The Capitol Theatre in Melbourne is an iconic performance venue located on Swanson Street. Its interior design is extravagant, created by renowned architects Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin. The ceiling is particularly notable, with intricately moulded plaster designed to conjure up images of a crystalline cave. Having opened in 1924 and facing the threat of demolition in the early 1960s, the theatre remained open to the public until 2014. At this time, it fell into disrepair and was no longer a usable space.

RMIT University purchased The Capitol in 1999 for use as a lecture theatre, and in 2017 began an appeal to raise funds to revitalise the dilapidated, yet historic building. With a full refurbishment required, and lighting considered an important element of the project, a number of products from lighting controls specialist Pharos Architectural Controls were specified by lighting control solutions provider Lightmoves, a member of the wider project team.

The ceiling was previously lit with coloured lightbulbs, so the colour was static. The refurbishment replaced these with energy efficient LED battens providing unlimited colour and dynamic effects. The new lighting control also supports the theatre’s aim of becoming a space for RMIT students to study and learn about theatre, lighting, films and event production. It’s here that the Pharos solution really comes into its own, working in harmony with a range of LED luminaires to teach future generations of theatre professionals the skills they’ll need.

A Pharos Designer LPC 1 (Lighting Playback Controller 1), and two Designer TPS (Touch Panel Station) interfaces are now being used to light the Capitol Theatre’s famous ceiling. The TPS gives easy control of playback selection and lighting levels, allowing users to seamlessly transition between scenes, timelines, effects and pixel-mapped media. It works in harmony with the LPC 1, which features 512 channels of DMX/eDMX, ideal for offering the fully customisable pre-programmed lighting effects that venues need to bring performances and experiences to life.

The lighting control solution was also intended to support the development of RMIT students’ technical abilities. RMIT’s students have been trained to use Pharos Designer software to programme new scenes and timelines for the roof lighting.

There is excellent integration between the various technologies at the venue. Triggers on the LPC synchronise the ceiling lighting with the audio and digital projection systems. An eDMX pass-through allows the LPC to pass lighting data directly from a theatrical lighting desk, and the LPC also interfaces with the venue’s AV systems and Dynalite controlled house lighting system.

Tony Symms, Regional Sales Manager for Asia Pacific, at Pharos Architectural Controls said: “The ceiling at the Capitol Theatre is an impressive sight. It is incredibly positive that this historic venue has been saved from demolition and put back into good use. Our technologies are always an excellent choice for making the most of unique features such as the Capitol Theatre ceiling but it’s also great to know that our solutions are being used to train and educate future lighting designers, engineers, and other industry professionals of the future.”

Braham Ciddor, Managing Director from Lightmoves added: “The Capitol Theatre has been through many reinventions, and it is wonderful to see it finally returned to its former glory. Lightmoves is delighted to have been an integral part of the most recent renovations. Pharos was the best partner for this project to illuminate the ceiling, offering high-tech yet easy to use controls that showcase the architecture while also being ideal for education purposes.”

The transformation of the lighting for the refurbished Capitol Theatre ensures the venue has kept true to its original look and ambience; but now enhanced through state-of-the-art lighting control. As a venue that will be used for entertainment and education, thanks to all of the project partners, the Capitol Theatre is once again an important part of Melbourne culture.

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