Author Options:

Lightning effects for a small venue stage? Answered

I'm looking for DIY ideas for creating some lightning on stage at a small venue.  The venue is called "The Laboratory" so you can see where the inspiration for the idea comes from.  It needs to be impressive and easily visible but self-contained and safe enough to be operated by a run of the mill stage hand.  Any suggestions are welcomed, but i was thinking along the lines of a large van de graff in a spark cage of some sort or something along those lines.  I also have to take things like size, cost, maintenance, and complexity into account. I am not an amateur but I have never attempted any true high voltage projects.  Any questions or suggestions are welcome.  Thanks for the help!


never create a DIY arc on stage. It would be unpredictable at best. If I ever need lighting I'll use a few LEDs in the rig aimed at 90 degrees from the stage. (So basically parallel to the deck, and flash across them. If you don't have LEDs the 6 pars on individual channels gelled with L202 and a heavy frost will be just as good if not better. To add realism throw some haze in, dim your front light and flash your back light as the effect runs. Just remember to get your masking right as the whole effect is ruined if you can see the source.

You dont need to get totally real to make lightning. Just play a soundeffect of the lightning and flicker some lights on and off. The audience will get the idea. Does a lightning bolt have to actually hit the stage area??? probably not. That would be difficult to simulate.

Oh, that sounds like fun. We did something similar for a Halloween party, and used a lot of glow sticks for ambient lighting. We just took interesting laboratory looking jars and containers, and just before the party we added the fluids from inside the glow sticks to the jars. It looks better (imo) if you vary the color, and the good part is they last a long time. For added effect, put in fake "specimens" so that they glow from within the container. If you don't want to break open the glow sticks, just get a bunch of the smaller ones (necklaces, bracelets, earrings), and put them into the jars with a little water or glycerine. You can get tons of glow sticks from discount and dollar stores, so the effect doesn't have to be expensive. Some dollar stores even have a variety of test tube like containers and beakers that you could use for the lighting effect.

Dry ice would also create an interesting feature, especially if you use a small spot light or black light to intensify the effect. Black lights also work really well to brighten up light colors against dark backgrounds, so putting up a poster of Einstein would glow really nicely with a black light, as would other signs and images. (We also bought a bunch of black light bulbs from a dollar store for a buck each, so again, it doesn't have to be expensive).

Here's a good link for a place that rents props. You should find a lot of inspiration from their images.

And finally, here's a sample image of the glow stick lighting...


That's a great idea, however; from a stage, the glow sticks probably wouldn't be bright enough. You would probably have to use LEDs at the very least. (Especially if they are using any other type of stage lighting.)

+1 about the dry ice. Some of my first theater jobs were as a dry ice technician! :) (Also, heat the water that's in your beakers, put a few chips of dry ice in, and you have a great effect.)

If you do use stage lighting, use red and blue gels (or colors if using LEDs or intells) in areas throughout the stage... it gives a great effect. (Don't put the red and blue gels on the same fixture... use them separately... but maybe pointing towards the same general area would work.)

I agree that from a stage there has to be more lighting, that's why I only offered up some ambient light suggestions. For the main stage lights, the OP should have indicated (to some extent) what equipment they have access to, what their knowledge is, what their budget is, and what they want to achieve with the lighting. Without that IMO, its hard to offer up much in the way of ideas. Plus, I'm sure we all have a different interpretation of what a "small venue stage" size is... :)

I totally agree... and yes, my interpretation of a "small" venue is probably pretty big compared to some interpretations! The smallest venue that I've worked with had at least one or two intelligents... which is probably more than some high schools can claim... :)

The OP claims to be 21, so I'm not sure if this is for a club (and perhaps they have some stage lighting), or if his/her "age" is a little inflated, and this is in fact for a high school drama performance... (Hard to say). ;-)

Right... but even I do high school plays now and then (of course it's normally private schools with money to burn who hire me!) :)

Well hopefully the OP responds with some more details... I assumed you'd probably have the best advice to give. ;-)

What type of lighting do you have access to? If you have any intelligents, make a chase of flashes going across the ceiling. It's better than strobes, but not hard to call up from your cue stack.

If you don't have intelligent lights, use cheap $12 strobes, position 3-20 around the room on the ceiling, and use dimmer packs to chase between them. Also, if you can control each house fixture individually, sometimes you can do chases with them. I've only done it that way once though... it was on a $0 budget. :)

I'm pretty good with lighting, so if you want to try and do it through lighting and don't have the equipment to do any of the generic setups I mentioned, let me know what you do have, and I'll give you some ideas. (I'm not that great with making pyrotechnics... better leave that to the trained professionals.)

Arc discharges create lots of Ozone - which is a potent air polluter, and extremely unpleasant to breathe in a closed space.

+1... also it could be against fire regulations in some areas. Arc discharges are considered pyrotechnics; and like I said in my answer below, it's best to leave the pyrotechnics to the experts. :)

Unless the reality of the sparks is essential I would fake it bt engraving spark tracks on some clear perspex and edge lighting them with blue LEDs as appropriate - much easier and safer.

There are lots of weird LED effects ytou can get - Lighting tubes of water from below - put a drop of milk in the water to reflect the LED light. Colour change the LEDS

Use bubble acrylic tubing lit from the ends with LED.

Plasma globes