Robe Shines on in Edinburgh

Robe iPointe fixtures illuminate My Light Shines On in Edinburgh.

Inspired by the lyrics of Primal Scream’s Movin on Up – My Light Shines On was a stunning large-scale light art installation designed by Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes from Lightworks, commissioned by Edinburgh International Festival – to mark what would have been the opening weekend of Edinburgh’s 2020 festival season.

Celebrating the spirit, energy, vibe and imagination of the festival – with a multi-disciplinary programme and was cancelled for the first time in seven decades due to the COVID-19 pandemic – 14 lighting installations around the city highlighted famous venues across the city in August.

217 Robe iPointes were selected by the artists as core components to My Light Shines On. Four signature sites – Edinburgh Castle, Calton Hill, Bristo Square and Charlotte Square – featured identical circular iPointe installations, with 36 fixtures arranged on decking in two concentric rings, 12 units on the inner ring and 24 on the outer.

Lighting Designers, Kate Bonney and Simon Hayes were inspired by the tradition of ghost lights, a single light that is always left illuminated in theatres. It is a symbol that, though the stage is empty for now, the building will be filled with laughter, tears and applause once again.

These four, plus three other beacons – on the top of the Festival Theatre which boasted 35 iPointes arranged in two rows, 9 iPointes on the Queen’s Hall and another collection of moving lights on the Usher Hall – were the seven largest and most visible elements of My Light Shines On.

The full work also included lighting of stage doors with festoons and collections of ‘ghost lights’ running in theatre foyers with around 284 LED fixtures deployed across 14 sites. Coordinating amassing and displaying all the lighting equipment was Edinburgh International Festival’s Head of Lighting, Dan Quayle, who worked closely with Calder Sibbald and James Gow of Edinburgh-based rental company Black Light, while Robb, the International Festival’s Head of Technical oversaw the operation including planning, logistics and crew, ensuring that everything was delivered to the full COVID-19 compliance requirements.

Edinburgh International Festival approached Edinburgh-based Bonney and Hayes – who have worked together as Lightworks since 2013 – with a list of sites that they wanted to include in the design. “Their basic brief was that the design had to have impact and also represent each of the city’s different August festivals in addition to being an exciting city-wide spectacle of light,” explained Bonney. “Capturing the mood of the moment was a delicate and demanding task. It was essentially a celebration, but at a very sensitive time and a time when live entertainment is one of the sectors that is completely halted by the pandemic.”

“Plotting the lighting choreography for the beacons was also a challenge,” elucidated Hayes. “We are looking forward to a time when live performances and the Festival will return to engage, entertain end enthral audiences.”

This further evolved into multiple phrases and phases of choreography with a lively effervescence in “both a structured, precise way with messy spontaneity”, the result was 10 minutes of fluid geometric streams of movement based on light beams – from fans to helixes, curves, triangles – programmed by Neil McDowell Smith.

At the shootout – coordinated by Edinburgh International Festival’s Calder Sibbald and Callum Howie – with Quayle stuck in lockdown in New Zealand at this stage – the iPointes were chosen as one of two moving light options for their brightness and availability, together with the Robe reputation for reliability which underlined everyone’s confidence.

Bonney and Hayes required waterproof fixtures. It was the first time that Lightworks – known for Pitlochry’s award-winning Enchanted Forest visual design among other diverse works – had worked with the Robe iPointe, but they were suitably impressed.

In addition to Edinburgh Castle’s 36 beacon Rove iPointes, another 17 fixtures were ensconced on the castle battlements, run via a wireless DMX connection sent to a receiver at the base stage below on the Esplanade. The wifi at Calton Hill was also provided from the Castle’s wired internet connection as there was a direct line-of-sight between the city’s two high points.

The beacon lights were programmed and run on an MA Lighting grandMA consoles – with nine dotted around the sites, all independently running to the same timecoded showfile. All the sites had internet access and were networked, so any updates from ‘base’ control at the Castle could be sent to all control consoles simultaneously, which was very time efficient and enabled updates to be sent to all sites from anywhere via Neil’s laptop or phone.

The get-in for all sites started on 28 July to be ready for a 6 August rehearsal night, with three teams doing the installations and one prepping team led by Quayle’s Deputy, John Campbell. The most logistically galvanising aspect of the project was ensuring COVID-19 relevant safety regulations were met which included social distancing and crews working and being allocated in bubbles and, within these, in pairs or ‘cohorts’ for the closer proximity work.

Quayle’s core team of 12 were joined by 10 casuals, all freelancers from local theatres like the Kings, Festival & Lyceum all working in cohorts. Drivers received the kit from the International Festival’s central warehouse to each site worked as an extension of the prep team bubble, and flight cases all had to be fully cleaned and sanitised before they could be touched by the next bubble.

“Normally festival planning would start ramping up in May and around mid-June the designers get involved”, explained John Robb. “My Light Shines On was pulled together in just four weeks.”

In addition to the 265 moving lights used for the My Light Shines On beacons, another 480 generic and LED luminaires were used across all the sites to highlight some related monuments and structures and environmental detail like the trees in Charlotte Square. Additional architectural lighting was provided for the National Monument of Scotland on Calton Hill and the Castle had its standard permanent installation enhanced along with that of the other venues.

Several local companies worked on the project including Black Light and Direct Control who dealt with all the power and distribution. Black Light also collaborated with Hawthorn, one of the main Edinburgh International Festival and Edinburgh Festival Fringe suppliers. “We were all delighted to be back working,” stated Robb.