In QEH’s recent production of Macbeth the tech crew took on the challenge of making it rain on stage during the show.
The desire to do something really special with this production had been there from its inception—this was the first production in the history of the QEH Theatre to be staged in the round, with an extra bank of seats added ‘upstage’1. For this bank of seats, we moved the uppermost rows from the three existing banks of seating onto Litedeck at two levels, with a row of seating at stage level in front of the decking.
Many different ideas were floated for creating the rain effect, but the system we eventually implemented was deceptively simple and incredibly low-budget.
The core of our system was a Clarke clean-water submersible pump. Water storage was achieved with an IKEA TROFAST storage box (yes, really…) which could hold about 40 L. Test runs showed the despite a nominally high flow rating on the pump, we could comfortably produce over two minutes of rain using about half of the water in the box. It was raised ~1.75 m above stage level after testing, in order that the water could be at as high a pressure as possible when reaching the head in the rig, over 5 m above the stage.
We ended up using little more than standard garden hosepipe and Hozelock-style connectors to get water to the head—all from Wilko, and purely because it’s about 3 minutes’ walk away from the Theatre (did I tell you this was low-budget?). We experimented with both nozzle and spray-gun sources, settling on the spray gun for its better control over the spread of water on the stage.
We didn’t bother (almost). The one concession made was a section of lino, about 1.5 × 1.5 m, which was painted over with the rest of the stage. Whether this did more to protect the wooden floor or to stop the actors slipping I can’t say.2
What could have been…
There were a number of ideas which, sadly, didn’t get realised and which could be of use to someone planning a similar effect.
- Bathtub: Yes. For real. I found a lovely roll-top bath on Gumtree for £20. The idea of plumbing its shower head for Lady Macbeth’s washing scene was floated too!
- Water tanks: I did a fair bit of research into different tank options, from IBCs that could be kept uncovered for an industrial aesthetic (perhaps lit from within with an IP-rated fixture!) to low loft tanks that could be incorporated into set pieces.
- DMX control: I suggested a DMX Relay from Ulrich Radig but in the end Russ switched the pump manually.
- Pond liner: We had considered covering the entire stage in waterproof pond liner to allow for a more dramatic water effect. The prohibitive cost of pond liner and a desire not to overdo the water meant that we settled for a more measured effect.
In the end, although I had championed a more flashy setup, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the drama of the effect we ended up creating. Whilst it may have been somewhat upstaged by the staging in the round, I’ve no doubt that we’ll experiment further with rain in the future.
- although, of course, this term has little meaning when in the round, but that’s a topic for another debate… ↩
- Interesting tidbit: Once we’d perfected a system giving us the maximum pressure at the head (sadly after the photos were taken) we discovered on the next test run that the (much larger) puddle of water on the stage ran upstage. All my years of drama and technical theatre education were blown away at that instant—it was as though all I’d held dear was crumbling around me. Although it might seem that this could endanger the toes of audience members on the front row of the temporary bank of seats, in the end the clothes of the actors absorbed such a significant amount of water that they were never in danger of getting soggy feet. ↩