HOW TO: Create a Rain Effect on Stage

For this rain effect on stage, the designer wanted a thin curtain of water falling like rain across the entire width of the stage just in front of the upstage wall of the set.  This is a classic rain curtain system: holes drilled in a pipe hung above the stage and a trough below the pipe to catch the water after it fell.  However, this system overcame 3 obstacles that have challenged me in the past:

 

  1. As the pipe fills with water, the rain starts at the holes closest to the source. To solve this, instead of hanging the PVC with the holes at the bottom of the PVC, they along the side, facing downstage.  This allows the water to fill the pipe halfway up along the entire length before it can escape any of the holes.
  2. The sound of the rain completely drowns out the dialogue of the actors. By covering the trough with a fiberglass window screening, this dramatically muffled the sound of the rain hitting the water and trough below.
  3. The splashing of the rain soaks the deck and nearby scenery. The same window screening used to soften the sound also prevents over-splash.  The drops of water are dispersed when they hit the screen.

Below I will describe in detail the construction process of this system, though the drawings may convey enough information.

The Rain Pipe

  1. Join the Schedule-40 PVC with PVC cement and couplers until you have a complete length of pipe equal to the overall length of the rain curtain desired.  PVC is generally sold in 10-foot lengths.
  2. Mark a line along one edge of the PVC along the entire length of it so that the holes drilled are level and in line with each other.  Then drill holes.  For my effect, I drilled 1/8″ holes every 12″.  Start with fewer holes because it is easier to drill more later.
  3. Add standard theatrical batten clamps (e.g. Rose Brand batten clamp) every 5 feet (or more freqently) along the length of the pipe.  Important: attach these batten clamps to the pipe so that the holes will be on the side of the pipe, not the bottom.
  4. Tie strips of the fiberglass or vinyl window screening (use scrap from trough—see below) around the pipe at each of the drilled holes.  The pressure and momentum of the water leaving the side of the pipe will tend to allow the water to travel sideways as it falls, and will necessitate a wider trough.  These strips stop the sideways motion and cause the water to fall straight down.
  5. Attach identical turnbuckles at every batten clamp, and hang from an existing batten in the theatre.  Use the turnbuckles to level the pipe, though this can be adjusted later when there is water in the system, since the water will be the best indicator of the levelness.

The Rain Trough


  1. Build a trough to contain the water after it falls.  The further the fall, the wider the trough will need to be.  My rain pipe was hung 30 feet above the deck and my trough was 18 inches wide.
  2. Line the trough with heavy plastic sheeting.  I used 20-mil black PVC pond liner, available from pond equipment suppliers.
  3. Cover the top of the trough with fiberglass or vinyl window screening.  (Do not use steel because it will rust.)  Allow the center of the screen to drape into the trough some, instead of stretching it tight.  This will help with the splash reduction.

Water Supply and Drain

To supply water to the rain pipe, I ran a hose from a sink on the stage level up to the PVC pipe directly.  I put two valves down at the sink level, one to adjust rate of the flow and one to turn the flow off and on.  The latter valve was used to operate the effect during the show, and the former was never touched after the desired rate was discovered.

There was no convenient way on my stage to drain the trough directly, so it was pumped back into a sink after each performance.