From fabulous veteran TD Tom Rupp, this account of the technical wizadry behind the stage magic of the onstage rain in The Whipping Man:
There are several ways to create a rain effect on stage. From a small drizzle outside a window to a real downpour. One has to consider how to get the rain on stage, but more importantly how to get rid of it. There are six major areas of consideration, Supply, Storage, Delivery, Recovery, Control, and Noise
We used two different techniques for the rain for “The Whipping Man”. The effect over the windows is quite simple. We attached a sheet of Plexiglas on the back of the window frame.
We then put silicone caulk around the frame to seal it. The Supply and storage is a five gallon bucket. The delivery is a piece of ½” PVC with1/8” holes on 3” centers spraying onto the top of the window. The PVC tube is capped at both ends with a “T” fitting in the middle. We used a3/8” tubing to the “T” to a submersible pond pump which sits in the five gallon bucket.
Recovery is a standard gutter with a downspout emptying into the five gallon bucket. We controlled the pumps from the light board turning them on and off with cues called by the Stage Manager. The noise was deadened with open cell foam, the type you would find in a window unit Air Conditioner.
The rain seen behind the circular stair case was a little more involved. The supply was a standard hose hooked up to a sink backstage so the storage was city water. The delivery was three 8’-0” long ½” PVC tubes following the curve of the wall. We took the ½” PVC and bolt it in the middle of a piece of 4” PVC. The ½” PVC has 1/8” holes on 3” centers drilled into the top of the PVC. The 4” PVC has a ¼” slot on the Bottom of the PVC. We insert a 6”strip of screen wire on the ¼” slot which we fray and fold in a random pattern. The water shoots up to the top of the 4” PVC and rolls down the sides. The screen helps break it up, so it does not look like a sprinkler.
The recovery was a little tricky. The current stage is 3” higher than the permanent 30” level of the Head stage. We cut out a section of the floor giving us 3” to hold the water. We installed a pond liner in the opening and putt subway grating over the opening so the actors could walk over it. Inside the grating was a pond pump that pumped the water into the same sink that is the feed.
The grating was a little wider than the door, and only collected the water in that area. For the two sides we used 8” PVC that we cut in half. The PVC was on an angle so it ran off into an area over the grating.
The control was the knob on the sink faucet. We played with several amounts of pressure until we came to a level everyone was happy with. The Stage Manager would cue a stagehand back stage to turn the water on and off.
The noise was again controlled by the open cell foam. The noise from this rain effect is very loud. The noise needs to be deadened because there are many quiet moments in the play. We want to see the rain, but we do not want it to upstage the actors. The Sound Designer has built cues for the rain when we want to hear it, so the atmosphere can be controlled with the progression of the play.