Help! Pop-up tree rigged from below?


So, I could use some help. I'm designing the set for a production of Hamlet and seem to have promised a magical pop-up willow tree for the staging of Ophelia's death (she descends through a trap door). The tree will be just a trunk and one branch, so the branch ends up cantilevered. I'm thinking it will be lauan facing backed by a pvc channel of descending widths (so the trunk is the widest, then the next segment inserts into it, then the final "branch" inserts into that) with epoxied stops so things can snap into place. The question is the rigging. The segments of the tree will be lying flat on the stage previous to the scene (concealed; it's a bi-level stage with a handrail in front of the location for the tree storage), and then at the right moment someone will pull a cable from below and the tree should "rise" into place. (How it comes down is another question. ) The cable can run through the pvc channel so it forms the "spine" of the tree... I just don't know how to rig it so it will work.

Constraints: the tree will be on the 2nd story of an outdoor theatre with no roof, so everything has to happen from below.

Any advice much appreciated!
First thought is I would add strong magnets inside the PVC and a second rope to do a lift with the top rope and pull with the second rope off the backside of the second story. The magnets will hold it all together til it lands then reset it after the show.

Second thought is to go with a fabric trunk and your branch comes off the top of the rig and rig it like a Chinese lantern. It could then stay there and just be dropped back down onto itself.

Also you are saying outside no roof, so what do you have for pick points or is that what your biggest constraint is?
Magnets to keep the pieces together as they descend is a great idea, thanks! For the rest of it...

So, this is the stage I'm working on. Trapdoor is at the top of the center stairs. 2nd level (where the handrail is) is about 15' deep before you hit those posts in the back. People enter and exit on the 2nd level from SR, SL, and USC.


The tree wants to hide behind the SL hand rail (which will be covered & opaque) and then "pop-up" at the edge where the SL rail meets the center stairs, with the branch extending out SR over the trap. The only way I can think to rig it is 100% from below: go down through the planking of the floor on the 2nd level and have someone operating it in that hallway space you can see below (usually has a front wall, in this pic the wall panels have been removed).

It's possible I should just let this go and have some people carry the tree into place. But it would be cooler if it just happened without (too much) visible human intervention.
Last edited:
Covered and opaque? Is the handrail high enough to conceal someone crawling in to pop the tree up? Might need to be your burliest stagehand to get the leverage, but does it have to be rigged? Unless I’m being dense and missing something important (wouldn’t be the first time) …
You know, I might just have gotten stuck on a previous iteration of this idea that was going to unfold up out of the trap door (it can't, there isn't room) and not have moved on. You m ay be right. It might just be time to have stagehands set the tree and be done with it...
Is an inflatable a possibility? The other thing that came to mind is a structure based on those animal toys that collapse when a spring on the bottom is depressed. Pressing the spring loosens the string that keeps tension on the "beads". You wouldn't need the spring, just someone below the deck taking up the slack.
Last edited:
Thanks everyone who commented! In the end I went with a stagehand who walks onstage and pivots the tree into an upright position, then pulls & secures a rope that extends its two "branches." It's a little clunkier than would be ideal, but it's also outdoor community theatre, so it fits right in.

Users who are viewing this thread