Sunday, July 15, 2007

In the soup

Every picture tells a story. This is a Polaroid snapshot of the special effects crew underneath the stage risers at the back of the Albert Hall for some long forgotten show. Linc (with the specs) runs the business and the other two were crew (as well as myself). It was for an 1812 Overture performance and three of us were in the three sections of stage which opened out into the two Bull Runs, the sloping performance entrances at platform level.

We were armed with Dry ice machines, Gauntlets and wearing Headsets (with boom Mics) so that we could communicate. We were using Pea Soupers which are the industry standard dry ice fog machine.The Pea Souper is a large box which contains boiling water and a chip basket affair worked from a side handle. You plug it in (but not into the BBC sockets, there is such a thing at the Albert Hall) and load up the basket with dry ice chips. You fix the lid back down, then lower the handle on cue. This makes clouds of low hanging beautiful white fog which pours out of the front, along tubes (if fitted) to where you want it. For this show, we had two cues, requiring a re-stocking of dry ice after the first plunge. (there are two soothing pieces of music in the 1812 before the big fight starts). The first cue went fine and Linc commented that the stage coverage was beautifully smooth. We always have a bit of banter at these events and we had been named numbers 1, 2 and 3 (Stage Right, Centre and Stage Left as per his view to the sides up in the Balcony BBC box). I was number three and was pleased that my contribution wouldn't be referred to as number two! As soon as we were told to raise our handles at the end of the first cue, I unscrewed my lid and tipped my second pile of freezing cold chips in, getting a cloud of residual steam and fogging up my specs in the process. Undeterred, I got the lid screwed on (not without a little bit of effort, as the residual pressure was fighting against me) and was ready for the next cue. Linc called it, then questioned why number 2 hose wasn't giving out fog. "The f***ing lid's come off!" came the reply, and looking to my right, I was greeted by the astonishing sight of a wall of dry ice fog pouring out of the staging sides into the Voms (& downwards to backstage) whilst accompanied by a string of profanities over the headphones as number two struggled to find the lid and get it back on again.

We managed to regain our composure for the Finale' (& we were just passengers then, Linc was doing the bangs in time) and we were rewarded at the end by the Compere, Richard Baker, giving Linc's Company a plug. (I think Linc had nobbled him in the interval).

I took a look on YouTube to see if I could find some really good dry ice stage effects (think Swan Lake). I did find this though, which is ... erm... odd.


Anonymous said...

I just started reading your posts. Isnt dry ice dangerous to the touch? Like does it freeze you or burn you or something?

Shades said...

Yes, dry ice is solidified Carbon Dioxide, about -78.5 degrees C so it can give you frostbite. Hence the gauntlets!

Lord Straf-Bilderberg said...

Dry ice machines

This is nostalgia for me. Fail to understand the convection in a particular hall and they might as well not be there.

Handling the stuff is not for the amateur - to get the flow effect or the Banquo mist is an art.

Shades said...

I've yet to see it done better than at His Majesty's for Phantom of the Opera. I've also seen it done really badly- automated clic-trac SMPTE timecode went wrong in Beauty & the Beast, the foggers didn't start, the lighting didn't cue properly and the magic evaporated!

Ruthie said...

It's too bad you couldn't find a video of the show, that would have been nice... but what a peculiar trick with the coffee mug. I never would have thought of that.

Shades said...

Ruthie, I wouldn't have thought of it either. There is a good Banquo mist effect on the Squeeze vid on my Interlude post.

(Banquo was in "the Scottish Play". The mist is used for the witches and Banquo's ghost, although I imagine they didn't sublimate CO2 at the original Globe.

Colin Campbell said...

I went to the Albert Hall to see the 1812 overture in the late 70s. Very impressive, although I was very far away, up in the Gods.

Shades said...

Colin, I did an 1812 Overture up in the Gods myself during the Proms season many years ago. The maroons were fired by a percussionist whose main contribution to the first half was playing a Triangle! (He got it wrong as well and put an extra bang in, so he wwas one short later. He didn't believe me until we checked the bomb tanks to see they had all gone off.)

The Promenaders were rather miffed to be herded away in the second half- they were excluded from about a third of the Gallery for elfensafety.