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2008/90/1 Theatre spotlight, carbon arc type, Strand Pattern 501, and power supply unit, metal / paint / plastic / wood, made by Strand Electric, London, England, 1946-1960, used at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1946-1995. Click to enlarge.

Spotlight used at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney

Made in London, Greater London, England, United Kingdom, Europe, 1946-1960.
The design and operation of an often complex array of theatre lights has a great impact on how the audience experiences a live show. A combination of fixed and moving lights, directed at the stage from different angles, must effectively light the set to create the intended ambience as well as lighting the actors to focus audience attention as the director or choreographer intends.

This spotlight would have played an important role in various productions, providing brighter illumination of selected actors and following them as they moved about the stage. It would have been used by skilled operators, who had to manage its many functions simultaneously.

The carbon arc light was the first type of electric lamp; it was very bright and so was used mainly for lighting public spaces. It also found niche applications such as lighthouses and blueprint machines; for stage lighting, it began to replace dim oil and gas lights and bright but dangerous limelight in the late 1870s. In the 1950s, the carbon arc spotlight began to be superseded by safer and more convenient xenon arc lights.

Most likely, this spotlight was used in several venues during its working life. As a high-cost item that was not in constant use at any one venue, it could have been hired out or sold on from owner to owner to reduce the capital outlay needed for stage shows, which are often risky ventures.

The spotlight represents certain stages in the history of Sydney's Capitol Theatre. A theatre first opened on its Haymarket site in 1916; named the Hippodrome, it featured a tank for aquatic shows that could be covered by a hydraulically-operated platform when a regular stage show was planned. The building was owned by Sydney City Council and leased at first to Wirth Bros Circus, which could not run it profitably and had it converted to an 'atmospheric theatre'. Thus the Capitol Theatre came into being in 1928, showing movies supplemented by live acts; it featured elaborate decoration and lighting that created the effect of a Florentine garden.

The theatre's fortunes were affected by the Great Depression. The live acts disappeared from its programs, and it showed films sporadically. In 1945 some of its decorative features were removed, and more were stripped out in 1972, when the theatre was made ready for the successful live show Jesus Christ Superstar. The theatre again languished in the 1980s and was in danger of being demolished, but public opinion, influenced by the recent loss of the Regent Theatre, turned in favour of saving it. Council agreed and approved its restoration, this time to a lyric theatre. Many elements of the Florentine garden were recreated, and it was at this time that the spotlight was offered to the Museum, a fitting reminder of the importance of lighting in creating the magic of the theatre.


Strand "Sunspot" mirror arc lantern specification, Strand Electric, undated.

Strand Archive website.

J S Kerr, 'The Haymarket and the Capitol', National Trust, NSW, 1990.

L Murray, 'The Capitol Theatre restoration', City of Sydney , 2003.

Debbie Rudder
Curator, Engineering and Design,
January 2008


Object No.


Object Statement

Theatre spotlight, carbon arc type, Strand Pattern 501, and power supply unit, metal / paint / plastic / wood, made by Strand Electric, London, England, 1946-1960, used at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1946-1995

Physical Description

Theatre spotlight, carbon arc type, Strand Pattern 501 Sunspot, and power supply unit, metal / paint / plastic / wood, made by Strand Electric, London, England, 1946-1960, used at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1946-1995

The barn door style sheetmetal lamp housing, focusing apparatus and electrical connection box are mounted on a heavy telescopic tripod stand. Inside the housing is a mechanism, operated via external handwheels, for maintaining optimum separation of the two carbon rods between which the arc of light is produced when in use. A (missing) mirror inside the housing reflects the light forward. In front of the housing is a metal tube through which the light passes, reaching first a glass heat shield, then an iris diaphragm for shaping the beam, a (missing) lens for focusing, and a magazine holding red, blue and amber gels and two empty gel frames. Manual controls are attached for changing the focus and beam angle. There were no carbon rods in the lamp at the time of acquisition. Most metal parts are painted black.

The separate heavy duty inductive power supply, with power factor correction, is housed in a metal box with electrical connectors, ammeter with 1-120 scale AC or DC, two fuses, switch, red indicator light, air vents and carry handles. A three-pin plug connected it to the mains supply, from which it drew 20 amps. It supplied power to the lamp via the electrical connector box attached to the tripod stand.


On the back of the lamp: 'Strand Electric Sunspot Arc Pattern No 501'.

Below the lens holder: a scale marked from 1 to 8 and the words 'Sunspot Arc serial no 3229.12'.

On base: Grace Bros Removals sticker with handwritten 'Canberra Theatre 2'.

On the power supply unit: a large white handpainted '1' near the ammeter; label 'lamphouse and inductor pilots' below the fuses; and handwritten instructions with circuit diagram and 'Strand Electric London'.



The Strand Electric company was established in London's theatre district in 1914. Its manufacturing operation moved from Covent Garden to Gunnersbury, also in London, in 1932. It began making the Pattern 501 spotlight at Gunnersbury around 1946.

In use, electricity would flow to the carbon rods and across the gap between them, where a bright arc of light would form. The operator would need to constantly check the gap between the carbon rods as the carbon vaporised; the arc would disappear if the gap thus opened up became too large. The operator would focus the arc light, select the size, shape and colour of the spot thrown on the stage using the other controls, and highlight the changing action on stage by panning and tilting to follow an actor or actors. Colour was selected by swinging the appropriate gel in front of the light beam.



The spotlight was used at the Capitol Theatre on George Street in Sydney's Haymarket. It was removed during major renovations in 1995 and donated to the Museum.

The removalist's sticker suggests that the spotlight was used in Canberra at some stage, perhaps at the Canberra Theatre Centre, which opened in 1965 and had Strand equipment and two main theatres (hence the designation 'Theatre 2' on the sticker fits). The black finish of the spotlight tells us that it would not have been purchased new in 1965 for the Canberra theatre, as by 1960 the Pattern 501 was being painted grey rather than black.


Credit Line

Gift of Sydney City Council, 2008

Acquisition Date

8 May 2008

Cite this Object


Spotlight used at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 12 August 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Spotlight used at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=12 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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