10 Oct 2018

Beams and balls: lighting protest at Sydney Opera House

Dubbed the ‘Anonymous Lighting Warriors’, two stage lighting professionals took on the challenge and used five Chauvet Rogue R2 Beam light cannons to disrupt a controversial projection promotion of a horse race on the sails of the Sydney Opera House Tuesday 9 October.

Over 1,000 protestors crowded under the iconic white sails of the venue, shining LED torches up at the projections which were promoting the barrier draw of the Everest, dubbed ‘Australia’s richest race’. With a large bank of Barco’s finest projectors lined up 430 metres across Circular Quay at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, the power of the projections was hard to diminish.

Announcement of the 20 minute projection unleashed a furore with nearly a quarter of a million people signing a petition against using the Opera House for this purpose. The groundswell started when leading Sydney radio ‘shock jock’ Alan Jones berated – some say bullied – the female manager of the Opera House on air and told her he would call the NSW Premier and demand she be ‘sacked’ unless she agreed to the projection. The segment galvanised many when the NSW Premier then announced the projection would proceed as it appeared the shock jock was calling the shots.


A protest was arranged to attempt to ‘disrupt’ the projections using torches and the ALIA lighting website called on professionals to unleash some firepower. Two young Anonymous Lighting Warriors (ALW) rose to that challenge and hustled up ten Chauvet Rogue R2 Beams, arranging five on each side of a truck tray with a generator in the middle.

Swaddled in a tarp, they drove to the hill beside the southern pylon on the harbour bridge, surprised at the lack of Police presence. The NSW Police were out in force closer to the Opera House, and in the protest crowd. As the projections started up, 20 minutes earlier than scheduled, a chorus of booing erupted, with chanting and a lot of torches unleashed at the barrier numbers.

The ALW pair cranked up the generator and the five Rogue R2’s on the side facing the Opera House, and unleashed what we believe to the first lighting protest of this kind. The result was clearly wiping out the barrier numbers, which were the central theme in the promotion. This TV segment shows the result.

White sail wipeout – Chauvet -v- Barco

With the scent of victory, the protestors, described by the Murdoch tabloids as an ’embarrassing rabble’, cheered. Police in the crowd loudly and firmly demanded individuals, including one child aged under ten that we saw, turn OFF their torches.

After a few minutes, the Police zeroed in on the ALW guys with two uniformed officers running up the hill to demand the Chauvet’s be turned off. ALW 1 told them he would comply, and lamp them down, as the officer moved to switch off the generator. Sense prevailed, and the units were lamped down. Then ALW 1 and ALW 2 were cautioned, their details taken, and they were issued with an exclusion order to prevent them repeating their ‘stunt’.

Talking to them afterwards, at a pub event hosted by ALIA and CX Magazine (which supported the protest against the projections), they said they were very nervous about doing something that was potentially illegal (and unable to identify what law – if any – they were about to break) but were driven by a sense of outrage that the NSW Government is more interested in sport than the arts, and over a set of licensing law changes called ‘Lockout Laws’ that have crippled Sydney’s nightclubs and venues over the past three years leading to many closing down.

The media formed into pro and anti protest camps, with Alan Jones taking to Murdoch’s Sky News to denounce the protestors, while most other (non Murdoch) media generally reported the protest as having had some effect. For its part, the Everest promoters edited their video of the Sydney Opera House projection with segments run prior and post the protest, to get their global promotion of the barrier draw.

As to the company doing the projections, the general industry view is that a gig is a gig, and the crew and firm should be left alone to do their professional work. One of the two firms that are equipped to do this complex projection project distanced themselves. “Since the announcement that The Everest race promotional projections are to go ahead on the Sydney Opera House, The Electric Canvas has had several enquiries regarding this activity. We want to be clear that we have no involvement in this projection. The Electric Canvas is regularly asked to project onto the Opera House sails and other heritage landmarks, but we have always respected and supported the judgement and decisions made by those charged with guardianship of these landmarks, no matter what the commercial pressures.”

The race runs on Saturday October 13 at Royal Randwick and is expected to be a sellout.


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