Set with droplets
Photo: Il trittico - DNO 2024 | © Monika Rittershaus

Special effects: trickling up

6 May 2024

You can believe it, the dictionary does not lie: trickling is the descent of small droplets of liquid. Descent meaning moving downward. But the theatre would not be the theatre if it could not switch things around by going against gravity – and the dictionary. In Il trittico, black droplets are trickling up, rather than down, the set panels. 

Author: Lune Visser

Just imagine having a mind so troubled that the darkness does not slowly descend upon you, but envelops you from every angle, even from below. The heroine in Suor Angelica definitely knows what that feels like. In this second part of Puccini’s triptych Il trittico, the set is made up of two huge wooden panels that have been placed perpendicular to each other. The entire Chorus is standing over top and – about every five minutes – 90 black ‘droplets’ move across the panels from the bottom up. 

Droplets coming up
Plastic rol
Klein haakje

Ruud Sloos, Special Effects Supervisor, explains: ‘When we went through our warehouse, we found gigantic rolls of black plastic from a previous performance we could repurpose for this concept. We cut them up into smaller strips of ten, 20 and 30 centimetres wide, rolled them onto their own separate drainpipes, and attached them to the bottom of the large panels. At the top, right above every piece of pipe, we installed miniature motorised pulleys that use ultra thin and super strong fishing line to hoist the black plastic.’ 

Ruud Sloos

“... our work is not just about “putting stuff” together”

The miniature motors have also been repurposed. Since they were hooked up to LED dimmers in a previous performance, they are now very easy to control with the lighting console. 

Sloos: ‘Before we get started, we develop a detailed operating system that will allow us to hoist all the strips of black plastic at just the right time and the right speed. All we need to do to make it look like the droplets are trickling up is to press one button.’ 

Little machines

That may sound perfect, but the system is not without its problems. The plastic, for instance, is prone to curling, the stage lighting (which has yet to be chosen) may inadvertently illuminate the fishing line, making it visible to the audience, and it remains to be seen whether the 90 miniature motors will be quiet enough not to disturb the Chorus with their buzzing sound. ‘And once we’ve managed to roll the plastic off the pipes as it should, we need to roll it back on after the performance. This calls for meticulous manual handling in teams of two – 90 times. That just goes to show that our work is not just about “putting stuff together”. We also have materials, sound and even staffing issues to contend with. We’re on the right track, though, because we’ve successfully navigated quite a few obstacles already!’