How the Christmas Carol Team Create Indoor Snow

By Mads Leigh-Faire

If you find yourself in The Geary Theater anytime during the run of A.C.T.’s A Christmas Carol, you may find yourself in an Arctic flurry (though you won’t need to bundle up to deal with this snow).

A.C.T. is lucky to host a version of Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol where snow falls from the theater’s rafters. Do we cut a hole in the ceiling of The Geary and let actual snow fall on the audience? Do we hire Jack Frost?

Snow falls on the cast of A.C.T.'s A Christmas Carol (2018). Photo by Kevin Berne.

As impressive as that would be, the real answer is even more magical. Four years ago, A.C.T.’s backstage crew took on a huge challenge for Carol: making snow fall onstage. The snow could not be made out of anything water-based, as it would make the stage slippery for actors and could damage costumes, set pieces, or lighting and sound equipment. Painting snow in a set would work but does not create the 3-D effect of real snowfall.

After researching how other theaters in the past had approached their blizzard of a problem, A.C.T’s scene shop found that the most common solution was paper! Theaters have taken fire-treated crystalline plastic (safe to use around electrics) and cut them en masse into ‘flakes.’ These ‘snowflakes’ are actually circular (making them easier to mass produce) and about the size of the end of an eraser.

The machine that disperses them is a large, motor-operated metal drum, clocking in at about 25 feet long. The motor spins the drum, which is punched with holes and filled with flakes. As the barrel spins, flakes fall through the holes to create snow. What would a chilly London Christmas Eve be without a little snow?

Want to make your own hand-operated snow machine at home?
All you’ll need is a hole punch, a sheet (or several) of white paper, and a long, circular tube (like a poster tube or a paper towel roll). First, use a hole punch on white paper to make lots of "snow." Then take the circular tube and cut holes along the sides, roughly the size of your hole-punched snow. Block one end of the tube and pour in your snow. Block off the other end and hold the tube horizontally across your body. Slowly turn the tube around and you should start to see your snow fall!

Mads Leigh-Faire is currently A.C.T.'s Special Events Fellow for 2018–19. They also blog with Queeries Blog and perform in the Bay Area as drag thing Holden Wood.

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