Oklahoma! 2006

Any production can take place without lighting, sound, set and special effects. Most of the time nasty stage crew get ignored by the ‘thespians’, but as anybody who has had much to do with theatre will agree the hard work that goes on behind the scenes is what adds the final touch of magic to any production.

The Equipment

As we are only an amateur group the resources are somewhat limited and paying thousands of pounds for special effects is not practical, we therefore have to make the most of the resources available, which requires constant new ideas, things to try and effects to achieve from nothing.

OK this is where it starts getting technical so please feel free to fall asleep!

The standard desk we use is a Zero88 fat frog, 48 channel. Over time we have built up a reasonable set of lights. Complemented by the schools equipment we have 30 – 40 lights, mostly Fresnels & Floods with a handful of Profiles to assist.
We have our own Selecon Pacific Follow spot, and regularly hire additional profiles for gobos and various other special effects units. We own 5 Techpro headsets so do have a link to backstage for that often needed ‘Help, pack 3 has tripped out’.

Below are listed a few of the solutions we have come up with to create an impressive scene or effect at minimal cost. There are hundreds of ways most of these can be achieved I am sure; this is how we did it! If you have any more ideas on these or anything else please contact me!

The Wizard of Oz
When putting on this production the one thing that jumped to mind as being the thing to focus on was ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Using 6 650W Fresnels aimed straight down equally spaced over the stage we were able to bring up a rainbow during the second verse of the song as the chorus members entered, the first verse just being Dorothy lit by a followspot.

Back Drop
Without the large gods area above the stage, or room to backlight like professional theatres, lighting a backdrop is hard work. The obvious choice of light is floods, but being able to position enough to not only fully light the top of the backcloths but also the bottom is a challenge. The most successful way we have achieved this is suspending 6 floods just above the back cloths (unfortunately as high as we can get them) and then another 6 at ground level, hidden by a raised platform along the back of the stage. With so many lights we were able to achieve many different colour washes. This was then complimented by a Jem Technohaze located in the middle of the ground row, keeping a mist in the air throughout the performance.

Moving Light
Well if this is a hobby for you like it is for me, these are probably one of the best toys you can hire!
It is worth downloading the manual to fully understand the control methods, daisy chaining etc but once you have them linked up to the dmx output from a lighting desk the only limit is your imagination.
These always take time to get right, and is certainly something we don't try to do during the tech rehearsal!
They are a lot more effective when using through haze, and even small venues can make good use of floor standing heads.

The great fire of London was required for one of our productions. The backcloth was a good London scene, which helped. The main stage was successfully ‘put on fire’ using a Rosco animation disk mounted 10’ from the stage. To further assist with the effect a low level chase sequence was set up covering the area the cast ran through.

Projectors are fairly common these days, but can certainly add something to a performance. We have projected both simple Power point slide shows and more complex videos. An amusing time was had by all shooting a sword fight between Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham through various landmarks around the local village. This was then played back during the show.

Low Smoke
Low smoke is a very good addition to a scene, providing an excellent graveyard, deep forest, murky moor land or similar feel, To avoid the dangerous aspects of CO2 we have recently used the Antari low smoke machine, which has a compartment on the front which you fill with ice, chilling the smoke to keep it at low level. By filling the stage with low smoke and then washing it with side lights of various strong colour a very effective atmosphere can be created.

Trouble in Pantoland 2011

There are many ways of doing ‘ghosts’, peppers ghost and similar is detailed in many books, but usually involves large stages, glass & other things which are not practical for amateur groups. One way we have overcome this is using 2 followspots, converting a simple costume into a realistic ghost by focusing tightly on the actor and then pulsing both followspots. Another simple way of creating a ghost is through the use of UV lights and actors wearing costumes which glow under uv, or painted suitably with UV paint. Fluorescent tubes are available but tend to be a bit underpowered, making a UV gun a better option!

Getting lightning right is always difficult, just using flash buttons tends to just look like the lights are flickering. Strobes can make good lightning, although I have found these are often washed out by the main stage lights (really depends what the mood on stage is at the time).
The most effective way I have found of producing lightning is by setting up a random chase sequence on the lighting desk. By not changing the levels of the main stage lights much, but just using well placed lights in a random sequence a realistic effect can be obtained. Obviously including sound effects helps!

Back lighting
With a reasonable size rig you are more than likely to have back lights for complimenting your wash, but some great effects can be achieved by just using the back lights, putting the cast into shadow. The picture at the top of this page shows the end of the ballet sequence from Okalhoma!, which was backlit brightly through low smoke and created a fantastic ending to the scene.