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Wiz-in-a-Box! Part 1

How many of you remember the Acme company? Acme was the fictional company that supplied weapons, disguises and booby-traps to Wile E. Coyote, Marvin the Martian, and a host of other villains in the Warner Brothers cartoons. My favorite Acme products were the "all in one" kits like the "Do It Yourself Tornado," and the "Little Giant Rocket Sled." I liked the idea of getting a package from the amazingly fast Acme delivery service, opening the box and having a working train station (for example) spring forth.

I'm sure that like me, many of you have thought (probably during tech week) "if only I had an Acme Li'l Mielziner Musical Comedy Kit!" Well, I don't have an Acme Instant Show kit for you this week, but I do have a collection of tips, suggestions and solutions for many of the effects in the show we get asked about most often, "The Wizard of Oz." Because of the large cast required for this show, and because that cast is often made up of children, I've tried to stick to non-pyro solutions as much as possible.

The character most associated with special effects in this show is the Wicked Witch, so I'll devote the first few tips to her. For her appearances, I've found that filling a doorway with fog from a fog machine, while shining a green PAR or spotlight into the fog, creates a great-looking cloud of "green smoke" from which the Witch can emerge. Accompany the fog and lights with a thunderclap sound effect, and your audience will be asking you where you learned to use pyrotechnics. Incidentally, a similar effect can be used for the Witch's death scene. In this case, the doorway fills with fog as the witch staggers back into it. Then, as the fog thickens, she makes her escape offstage, leaving her hat and broomstick on the floor.  A much more modern way to create this effect is with the use of the Geyser RGB Cryo/Pyro Simulator.  This amazing machine creates a photo-realistic effect of colored fire, but is actually a vertical fog machine with built-in LED lights.

The Wicked Witch's flaming broom is probably the effect that prompts the most phone calls to Theatre Effects. In the script, she lights the end of her broom and threatens Scarecrow with it, prompting Dorothy to douse it (and her) with a handy bucket of water. I've heard of groups using plastic or wooden brooms coated with flammable fluids, and other companies who concocted elaborate lighting effects to create a non-pyro flaming-broom effect. My favorite solution so far, however, came from a company not afraid to take a few liberties with the script.

This company was performing in a theatre that didn't allow any live flame or pyro on stage. In fact, they weren't even allowed to use a fog machine! Obviously, they had to come up with some ingenious ways to create the required effects. For any scenes that called for the Witch to use fire, the company had one of the younger cast members run on stage in a "fireball" costume of red, yellow and orange. The audience loved the effect, and the fireball usually got the biggest round of applause each night!

If you would prefer to make a realistic fire effect (but don't want to burn the theatre to the ground) try using our MG33 UFK Wide Angle Flash Ejector, powered by the UFK Ignition System.  By using Flash Paper and Flash Cotton, you can create a brilliant fireball!  Our UFK line of products are specifically manufactured to be custom-built into any prop or set piece.

For Glinda the Good's entrance, I recommend using something other than a fog machine. Since most audiences remember her appearing in a bubble in the movie, I like to use a bubble machine mounted just above head height and just off stage. Having Glinda appear in a cloud of bubbles allows her to have a magical entrance that is clearly different from that of the Wicked Witch.

Towards the end of Act One, Glinda saves Dorothy and her friends from the Wicked Witch's field of poppies by causing a magical snowstorm on stage. There are two easy ways to create this storm, one with a snow confetti effect and one using foam. A Snow Cradle is a device that hangs above stage and will cause confetti to fall over the entire width of your stage. This unit can be loaded with either plastic snow (our popular Wizard Snow or the new SnoBiz Snow) or paper confetti. A snow machine uses a special snow liquid to create "snowflakes" that are actually small pieces of foam. This foam dries within a few seconds, leaving virtually no residue behind. While the snow from a snow machine does not have to be swept up (like confetti) the machine itself can be fairly loud when in use, and may not be suitable for small theatres.  However, modern advancements in snow machines give most theatres the ability to use these professional pieces of equipment without disturbing their audiences.  If noise is a concern, we highly recommend the Silent Storm.

I hope you've enjoyed this first look at effects for "The Wizard of Oz." If there's another show you'd like to see treated this way, drop us a line. Next, we'll look at The Wizard and his alter ego Professor Marvel, and discuss creating a Kansas Twister on stage! 

Continue to PART 2


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