Effects (Theatrical)



Reading / History

Stage Effects - How To Make and Work Them (1928)
by A.Rose
[Archive Viewer]

Flying Effects

See Performer Flying page 

Lighting Effects

Mechanical Effects – Machines / Clocks

Controlling an Analogue Clock on stage

Option 1: Use 3 profile lanterns with gobos, two of which have DMX-controllable gobo rotators. One fixed gobo shows the clock face, and the two with rotators have the clock hands. The lighting desk DMX signal is used to control the gobo rotators to set the hand positions. 
Option 2: Project the clock hands onto a fixed (or projected) clock face on stage. 
Option 3: Use a large mechanical clock with a manual control and cut a hole in the flat on which the clock is mounted to enable stage crew to move the hands manually. 
Option 4: Companies such as Wahlberg make DMX-controllable clock mechanisms which can be mounted onto a piece of scenery with the clock face painted on it. Again the lighting desk can control the hand positions. (Link: Wahlberg DMX Clock Mechanism)

Mechanical Effects – Drops / Falls

At the simplest level, these effects are based on pulling out a pin to release a hinge pin or knocking something with something else. 

Petals Fall from above the stage

A Drop Bag should be used to drop lightweight material (flameproofed paper, fake flower petals etc) onto the stage. Can be released electrically (via a solenoid) or via a string. 
More about Drop Effects

Picture Frame drops off wall

Option 1: Use a pin hinge – one half of the hinge screwed to the wall, one half screwed to the picture frame. Pin pulled out by a piece of suitably-coloured string running from the hinge through the flat. 
Option 2: Use an electromagnet mounted behind the flat, and a metal plate on the picture frame. While the magnet is energised, the picture will remain in position. 

Vase of flowers falls over

Option 1: Use a breakaway vase (made from wax or sugar glass) and tie a piece of fishing line (monofilament) to it. Pull the line to make the vase fall over. Use a crash box behind the flat to make the sound of breaking glass or crockery in sync with the vase falling. 
Option 2: Connect a photographic shutter release cable through the flat to ‘poke’ the vase and knock it off the shelf. With practice, you can make the vase wobble first, before it falls.  

Books slide off shelf

Connect a piece of wire / string to a book at the far end of the shelf, and pull it to make the book slide along the shelf, making other books fall as it goes. 

Door Falls Off

Attach the door to the frame with pin hinges. Pull the pins out with a piece of heavy duty line or wire to make the door fall. You may need a slightly angled stopper under the door just before the fall cue to ensure it topples in the right direction. 


  • Burning Logs / Campfire 
    The method depends on the distance the audience is from the effect, and the size of the campfire. 
    Option 1: Real logs that have been treated with flameproofing solution over a metal frame (e.g. inverted hanging basket for plants) below which are 3 light bulbs (maximum 40 Watts) surrounded by lighting gel, which are connected to dimmers which are controlled by a lighting desk running a flicker effect. The brightness and rate of the effect can easily be varied. A small smoke machine can be added into the mix to provide a smoke effect. 
    Option 2: The same logs and frame, but instead using a fan, light sources and silk flames (see video below) to produce the illusion of flames (works best over a long distance)
    Option 3: Use lanterns in various colours pointing at the actors to produce the light from the campfire, rather than focussing on the fire itself. 
    Option 4: Use reflective material (e.g. foil) under logs and then focus profile lanterns onto the camp fire from the rig – the foil will reflect the light into the audience without the danger of hot lamps. 

Trap Doors

See the Trap Doors and Lifts page for more information. 


See separate section

Smoke / Haze

Water Effects

  • Rain on Stage
    • A lighting effects projector can be used to create the feeling of rain without many of the complications. If a few of the effects projectors are used overlapped, running at slightly different speeds, the effect can be very convincing. See Optical Effects Projection for more. 
    • A digital projection of a rainstorm can also be highly effective. This can either be projected onto a cyclorama / cloth behind the actors, or, for the best effect, onto a gauze positioned downstage of the actors. The projection should fill the gauze (which may require a short-throw projector, or a very wide angle lens). 
    • For a show such as Singin in the Rain, where the actors (usually) interact with the water, a fully waterproofed stage (or area of the stage) must be used. Don’t let water run onto the stage without protection. Some companies use a fully waterproofed truck (wheeled platform) which wheels on to catch the water from a pipe overhead, which also allows the actors to splash a bit. The benefit of this is that after the water scene, the truck can be wheeled offstage, and there will be minimal water on stage (which would be  a slip hazard for the next scene). 
  • Water Effects overview

See also

External Links


PRG Scenic Rigging & Automation [USA]
Unusual Rigging Rigging, suspension and automation [London, UK]


Chicago Flyhouse [Chicago, USA]
Fisher Technical Services 3D Flying [USA]
Flying by Foy [Las Vegas, USA]
Flying by Foy [Borehamwood, UK]
Hi-Fli [Manchester, UK]
North American Association of Flying Effects Directors (NAAFED) [USA]
On The Fly Productions LLC
The Fly Guy Paul Rubin [USA]
Vertigo Flying Effects formerly Hall Associates [Chicago, USA]
ZFX Flying [Louisville, USA]


Luminous Show Technology [Exeter, UK]
Silicon Theatre Scenery Scenic automation and performer flying [The Netherlands]


Look Solutions [Germany, Europe]
LSG Low Smoke Generator from Le Maitre Carbon Dioxide input required
LSX Low Smoke Converter from Le Maitre
Martin (Jem)
Smoke Factory [Germany, Europe]
Theatre FX [USA]


Chabuki Kabuki Drop Mechanism [USA]
https://www.showtex.com/en/products/hardware/roll-reveal-systems/hispeed-reveal Hi-Speed Cloth Reveal [Belgium / International]
Special Effects Suppliers / SFX Supplies Hire and Sales [UK]
Strictly FX [IL, USA]
Theatre Effects [USA]

Keywords: stage effects, theatre effects, theatrical effects, doors fall over, door fall off, door falls off hinge, the play that goes wrong effect, picture frame drops off wall, picture frame falling, changing clock times on stage, controlling clock on stage, picture drops off wall.