Drowning on stage


Anyone have any ideas on how I can show two actors drowning on stage?

Basically, they're on a bridge over a swollen river, and the river swells and they get swept away.

Very tricky.

[my companys looking into doing a stage version of "The Buffalo Soldiers"]

Any help appreciated.


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In my experience as a lifeguard at swimming pools, when someone is drowning they look like they're climbing a ladder (albeit unsucessfully). So, you could have a wave effect on the stage, and simply recess a pair of ladders in the stage, and have them climb up and down them, arms flailing and clawing at the water.

Recently, I watched a film called The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen by Terry Gilliam (of Monthy Python fame). In one of the opening scenes, a theater company uses a device resembling an elongated corkscrew running across the stage, which was spun, and it looked like waves undulating across the stage. Obviously, this isn't the most realistic depiction, but it looked really good in the film. The movie might be worth a watch, just to get an idea of what I'm saying (and even if you hate my idea, it's a really good movie, so it's not time wasted).


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Last year at the connecticut drama festival one of the shows(i cannot remember the name) was set on the beach. they had tech crew sitting ont hefloor in front of the stage with a blue fabric...and they were under it the whole time doing "waves" it look really good, calming...yuo could do something similar to that only on a lot bigger more dramatic scale.


When I saw Les Mis (touring) they had a drowning scene, which was Javert's sucide, in which he jumped off a bridge. In stead of him falling from say 20 feet up, the whole scene was on the ground and the bridge was flown up behind him. For the most part is was realistic except that the water looked extreamly fake (gobo animation from an intelligent light (too far away to tell which kind)).



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yes,yes that is how we did the suicide too! the bridge goes up as if Javert is falling!


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Where is JoJo when we need him, this is right up his alley. My best guess would be some lighting promoting a horizontal line of blue and white as coordinated with a huge output of fog sent waffling up stage or to one direction of the stage by way of powerful squirrel fans. Dim all lighting below the fog, do your best with keeping the talent visible while at the same time doing the above the fog lighting dimming, and you have a wave of water. Last obstacle is the talent.

After this, perhaps something done on the floor that sort of waves up when hit with a powerful enough fan. Some sort of white/blue fabric that can be blown by a big wind at it’s start and will pull up the folded slack in it off stage sufficient to make a wave. Gonna need a large fan however. This in addition to fog, lighting and talent. Talent being the primary thing.

Hope it’s helpful.

P.S. a good moving light or double gobo pattern rotator, much less a ripple machine specialize in this moving effect. Such effect when helping will help. As for being a sole solution, don’t know, never tried it alone but I would expect not.
we've decided to use a combination of smoke being blown from op by fans, with a bright blue ripple effect on the smoke

the "talent" is being lit from below by small parcans installed on the bridge.

whats also confusing is that we now have a third "talent" running from the bridge to downstage where theres going to be a bit of a monologue

thanks guys.

dry ice fog!

we've been having this problem where the smoke I talked about from the fans on OP is just going everywhere and is really uncontrolled.

so use dry ice fog...

sheez... i feel like a moron...


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I had LOTs of fun the other day making a cooler for my fog machine. We cant afford dry ice, so I too an old piece of ductwork and lined the inside with a styrofoam type insullation. I then put several gallon zipploc bags (well sealed) full of ice inside. I ductaped over the top half of the exit end (the duct was lieing down on the ground) so only the coldest air on the bottom of the shaft would come out. At the other end I put my smoke machine, and two computer cooling fans blowing into the shaft (with a few stratigic pieces of ductape to keep air and smoke from comming out the wrong end). (I took an old AC to DC power supply from an old CD player or something like that that was the same voltage and amperage as the fans I needed and used that to spin the fans, although i just as easly could have used a 9V battery.

This created a very cool looking layer of fog that stayed fairly low for a little while anyway. The longer the fog was out of the tube, the more it warmed up and floated up. It was not too hard to build and might work well. (it certainly can provide alot more volume of fog then I have ever been able to get out of Dry ice) There are plenty of websites on the internet that will show you how to make something similar with a cooler, (i didnt have cooler to cut up, so i made my own :) ) just do a google search for "fog machine cooler" or something like that (no ""s in the search) Have fun!


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Premium Member
Good work Peter - there are also comercial ones available which use normal ice as well, for those of you who either can't or don't want to make one.

Unfortunately, I cannot recall the manufacturer but I am sure the Google search should turn up some results. From what I have heard, they are quite effective and reasonably priced.


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If you have funds for access to a cold flow system (i.e., nitrogen cooling system) get it. The fog will say down for much longer than dry ice. The Effects Company makes a really good system that is either all in one or they also sell an adaptor for an F-100.


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Ya, in my searches arround the internet I found a good number of profesional coolers, but like just about everything else they are way above my budget! (I couldnt afford a real cooler even :) I had to make my own from junk I found in my shed! :) )

I have no doubt that these systems work well, but it is fun to make your own stuff too! I get to use it again this friday for a Middle School haloween concert. If someone's little sibling is there, I'll give them my camera and have them take some pictures. After that, on Nov 19th we are doing a one act play (cant remember the name now) where at the very end, two ghosts walk in through a window from a foggy outside. I'll have to see what I end up doing for this, but I am thinking that it is going to involve alot of well directed fog and a projector shooting an image through the fog. We'll see how it goes as I get closer to that date.


Something different

In a production of Les Mis I just wrapped the bridge was flown up as posted earlier but to get Javert off stage a strip of heavy fabric was run from stage right to a motorized spool stage left, when Javert fell to his knees the motor reved up and he fell and rolled to stage right against the pull of the motor. The result was him doing what looked remarkably like fighting against a current at centre stage until he grabsbed onto the curtain and got pulled off stage.


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avkid said:
yes,yes that is how we did the suicide too! the bridge goes up as if Javert is falling!

we did it with him actualy falling/jumping about 6-8 ft onto a gymnastics mat behind the bridge (no fly system)

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