DIY Stage Effects

By Jeff O'Kelley
Musical concert lighting

The addition of stage effects to theater performances, musical concerts or professional presentations can improve the audience experience and add another dimension to nearly any performance. Stage effects can range from simple lighting effects to elaborate special effects which utilize elements such as fog, sound, light and even fire. While some stage effects, such as fire or explosions, should be left to professionals, there are a multitude of do-it-yourself stage effects from which to choose.

Put chunks of dry ice into a large, Styrofoam cooler and place to the side or rear of your stage. Add hot water to the cooler to generate a fog or smoke effect. To distribute the smoke around the stage, use a small electric fan to move the smoke in the desired direction. As the water cools, add more hot water to generate additional smoke.

Christmas lights

Use inexpensive Christmas lights to add a unique look to your stage. Mixing flashing and non-flashing lights of different colors adds an eclectic look to your stage show, where using numerous strings of white, flashing lights can produce a sparkle effect.

Slide projector

Put together a slideshow of images that fit with the band’s music and project on the rear wall of the stage, curtain or sheet hung from the rigging. This can be as simple as utilizing a slide projector or creating a slideshow on a laptop computer, then connecting it to a portable projector. The result is a simple effect that can be tailored to the band or changed on a regular basis.

Use strobe lights in conjunction with other stage lighting to create a simple, fast-paced stage effect. Add colored gels to the strobe lights for a more dramatic effect.

Create a unique effect by using blacklight markers or blacklight reactive tape to write messages or draw pictures on amps, drums, microphone stands or other stage gear. The effect will be invisible until lit by blacklights, which can be turned on at various times to reveal the hidden text and artwork.

Night sky

Use a knife or scissors to make small holes in a large, black curtain or sheet. When hung from the ceiling or rigging, and lit from behind, the illusion of stars in the night sky or the view of city lights in the distance can be easily achieved.

Microphone for digital recorder

Record various sounds with a digital recording and incorporate into your performance via the venue sound system or an onstage CD player or digital music player.

Tip

When using strobe lights, be sure that the venue posts a warning for people sensitive to strobe effects. Combine lights and fog to create various effects and moods. Digitally recorded sounds can be easily manipulated with audio software to create unique effects or sounds.

Warning

Wear protective gloves when handling dry ice to prevent frost burn. To avoid a fire hazard, never connect strings of Christmas lights in excess of the manufacturer recommendations.

About the Author

Jeff O'Kelley is a professional photographer and writer, currently based in the Tampa, Florida area. His images and words have been featured by websites and publications such as CNN, Creative Loafing and Tampa Bay Times. O'Kelley holds associate degrees in telecommunications and website design from St. Petersburg College.