Built in 1865, The City Varieties is a Grade II* Music Hall located in the heart of Leeds, West Yorkshire. Part of Leeds Heritage Theatres, it holds the Guinness World Record for Britain’s longest-running music hall, and has established an unrivalled reputation for presenting the very best in live music, variety and comedy, as well as hugely popular annual pantomimes which have entertained families for generations. The venue recently decided to upgrade its in-house lighting rig and approached White Light (WL) to supply the fixtures.
Dave Greaves, Technical Manager, alongside Senior Technician Sean Webster, oversaw the lighting upgrade. Dave comments: “Previously, the set-up was quite outdated, consisting of older par cans, fresnels, Source Fours and a control desk. With technology evolving so quickly over the past few years, and with it the scale and ambition of the shows we host, we soon realised that our previous rig was not suitable; essentially only offering basic colour washes with a general cover on top. As a music hall, City Varieties must cater to a plethora of different shows, from live comedians to ballets to the annual pantomime; so we needed a lighting set-up that could satisfy the needs of each of these.
He adds: “Similarly, we wanted to be more resourceful and have a set-up that would impress incoming designers, reducing the need for us to constantly hire in equipment. We also wanted to show our commitment to sustainability and have a range of fixtures that would save us energy and be more environmentally friendly”.
Knowing what they wanted their rig to achieve, Dave and Sean reached out to WL’s Jonathan Haynes who performed a series of demonstrations and suggested which fixtures to invest in. Jonathan explains: “The actual stage at City Varieties is quite intimate, measuring 7m x 4m. There can be weeks where there’s a different show in every single night so this rig really needed to be as flexible and all-encompassing as possible – ensuring that each show is technically able to achieve its full potential”.
Following the demonstrations and discussions, the venue decided to invest in 9 x Aryton Diablo S moving head profiles, 4 x Martin MAC Aura XB, 4 x High End Sola Pix 7, 8 x ETC Lustr Series 3 with 14 deg lenses, 12 x ETC ColorSource Spot Deep Blue, 14 x Martin ELP Par and 12 x Astera AX2 PixelBars, all controlled off an ETC Apex 5 console. Dave explains: “We invested in the Diablos as their size and attributes are perfect for the space, whilst the ELP Par offers us the levels of zoom and calibration required. The ColorSource fixtures work great for specials, cross light and gives designers just a few more options. The Aura XBs were drawn on to replace the par cans positioned front-of-house whereas the Lustrs will be predominately used for face light and definition. The SolaPix 7s will be used for a ‘party-effect’ backlight (replacing the previous back bar of par cans and fresnels) whereas the AX2 will be used for cloth lighting around the stage area”.
The fixtures provided by WL were installed in the venue just in time for their 2022 pantomime season and have made an immediate impact. Sean explains: “The difference is genuinely incredible. With the old rig, we sometimes struggled to meet the needs of the performances but now we can achieve this and so much more! We’ve had some brilliant feedback from visiting parties and, given the potential of the kit, what we offer can only improve over time, as we develop our own skillset and use the fixtures to their full potential. The new equipment has also really helped with the training of our team and having such state-of-the-art technology means we can really help develop the careers of the staff!”.
Overseeing the upgrade of the new lighting rig at Leeds City Varieties is another example of WL working with regional theatres, ensuring their buildings have the equipment to fulfil their artistic, budgetary and environmental needs.
Jonathan concludes: “It was a delight to work with Dave and Sean and the whole team in Leeds. City Varieties is such an incredible, historic venue that is really brought to life with these new fixtures and we’re delighted to hear how brilliantly they’ve already been received by those visiting and working within the venue”.
Photos courtesy of Ant Robling and Sean Webster.