Tag Archives: water

Video: Running Water with an RV Pump

Here is a new companion video for my next book, The Prop Effects Guidebook, coming this February. Our technical director, Chris Simpson, built a nice little rig to provide running water for a sink. I have since used it in multiple shows, and am in the process of configuring all of my sinks to be able to connect to this rig.

The book will have some photographs of the rig, but I also filmed this short video to show how it all works.

Running Water with an RV Pump

These companion videos will continue to be released as we draw closer to the book’s release. You can watch all of them on YouTube.

The Prop Effects Guidebook is available for pre-order now at most major retailers. If you need a Christmas gift for that special props person, be sure to check out my first book, The Prop Building Guidebook: for Theatre, Film, and TV.

Behind the Scenes part 5, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. You can also check out the first part, the second part, the third part, and the fourth part:

A pair of wooden squares covered with sand-paper and rubbed together announces the coming of the engine in “Across the Continent.” A wish of wires did similar service for the locomotive in the “Main Line.” Cheerful, indeed, looked the fire on the hearth in the kitchen of Hazel Kirke’s home when she quitted it for the castle of Arthur Carringford. Gas jets and colored glass caused the illusion.

To be kicked downstairs should be severe punishment; it seems doubly so when done on the stage, for the crash, a machine with a lot of loose shingles working on a cog makes the commotion all the greater. Once in a while a gentleman is fired through a paper window, and in his descent apparently knocks into smithereens a skylight.

A demijohn wicker cover intact, holding broken glass, dropped as the actor takes flight, consummates the disaster to the ignominious character.

A steam pipe, or, when not convenient, slacked lime, will cause a semblance of dust or smoke in earthquakes or explosions.

A poorly equipped theater it is indeed that has not around a genius who can bark like a dog or crow after the manner of a cock…

Realistic properties are steadily encroaching on the art of the property-man. A cage of lions in “Theodora,” horses in “A Run of Luck,” “Jalma,” “Kerry Gow” and dozens of other plays; tanks of real water in which boat-races are carried on and heroines are half-drowned and dived after by brave heroes, etc., etc.

Probably the best piece of stage realism ever put on the stage was the cascade of real water, leaping from a height of fifty feet into the ravine below, seen in the recent production of “The Silver Falls” at the Boston Theater. Tons upon tons of water were utilized in this scene, and the great wonder of this exhibition of stage realism was what became of the water after it had dashed into the rocky ravine.

It was a simple matter. A huge tank was built under the stage, which, when filled to overflowing, was drained into the sewer.

All these realistic effects and such as were seen in “The Soudan” are but forerunners of an era that will leave nothing “faked” but the scenery.

Published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19. Originally written by Felix Barnley in 1887.

Behind the Scenes Part 4, 1890

The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. You can also check out the first part, the second part and the third part:

More ingenious is the cleverness employed to depict other accessories to a complete dramatic production. As pretty a stage snow-storm as one would wish to witness happens in “The Two Orphans.” The material for this display was formerly fine-cut paper, prepared by book-binders; in its place white kid in equally small pieces is utilized at present for such purposes.

They can be gathered up more readily, and last longer than paper; besides, there is an ultimate saving in cost. Salt hangs with a better effect to a hat or coat, and gives a thoroughly realistic look to the character that has just stepped indoors from a storm.

If a flash of lightening is needed, the effect is generally gained where electric lights are burned, by rapidly switching the current.

The time-honored scheme is to flash a torch of alcohol, rosin or lycopodium. Stage thunder is the rustling of a sheet of iron suspended from a rafter and set into noisy motion by a long handle. The mighty peals of thunder recently heard in the “Silver Falls” at the Boston Theater were created by a new device, the beating of a huge drum about thrice the size of an ordinary bass drum. This ingenious contrivance gives more distance to the sound. Iron switches bunched like a broom wisp when beaten together will give forth the limitation of rain or hail dropping.

In the “White Slave” water is utilized. The howling wind comes from a wheel that forces the air violently through a large tin funnel with a whistle at the smaller end.

The audience shivers at it, but it may have only been the ancient “wind” the property man makes by drawing his thumb and index finger down a rosined string running through a hole in a tin box such as mustard is packed in. That is the trick of the wind in “Davy Crockett” when the wolves are howling at the cabin door.

Tempest-tossed waves and their white caps that meet the eye of the liberated Count of Monte Cristo as he stands on an ocean rock beyond the Chateau d’If and announces with Georgian assurance “This world is mine,” are but a few bags of saltpeter or a plain salt tossed on a green cloth against a scene.

The mighty motion of the sea that awes the gallery gods who have “Romany Rye” on the brain comprises the united efforts of four men, two on either side of the stage, who shake a length of emerald baize known as a “sea cloth.”

Published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19. Originally written by Felix Barnley in 1887.

Moons, Ripples, and Fire, 1885

The following article originally appeared in “The New York Times” in 1885.

How nature is imitated on the stage.

An old stage manager imparts some instruction—how to counterfeit the change from day to night.

“Nothing,” said an old stage manager, “is more easy to produce on the stage than a moonlight scene, and nothing is ore effective after it is produced. The work begins, of course, with the painting of the scene. The artist has to take into consideration the fact that moonlight must be represented with a different light from the brilliant yellow glare of gaslight which is used for day effects. The great mass of color in a moonlight scene is laid in by the artist in cold grays and greens. The grays must have no warmth in them, nothing of a purplish tinge, for moonlight is cold and hard. The greens are low-toned combinations, chiefly of burnt umber and Prussian blue. The half lights in the painting are put in with the lighter tones of this green, while the high lights are toned up with white tinted with emerald green. Sometimes when a metallic glitter is needed on some point a bit of green foil paper is stuck on. Now such a scene as this, as you can easily see, would look very sombre and unpleasant in strong gaslight.”

“What do they do with it?”

“They put artificial moonlight on it.”


“Well, suppose the scene to be a woody glade with a large opening in the trees showing a distant landscape. The drop scene at the rear of all is painted to represent the sky and landscape. In front of the drop, about three feet away, a low piece of what is known as profile work runs across the stage. This is painted to represent rocks, grass, &c., and is called a ground piece. Behind it and hidden from the audience runs across the stage a row of green ‘mediums.’ These are argand burners with green chimneys. Of course, they throw a soft greenish light upon the lower part of the scene. Another row runs across in front of the upper part of the drop, and is ‘masked in’ from the audience by a sky border. To this light is added that of a calcium thrown through a green glass upon the stage from the flies. And there you have your moonlight effects.”

“How do they get the moonlight on the water?” Continue reading Moons, Ripples, and Fire, 1885