Water World Onstage


Benevolent Dictator
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One of my friends has written an interesting comedy(that's like, 2 hours long) that centers around two guys stranded on a tiny island (far side style) and he has an interesting idea for a set/special fx.

He wants to basically have the entire stage floor covered in a 1' (that's right, a foot) of water with a clear wall so the audience can see into the water. The "tank" has to be 35' wide and 30' long and has to have 1' of water in it, the walls have to be at least 1' 6" to keep the water in.

Oh, and at the back of the tank, it has to make a T shape and go back into the wings of the theater so that stuff can be "floated" out to them, also in a "ACME/Far Side" style.

It is a HUGE undertaking and while it probably won't actually be onstage till christmas time, I'd love to have a design materials list all ready to go as well as the techniques we will use to fabricate it.

Oh, the island in the middle will be actual sand, and the challenge with that is how to not make the water muddy.. I was thinking a super fine mesh to wrap around the sand to hold it in it's intended shape, but I don't know if that would work.

Ohter challenges include how to mic the actors and not pick up the water, how to make it smell like the ocean, how to light the tank, etc...

This will probably be the coolest thing that I''ve ever worked on and I just want to get a head start (ok, ok.. a HUGE head start on the process)
This question was thoroughly gone thru about a month ago on Stagecraft by some highly toted experts that spent a lot of time debating the engineering and other things on the pool on stage concept. You might start by looking into past topics. The main points were on the actual weight distributed about, drainage, heating etc. It also had some ideas about making it even more shallow than you idea where not needed. Say a few inches deep with a black poly under it.

As for the island, which wasn't really covered, you could lay something under the water tarp to raise it up but be water tight, than add sand, or I might look into a large block - 4'x4'x6' of foam and shape/attach it together to make up your island. If it's the yellow extruded foam type, it will react very similar to sand on a beach when walked on in showing foot prints and stuff, than you could add some sand where needed to throw about. If the water's that shallow it's weight would probably be too much to float about also.

As for sound, a shot in the dark: shotgun mikes?
Okay I gotta jump in here. Splash!
Where would this show be done and what kind of budget are you looking at?
I know equity has really strict rules with water and the temperature of the water.
Second I would think that although surrounding the playing area with water might sound like a really interesting concept, but there are inherent problems that should all be considered.
The first of which that comes to mind: Is there an intermission? If there is, there is no way to get the actors offstage without hearing them splash.
Secondly to get the smell. You would have to turn it into a giant salt water aquarium. Which if I remember right, you would need to set up the tank at least ten days in advance while the bacteria do there thing, because I believe it is about a week before the water will clear again, and there is a good possibility that the water will change colors for that first week. Then you have the algae that will grow on the bottom making it really difficult to walk across to get to the position.
As for the island I would consider making the pool doughnut shaped with the island sitting on a platform. Foam would get soggy too fast. And to make it out of sand, you are talking tons and tons of sand.
And on top of that there are all the issues with lights and reflections. Yuck!
And Ship is right the weight issue is well worth investigating. Get in touch with somebody who knows what the stage can support and then do the math A=Water = heavy.B= sand = heavy C = What stage can support. If A +B> C= Big Mess and lawsuits.
I would say reconsider carefully all possibilities.
The first of which that comes to mind: Is there an intermission? If there is, there is no way to get the actors offstage without hearing them splash.
haha...that would be kinda funny, but not really. seriously though, maybe the island doesnt have to be in the middle, or maybe there can be a small board going from the back of the island to the water tank edge. then the actors could just walk across that, and the audience won't hear any splashing, or see the board either. the whole island and water tank idea sounds really cool!
hmmmmm alot of interesting concepts here. You would definatly need alot of chlorine to keep the algae down. sand will definatly not stay in place with the water moving and all. I think the main issue is what would you do if there is a leak. First off you'd lose all that water. Then you will have to fix all the damages that it has caused. And if it got to any expensive electrical equipment, you can only imagine what will happen. I would not recommend using water. I was going to say, take some tinfoil and cover the stage. Then put blue and light blue saranrap over it to create that "watery" feel. But earlier you said you wanted to be able to float things to them. So that will not work. I wish you good luck on this one. lol.
Thanks for all the ideas, but the show unfortunatle won't look as we intended. :( Apparently, there is a little known law in our county limiting the amount of water onstage to 125 gallons (where that number came from I have no idea!)

I found out about it because i was telling another tech I know from two towns over and he remembered the law vaguely and I looked it up.. I know it's a bummer, but we'd still love to put he show on and we need to figure out a way to simulate water convincingly (and we can use up to 125 gallons total)
Goes back to the idea of a pool that's not very deep with a black plastic under it to simulate depth.
TechDirector said:
hey, maybe you can use some sort of other liquid. Like fill it up 125 gallons full, and then fill the rest with like Capri-sun juice. And it won't look all that different either.
Umm.. yeah.... the theater would really start reeking of a juice smell really quickly! And the other ingredients in juice would cause some massive bacteria growth really quickly. And it still wouldn't work because the actual rule states that the max amount of liquid onstage not exceed 125lbs.

P.S. Am I gonna have to separate you two?
gallons, sorry...
wow that does sound like a great thing to be able to pull off. sorry about the legal thing. i think most of the ideas i thought of were covered. the only other thoughts i had was instant ocean for the salt water smell. i could be wrong, but i don't think that would cloud the water, and acrylic walls like you see at aquariums and zoos. but i'm sure this has already been covered. so the only new thing i can think of would either be shotgun mics is a good idea, or even lapel mics. unless the actors are swimming, lapel mics should do the trick. of course there's always just making the actors project.
We contained 13'x20'x6" of water with nothing but pond lining material and 4x6 beams on each side. If you can live without the clear front, it shouldn't be too difficult. Making a clear front will require mating a strong plexi piece to a metal or wood frame in a watertight fashion. I have to say I've never done that :D

Then again, we were on a slab floor, not a stage. Still, as other have said, minimise the actual depth of the water (you can always have a trough for the actors to walk through so it seems deeper) and you can keep both weight and volume down.

As for smell from salt in the water, use colourless toilet cleaner blocks instead. Just don't try to pick them up when they're wet ;)

To hold the island's sand in, you could try making a distorted egg cup. Build a mound to raise up the island platform under the liner, then make a retaining wall for the sand over the liner, perhaps moulding it into the mound and carefully laying liner over it.

"Ocean Breeze" anything in front of an oscillating desk fan should get the noses going. :D

Lav mics as suggested, find a way to decently waterproof them though. Depends on the swim factor.

You could light the tank with underwater lights and underwater cabling. Or you could get very fancy and literally build a pool with walls and fixture housings behind those walls.
A syou can probably tell, the show never got past the admin approval process. HOwever, we are going to look at other venues that might agree to such a crazy set.
I assistant LDed the show that Nephilim is talking about. Its completely doable. Colorless non-toxic toilet cleaner will be good, especially if you can put it in the "back" of your T section. Or you could use blue cleaner, like we did, it'll make it look very dark on a black background, giving more depth. You also want to make sure that you aim your lights carefully, especially if you have a front section see-though. Water is a less intense mirror...

You could even have a wave machine!


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