Set, Props and Other Such Stuff

Little Shop of Horrors
Little Shop of Horrors Set

Whilst at university (1994-1998), and for a while after, I was involved with the University Stage Crew (USSU Crew). I primarily worked on lighting or rigging on university productions, usually discos and bands, but on a wide range of other productions. In addition, I helped with a lot of the general maintenance of kit (PAT testing of cables and equipment, repair of lanterns, making new microphone, speaker and power cables etc.) as well as building items to support the kit such as flight cases and storage racks. As a result of this, I also got involved in other productions and the need to provide set, props and effects. There are many such items I built, but to date I haven’t tracked down many photos, so this will have to remain a rather descriptive page for now.

Flight Cases

Water Curtain & bubble tubes
Around 1999 I built a water curtain to be used to project onto in front of the DJ at the University of Surrey Students Union for a regularly Saturday club night.

The base of the system was a large flat tank  made from 18mm ply, painted black. It ended up being 8ft x 2ft x 1ft deep. It was made water tight by the use of heavy gauge plastic sheeting this was stood on the floor and partially filled with water.

Into this tank was placed a submersible pump, nominally rated at 40 l/min. To the output spigot, a 1” bore convoluted pipe was attached to feed the water to the curtain head. The head itself consisted of an 6ft long length of soil pipe, with fitted end caps. To one of these was fitted a 1” spigot to which could be attached the feed hose. The pipe was then attached to a wooden support with pipe clips, and the support fitted with two ‘G hangers’.As this system was for nightclub use, the kit was designed to work assuming a standard scaffold or truss bar could be used as support. In normal use it would be suspended from a scaff bar, supported on two (Manfrotto) wind up stands, it did however occasionally get rigged from truss.

The soil pipe was drilled with a large number of holes in a straight line. If my memory serves me correctly these were 1mm diameter holes on a 10mm pitch. To ensure that the flow out of the holes is even along the length of the pipe,  it is essential to keep water to a depth in the main pipe. I ensured this by making sure that the total cross sectional area of the holes is less than the cross sectional output bore of the pump. As the flow rate from the pump is directly dependent on the head it has to pump against, the curtain could not be raised above about 2m above the tank without breaking up or uneven flow.

The rig was used with a couple of giant bubble tubes, built before these were commonly available from lengths of 100mm acrylic tube about 1.5m long, capped with soil pipe fittings and with an aquarium stone to bubble, fed by an aquarium pump.

All of these were set up on stage for a regular Saturday club night (fortnightly if I remember correctly). The curtain was often rigged in front of the DJ, and could be used with projections from video, or often Optikinetics Solar 250s that we had a number of. As long as the rest of the stage was kept relatively dark, It was a good effect.

Wheel of Fortune

Wheel Of Fortune
Wheel of Fortune in Use

Built around 2000 for club night , This was regularly used as part of competitions before it was retired.

It was made mostly made from except a bearing from a washing machine, a few pieces of scrap ally (For the clacker/pointer), the bolts round the wheel and the light fittings, the wheel being about 1m diameter and made by routing using a homemade circle jig.

It breaks down to two pieces at the red line for ease of movement. The support legs are drainpipe, with studding in tension holding the base together

The troughs above and below the wheel conceal two 2ft fluorescent tube fittings, holding UV lamps. This allow the UV reactive painted wheel to glow effectively. Finishing was with self adhesive holographic film, sold as book covering material- the budget didn’t stretch to the Rosco material.

Release Solenoid
Baloon Release
Assembled Solenoid

I built a couple of assemblies using solenoids retrieved from an old photocopier to operate a balloon drop. Two of these were attached to one side of a net, the otherside attached to the truss. The large bolt allows the attachment of a G hanger. Power is supplied by a cable connected by XLRs supplied from a power supply via a large button on stage for the DJ to operate.

Little Shop of Horrors
This was probably the biggest set and props job I carried out, and was done for the University of Surrey Gilbert and Sullivan society (G&S) in 1996. I produced the set, mostly built and painted on pre-existing flats that I had helped build a couple of years previously, but included a new shop window section. The plant puppets and counter came from a prop hire company (I forget who).

Prop wise I also built a sign to be flown in at the start, the stoops that outside action take place on and sourced 4 old phones, stripping and re-painting them red. I was able to obtain a telephone ringing unit from my dad out of an old village telephone exchange (BT were scrapping the heavily at the time), so by building it into a box with transformer and controls I could remotely ring the phones.

The single most important part of the set I built was the Dentist’s chair- this was built completely from scratch and included the upholstery needed. Finally I sourced some of the other props needed to complete the set dressing.

Other Theatrical Productions
The first major production I was involved with was as general crew on a production of Charley’s Aunt. For this a load of standard flats were built that were reused many times over the years.

Later productions I was involved with included Professor Tarrane & The Two Executioners, Chess, The Best Little Whore House in Texas and Dracula Spectacular.

The main scenic element for Dracula spectacular was the lab scene. For this I created a mobile bench, on casters that could be wheeled onto stage quickly. It had a number of lab-ware on the bench, along with some that had coloured water pumped through with a windscreen washer pump. We also had a large clear bowl (a plastic fish bowl), containing water with detergent in that could foam on cue. This was achieved by using an airbed inflator off stage to provide an air supply and piping this to an aquarium stone in the bowl.

For 70’s disco nights I created D.I.S.C.O letters, about 2ft tall from polystyrene, Painted with ROSCO UV reactive paint.

There were many other smaller items made or refurbished over the years for such diverse jobs as clamping scaff bars to pillars, supporting Varilights, props for Halloween discos including a ‘grope box’ and refurbishing a Le Maitre ‘pea souper’, signage and displays round the Students Union, racks for launching rockets from, installing TV displays above the bar and the scenic painting round them, building installed lighting fixtures and installing permanent cabling amongst many others tasks.

Outside of the university, the other notable job was an installation of a lighting rig in a nightclub in Reading done with one of my friends. Unfortunately again I don’t have any pictures.


(c) M.Pantrey 2008-2013