado Boulder got an upgrade this semester with 24 new moving lights.
The university bought LEDs this time around, so in addition to updating what students are using, it will also be saving energy and waste.
“The biggest impact really is the excitement of our students being able to use this training,” said Jonathan Spencer, a lighting design instructor at CU Boulder.
When he first started as a professor last year, Spencer said the “very aged lighting inventory” was one of the first things he noticed.
The equipment, which was 20 to 30 years old, was wearing down and impeding students’ learning, he said.
Spencer, along with a group of students and staff, got $140,000 in funding to remedy the issue. Most of the funds came from the College of Arts and Sciences and Utility and Energy Services, as well as the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and theatre and dance department.
They’ve used $115,000 so far to update the equipment. Spencer said the switch will end up saving money.
Much of the old equipment required maintenance, as well as accessories like gels, which LED lights don’t require. The lights also didn’t last as long as LEDs — they averaged 1,000 usable hours compared to a minimum of 20,000 for LEDs.
That saves the environment 2,800 pounds of waste, including the bulbs and packaging, for each LED light they use to replace incandescent lights, Spencer said.
The new lights also will better prepare students for the real world. About eight years ago, Spencer said, there was a “revolution” where lighting was replaced with LED technology. It became a regular staple on Broadway, cruise ships, school theaters and more.
“At CU Boulder, we had a really big gap in our training,” he said. “Within another 10 years, I will predict that almost all entertainment lighting will be LED — incandescent lighting will go away.”
In this way, the new equipment is a “beautiful meeting of environmental impact but also recognizing trends of the industry,” Spencer said.
When Wes Halloran, a theatre major concentrating on sound and lighting design, heard the theater was getting new lights, he said he “let out a huge sigh of relief.”
“Then I went into Jonathan’s office, threw up my arms, and screamed ‘Wooooo!,’” he said. “I’ve been in the department for three years now and we’ve always worked with vastly outdated equipment that just isn’t seen in any professional theatre anywhere anymore.”
Halloran helped Spencer make the case for funding, emphasizing the amount of energy that LED lights could save. He was also one of the first people to use the new gear, and he said the new capabilities allowed for “more intense, intricate and cohesive designs.”
“Gorgeous aerial effects, instantaneous bumps of light, and the ability to change color on a whim within the same fixture provided the tools to create these more enhanced designs,” he said.
Ian McMorran, who graduated this year, also said the new equipment has helped students learn about the modern technology they’ll see in their careers. One new light can also replace multiple conventional lights in a rig, he said, which frees up space and set-up time.
“The new lighting fixtures require quite the learning curve for new designers and technicians to use so having the opportunity to integrate these technologies early is a huge benefit to their professional development,” McMorran said.