TSM 08 Rain without water

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This is a project by Susan Scott, created as part of the TSM 08 classes, to research a way to achieve a rain effect on the New Athenaeum stage without using water. This page will give details of the process as well as equipment used, it's operation and approximate costings.

The 'Rain'

As my project is about making rain but without using water, the first aspect i needed to look at was what material could be used to simulate the rain drops. After looking at several references online i have settled on using uncooked rice to achieve this effect.


The rice (when falling en mass) gives a convincing 'downpour' look and it also bounces off of set pieces and people similar to how rain splashes. Another positive aspect to using rice is the sound it creates as it hits the ground - it is basically a large scale rain stick - and is therefore saving the need to source a convincing sound effect. And as far as budgeting goes,obviously depending on the length of the run, the rice should only have to be bought once as it can be swept up and reused for every show.


There are few cons to using rice in comparison to the pros, the obvious one being the clean up of the stage after the effect. If using water, a trough would be used to collect the fallout leaving a wet but clear stage. When using rice, the benifit of having the realistic bounce means that the grains are scattered far and wide and posing a rather large slip hazard. This means that the effect has to be limited to a specific point in the play - like just before interval - or in an isolated part of the stage - like behind a window. Another way to speed up the clearing of the stage would be to use a floor cloth wich can then be folded up and carried off stage to be emptied. This however, affects the quality of the sound as the rice hits the stage.

The System

After thorough research it seems that the use of the basic 'snow drop' mechanism is the best way to achieve this kind of effect. Below is a detailed description of how a drop is made, rigged and controlled.

The material used to create the snow bag is very important. It needs to be durable and made of a non-static fabric to allow the rice to fall freely and without interruption, therefore canvas is often used. The length of material needed is dependant on the size and position of the effect, in this case I am using the full width of the stage, and so needs to be 11 meters long. The width is less important as it only needs to be wide enough to reach from one bar to the other with a decent cradle in the middle to house the rice. The two long sides of the canvas should have tabs sewn on at regular intervals for attachment to the flying bars. It goes without saying that the heavier the load, the more tabs you need.

One side of the bag should have large slits cut into it. The slits should begin at roughly one quarter of the way up the bag so that the rice only falls once the flyman begins to move the line. Bags can be made with slits running horizontally but in this case its better for the slits to be vertical. Also for the size of the bag the slits should be roughly twelve inches long. To ensure that no rice falls out of either end of the bag you can either sew excess material over the ends or leave three feet of material at each end empty before filling the rest with the rice.

To rig the bag, two adjacent flying bars must be brought in to working height. Each side of the canvas bag (with the tabs sewn on) should be attched to one of the bars, leaving the material hanging in a 'U' shape. The rice is then poured into the centre of the bag and spread out to make the level even. When this has been done, it is ready to fly out to it's dead.

To ensure that no rice starts to fall through the slits as the bag is flown out, the side with the slits should be raised slightly so that the bag is making a 'J' shape, and then the two bars MUST be flown together at exactly the same time before being levelled up once in the correct poistion. The effect is now ready for use.

The control of the drop is in the hands of the flyman. To make the rice begin to fall he needs to move the bar (the bar with the side of canvas with the slits) in and out so that the rice tumbles over and out throught the slits and falls to the stage. This requires practice, as the flyman has to gauge how far he needs to move the bar in each direction and at which speed to give the desired effect. Obviously the more vigorous the moevements, the heavier the rain. How often you use the effect throughout the performance depends on how much rice you put into the bag before each show.



The good thing about this effect is that the rice can be recycled for each performance. Therefore, depending on the length of the run, it should only have to be bought once. You can buy 20 kilo bags of rice from the wholesale retailers Costco which is considerably cheaper than buying several of the smaller bags. For the size of effect that i am looking at i would require approximatly 12 bags, each costing £11.99. This would be a total of £143.88 for the rice.


Canvas is quite an expensive material but can be bought on-line for slightly less than it costs in the shops. The website www.fabricuk.com has an example of exactly the right kind of canvas for the bag. You can buy it in cream which is preferable to white as it is considerably less bright and has already been treated with fire retardant and conforms to BS5852 and BS5867. It comes in a wide width of 108 inches which is ideal for reaching between the bars with a decent cradle in the middle. At £9.99 a meter it comes to a total of £87.91 including shipping for a total length of 8 meters.


So with £143.88 for the rice and £87.91 for the canvas (with tabs for the canvas being made from scraps in the wardrobe department) the total cost of the effect comes to £231.79.


Snowbag.JPG Bag.JPG


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