Tag Archives: electrical

Friday the 13th Links

Trinculo’s Attic is a new theatrical electronics firm founded by Ben Peoples. They have books and products to help you get miniature electronics into your props projects, like flickering LED candles, or making props move on their own. He has some workshops coming up soon too if this is an area you are interested in learning more about.

Speaking of using miniature electronics to control things on stage, Rich Dionne recently had a blog post about buying an Arduino microprocessor. Right now, he’s using it to control his model train set, but he is envisioning using it as a super low-cost and easy-to-learn controller for stage automation.

So, you like automation and animatronics? The Character Shop, one of the larger of the animatronic creature shops (you’ve probably seen their work) has a nice section on how to learn animatronics and find a job in the business.

And if you still haven’t had enough animatronics, Jack Buffington of BuffingtonFX has a lot of information and process shots detailing his build of an animatronic creature way back in 1997.

Ok, that’s enough about electronics and animatronics. Dug North has this great collection of 21 tips and tricks for rotary tools (Dremel tools).

Behind the Scenes of an Opera House, 1888: Dangerous Effects

The following is an excerpt from “Behind the Scenes of an Opera-House”, written in 1888. The author, Gustav Kobbé, tours the backstage of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Be sure to check out the previous excerpts on building a singing dragontechnical rehearsalsconstructing a giant “Talepulka” idol and introducting the series when you are finished here!

Behind the Scenes of an Opera-House, by Gustav Kobbé.

Two light-properties in “Faust”—the fire-cup and the spark-emitting sword of Mephistopheles—are worth describing. The fire-cup is a goblet in the bottom of which are chlorate of potash, red fire, and sugar. Above these is suspended a thimble three-quarters filled with sulphuric acid and so delicately balanced that a slight movement causes the acid to drip on the powders and to ignite them, the fumes of the sugar leaving an agreeable taste upon the lips of the singer.

The method of causing the sparks to fly from the sword is as follows: Two wire-gauze plates connected with electric wires are placed upon the stage at the points where Mephistopheles and Valentine are to stand. A metal socket is sunk into the heel of the right buskin of each of the singers, and a wire of the same color as their costumes is attached to each socket, wound around the leg and passed through the belt. Standing upon the gauze plates they, as they draw their swords, slip the ends of the wires into the hilts and, when the swords touch electrical connection is made.

The flash of Wotan’s spear when Siegfried cuts it through with one stroke of his sword is produced by an explosion of gun-cotton in the spear and ignited by electricity, the electric wire passing through the weapon.

First printed in “Behind the Scenes of an Opera-House”, by Gustav Kobbé. Scribner’s Magazine, Vol. IV, No. 4, October 1888.

LED and battery

Making an LED Lighter

Our upcoming production of Capeman wanted a lighter for one of the characters to light a joint. Rather than apply for a live flame permit and fireproof all the costumes, we thought we try to fit an LED into a lighter first. This is my first attempt, so it’s fairly simple, but I learned a lot doing it.

LED and battery
LED and battery

Wiring a single LED is pretty easy; the LEDs we had in the shop required 3 volts of power, so connecting a 3-volt watch battery to it is all it takes to make it light up. You’ll notice one of the wires coming off the LED is longer than the other; on most LEDs, this is the positive side; your LED won’t light up unless you hook the positive wire to the positive side of the battery and vice versa. I used an orange LED to make a color that looked like awesome flames.

Lighter Innards
Lighter Innards

I used a Zippo-style lighter. First I gutted the inside and took out all the wadding, wick and flint. If you’re familiar with the Zippo-style lighter, you know you can pull the inside part out of the case. I cut the side away on the inner part so I could access the inside easier; when finished, I could put it back into the outer case and conceal the battery and all the wires.

Insulating the LED
Insulating the LED

As I worked on this, I realized one problem; the lighter case was made entirely of metal, and if any of the bare wires made contact, it would keep the light from working. I cut some insulated wire, removed the metal wire from inside, and slid the rubber sleeves onto the wires of the LED. From then on, everything was working properly.

Attaching the wires
Attaching the wires

I wired up a switch I found in our box of electronic parts. It was like a pad that would turn the LED on when you squeezed it, and turned it off when you let go.

Inside the fully-assembled lighter
Inside the fully-assembled lighter

You’ll notice the switch is on the outside; if held correctly, you can conceal this from the audience. Also, the switch is not connected to the lighter wheel. When lighting it, the actor would need to mime the action of triggering the lighter and time it with pushing the button. As I said in the beginning, this was my first attempt, and it taught me a lot about what I can improve in a future attempt. As is though, it solves the problem in an adequate way. Perfect is good, but done is better.

LED lighter
LED lighter