Introduction: Phantom of the Opera Chandelier for Under $500
A few short years ago, the precious rights to The Phantom of the Opera were made available to high school theatre troupes and the like for their personal performing pleasure. Now anyone (who was willing to pay a very large sum of money) could bring to life the divas, the drama, and most importantly, the chandelier. However, not many theatre companies have the budget for the kind of chandelier in the professional versions – trying to bring to life that dynamic set piece at all can be a challenge. Even in the original Broadway version, the chandelier isn’t as dynamic as it could be – it doesn’t truly crash into the stage, but rather drops a short distance and a crashing sound effect is played. Understanding all of this, I have devised a step by step compendium of the chandelier-constructing knowledge I stumbled across as the lead chandelier designer for the 2013 production of Phantom by The Alley Cat Players, a public high school theatre troupe based in Austin, TX. I hope it is of use to any future Phantom technicians.
The chandelier described in this Instructable is a 3-tiered, regency-style chandelier with three rings. The largest ring is in the middle and is 6.5’ in diameter, the second-largest is at the top and is 3.25’ in diameter, and the smallest is 2.5’, at the bottom, making the ratio about 4:8:3 (these were the original dimensions of a chandelier planned for my production, which were later sized down). The chandelier is designed to be “square”, meaning it is 6.5’ wide at its widest point, and is supposed to be approximately that tall. The suggested heights between different parts of the chandelier are 2.5’ between the top tier and the middle, 3’ between the middle and the bottom, and 1’ of garlands hanging from the bottom ring.
These are the dimensions of the chandelier, which can be adjusted for specific projects, but they do not describe the more practical and creative aspects of this design. For example, the chain structure allows it to collapse in a vertical direction, creating an appealingly crumpled display for the first scene of the musical, after which it can rise spectacularly into the air. The design also includes “candles” on the middle ring, made out of practical Christmas string lights, which, due to all being strung together, can be plugged into a single outlet and lit up on cue during the rising sequence (even remotely, if your rigging configuration has a convenient place to access a lightboard-controlled power source available – my theater did). The Christmas lights aren’t the only common part used in the chandelier, too. Many materials, such as 1” PVC pipe, chain, paint primer, and even plastic cups, are readily available in most theaters. The final redeeming quality is that the end result, which is collapsible and made up of almost entirely plastic and wood, is quite durable – great for dropping onto the stage at the will of The Phantom.
Step 1: Gather the Materials
- 3/4 in Irrigation Tubing
- 3/4 in Irrigation Tubing Couplings
- 1" PVC 6" Eye Bolts
- 3/16" Quick Chain Links
- 2x3 Lumber
- Gold Spray Paint
- Wood Primer Paint
- Plastic Primer Spray Paint*
- Beads Crystal Accents**
- Orange Christmas Lights
- Plastic Cups
- 3” bolts
- 5” bolts
For a full Bill of Materials, see this spreadsheet. As noted there, the approximate cost for the chandelier is $468.62.
- Miter Saw
- Tape Measure
- 1in Spade Drill Bit
- Hand Drill
- 2.5in Screws
- Pre-Drill Drill Bit
- Driver Bit
- Black Sharpie
- Chalk and String
- Wire Cutters
- Gaff Tape
- Paint Brush
- 1/2" Drill Bit
- Hot Glue Gun
- White and Yellow Tempera Paint
- Masking Tape
- Staple Gun
All tools and materials are to the best of my recollection. Please forgive any minor discrepancies, and feel free to message me with any suggestions.
Step 2: Why Was Irrigation Tubing on the Materials List?
The 3 rings, the most defining features of a regency chandelier, will be made out of irrigation tubing. Why? Because irrigation tubing is a flexible, light, hollow material that serves the purpose perfectly. I stumbled across it while planning my chandelier and being frustrated that I couldn’t simply purchase giant hula hoops to serve as the rings that I was frustratingly pursuing. As it turns out, one can simply make their own hula hoops out of this tubing, and it serves equally well for chandelier. The first thing you will need to do is prepare the rings, specifically the large one with the lights. To make rings out of the tubing, you first need to cut them to the correct length, and mark where the cross beams will divide them into quadrants. You can do this by calculating the circumference of each ring, but this technique becomes harder when you attempt to measure it out on the tubing, which has likely come in a roll, retained its circular shape, and is difficult to measure straight distances along. Alternately, you can draw each circle using a string and chalk on a large area (say, a driveway), and lay the tubing down along it, marking where to cut it to size with the miter saw and where to place the cross-beams. On the largest ring, also mark the 28-32 places where the candles will be (make sure you don’t mark them where the cross beams are going - leave about two inches on either side of those marks.) At the end of this process, drill 1/2” holes in each of the places where the cross-beams will attach on all the rings.
Step 3: Attack the Large Piece of Irrigation Tubing With a Spade Bit
The next few steps, in which you will prepare the large, middle ring (the one with the candles), will be very laborious. In fact, they may seem like pure hell. This is the part of this how-to in which it becomes apparent that this method of constructing a chandelier was devised for the time-rich and money-poor. Arm yourself with a drill equipped with a 1” spade bit, a small piece of the PVC (about 5” long or so), and the wire cutters. Now, drill a 1” hole through the top half of the tubing in all 32 places you marked. This will not be a clean process, as irrigation tubing is not designed to be cut by a spade bit in a hand drill, and the spade bit is not designed to cut it (in fact, you may dull your bit with all this drilling – sorry). The solution to this crummy drilling job is to use the wire cutters (which is, in fact, the solution to everything). You should be able to get most of the way through on all of the holes with the spade bit, cut out the remaining bits of mauled plastic with the wire cutters. The cleaner you make the holes, the easier it will be for you to get the Christmas lights through, the only part of the Chandelier process more difficult than the task you are currently undertaking. Test each hole with the PVC to make sure you will eventually be able to insert your candles - it should be a tight fit.
Step 4: Spray Paint the Tubing
Unfortunately, this is the only part of the how-to that I do not any direct experience with. When I was building my chandelier, I didn’t use a plastic primer on the irrigation tubing, and it scraped off easily. This, combined with how early in the process I began painting, meant that my department wasted countless cans of spray paint on re-panting the marred tubing. Because of this, I recommend putting a primer on the tubing before connecting it to anything else, but I can’t give specific directions or products for doing this. However, I think it would be a good idea to before getting too much further into the project, as the middle ring will soon have lights in it.
Step 5: Put Lights in the Middle Ring
Putting the lights inside the irrigation tubing and the PVC candles is an excellent way to hide them, and lets you use ordinary Christmas lights for lighting, but it is far from easy. First, thread string through the inside of the ring, using a small weight on the end to pull it through. The most important this is that the you insert the string and pull it out not in the end of the tubing, but in the first candle hole. If the lights and in the very end of the tube, you won’t be able to connect the two end to each other in a ring. If you end up with extra lights coming out of the tube, you may have to redo the whole thing. Also, be warned that it will be really hard to pull all the lights through. You may want to tape all the lights down with masking tape before you start, or trim off the plug on one end (safely), to prevent them from getting stuck in the tubing. Everyone will have to do this differently, though, depending on the length of the strands of lights they’re using. If you’re using more than one strand, it will get exponentially more difficult, but this is likely considering that the full length of lights you will need, which, because each strand goes up twice into each candle (see Step 12), is about three times the length of the tubing itself. If you do need to use more than one strand, remember that you probably can’t pull the male end plug through due to its obnoxious girth (I successfully pulled through the female end plug, but only after filing down the plastic on the outside). If you’re using multiple strings of lights, your process may look more like the picture at the beginning of this section.
Step 6: Connect the Rings
It’s finally time for the rings to actually become rings! You ready? You’ll need…a hair dryer. The connectors are very similar in diameter to the inside of the tubing, but luckily irrigation tubing is pliable after some limited heating. Heat the two ends with the hair dryer, alternating between the two so that they get equally pliable, for anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute (or just leave them outside in the Texas heat for two hours – I have some experience with unintentional pliability). Bend the two ends together and insert the connector, attempting the cleanest joint possible. This will become increasingly difficult with the smaller rings, as it will take more force just to bend them into a circle. It can be done, you just have to persevere. Don’t worry if the joint on that smallest ring isn’t the cleanest ever, you will be adding cross-beams soon and it shouldn’t be able to pop open.
Step 7: Add the Cross-Beams
Cut the 2x3 or 2x4 into planks, two for each ring. To get the lengths you will need to add another two inches on to each diameter measure, to give plenty of compensation for the width of the tubing and any other irregularities. Also cut two square pieces of wood for each ring. You will need these to offset the fact that one of the beams is sitting on top of the other. Screw two pieces to each end of one of the beams (leaving space to drill a hole into them for the bolt). Measure a half inch from the edge of the wood and drill a 1/2” hole in each end. Do this for all the planks, the ones with and without the extra spacer wood. Now, before you attach them to the rings, you may want to paint all the wood with some kind of base primer, grey or white, to make the gold spray paint “pop”. Then lay the one without spacers across the ring, and bolt it in. Lay the other one on top of it, spacers down, and use the longer bolts to secure it to the ring. Screw it into the other plank where they intersect. Repeat this with all the rings.
Step 8: Attach the Rings to Each Other
The next step will involve all the expensive hardware that you purchased, don’t worry, those eye bolts and quick chain links will be put to good use. Your rings now look like a series of wheels – install two eye bolts onto both sides of each “spoke” of the big wheel, 4-6” from the end of the planks – you need them far enough in so that the chain doesn’t show outside the beads. On the bottom ring, only install the top bolts. On the top ring, install all bottom bolts and two top bolts on one to the planks. Attach all of those, and then put a quick chain link on each eye bolt. Next, take your chain and split it into 4 strands, each 8-10 feet in length (alternately, you can break up the chain now into the 8 different strands you will need in the end, but be sure to give yourself plenty of extra chain on each strand for adjustments). Attach the top of each strand to one of the four eyebolts on the bottom of the first ring, then to an eyebolt on each ring, so that everything is attached to each other and the only eyebolts left unoccupied are those on the top of the top ring. Use those to fly the chandelier close to the ground (outside if you can – see the next step), and make adjustments to the length of each bit of chain so it’s the height you want and hanging fairly level. When you’re satisfied with the result, clip off most of the extra and separate all the strands from each other if they’re still connected. I would still recommend leaving a couple extra links on each end though, just in case.
Step 9: Spray Painting Time
Finally! It’s time to get some gold up in here. Now that your chandelier is hanging up proudly, it should be fairly easy to give it an even coat of gold in all the places that are showing. Be mindful of the fact that you should still have Christmas lights inside your middle ring, and even more trailing out of the ends. You don’t want to coat all your lights in gold, but it’s not the biggest deal is you get a couple of them by accident, either.
Step 10: Candles, Part 1
Take a break from your lovely gold structure for a while and bust out the PVC. Cut it into a ton of 5” pieces, as many as you have holes for on your middle ring. Then take a hot glue gun and drip globs of it down all the candles to imitate melted wax. Leave the bottom two inches free of hot glue, as you will need to stick it inside the tubing. Mix some cream-colored paint (almost any kind should work fine, chances are your department has some white and yellow colored paint lying around, even if it’s just tempera), and coat the outsides to get some pretty convincing candles, at least from the audience.
Step 11: Candles, Part 2
Now get out that staple of American teen culture, the Red Solo Cup. Take out about 30 of them (again, one for each candle), and cut the tops off, so your cup is about 2” tall. Then, cut a 1” diameter hole in all the bottoms. If this is difficult, I recommend starting the hole by drilling. Spray paint the end result gold.
Step 12: Attach Your Candles
Lower the chandelier so that the middle ring is resting on the ground. Starting at the end of your strand of lights, (not where they are coming out of the tube – the other end), pull five lights up through each hole, fold the resultant wire against itself so that the middle light is sticking up on the top, and stuff this into a PVC candle. Plop a gold cup over the candle, hot glue the cup to the irrigation tubing and the PVC to the cup. Generally get a lot of hot glue in the center of the cup and make sure everything is secure to each other – it’s not like anyone will see inside there anyway. Repeat this for all 30+ candles, or until you go insane from the tediously difficult task of stuffing lights in PVC. After all this, take any extra wire and run it up a nearby chain to the top ring (attach with zip-ties). Feel free to spray paint this gold as well, and cover up any unintentionally exposed lights with gaff tape.
Step 13: Add Beads
Fly your Chandelier back up to a good working height, if you haven’t already. Take out the boxes and boxes of beads that, if you’re like me, have only recently been shipped to you a week and a half before opening night. Grab a staple gun. Take the end of the spool of beads, staple the top to the inside of the top ring, and drape it down to the middle and bottom rings, stapling to each as you go, adjusting for how much you want it to sag in the middle. At the bottom, string it under the bottom ring and bring it back up on the opposite side. Staple the beads to the tubing by stapling between the beads, trapping the string in the staple and against the tubing. Your staples may not go very far into the tubing, push them in if they don’t – you don’t want them popping off mid-performance. Repeat. You should have enough beads to do this about 50 times. Space this out so you have one strand going to each candle and two in between them.
Step 14: Rig This Thing
If your chandelier isn’t already flying above your stage, it’s time to get it there. You put two eyebolts on the top for this purpose. However, all rigging systems are a little bit different, so I can’t give good instructions on this, in addition to the fact that I didn’t do this part myself. My theatre department actually had a professional rigger come in and mount our chandelier above the apron, so that we could control it from the catwalk. It all depends, especially with a show like Phantom, where the chandelier is sometimes over the audience. Just keep in mind that because you put two eyebolts in, you can connect them to separate controls and shake it your creation horizontally as well as drop it vertically. Also remember that you will have to somehow run an extension cord to the top ring to power the whole thing.
Step 15: Party
You are done. Congratulations. There are other things you can add, like swag on the middle ring is you have extra beads, or a garland on the bottom if you have fake crystals (I did the latter). But as for the basics, you have successfully created your Phantom of the Opera chandelier. Let me know how it went, and good show!