Happy shark week, theatremakers! It’s time to dive into the magic of underwater set designs. Constructing this captivating and oceanic set may seem daunting or too expensive, but with a little help, you can nail it. So let’s sink our teeth into some helpful tips and tricks! 

Making an Underwater Set Design 

Get Inspiration from the Experts

There are already a variety of professional musicals and shows set “under the sea” – or at least “on the sea.” So, before you start on your journey, take inspiration from the experts:

  • Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Mermaid Ariel should be a happy girl – she lives in an enchanted undersea country, her father is a King, and she has the most beautiful singing voice. But she is a passionate, headstrong teenager, and wants what she cannot have: to live on land.
  • Finding Nemo: Marlin, a clown fish, is incredibly cautious with his son, Nemo, who has a shortened fin. When Nemo swims too close to the surface to prove his bravery, he is caught by a diver and horrified Marlin must set out to find him.
  • Spongebob the Musical: Set in the undersea city of Bikini Bottom, this musical follows happy-go-lucky sea sponge SpongeBob SquarePants and his friends and neighbors. SpongeBob must save the day when it’s discovered that Mt. Humongous, a nearby volcano, will erupt within the next 48 hours and completely obliterate Bikini Bottom. 
  • The Pirates of Penzance: Following a band of soft-tempered pirates, The Pirates of Penzance centers on Frederic, who was mistakenly apprenticed to a pirate (instead of a pilot) by his nursemaid Ruth at the age of eight.
  • South Pacific: Set on the South Pacific island during WWII, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific intertwines the themes of romance, duty, and prejudice to create a story that is hilarious, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking. 
  • Anything Goes: The S. S. American is sailing between New York and England with a comically colorful assemblage of passengers. 

Steps to Take When Creating Your Underwater Set

Now that you’ve studied the experts, it’s time to start prepping your set. Here are a few ways to get things right. 

Focus on lighting

Perhaps the easiest and most inexpensive way to create an underwater set is through smart lighting choices. If you’re aiming for a wavy, cool blue effect, work on finding the perfect hues in your bulbs. Additionally, the direction of your lighting is key to realism. Remember where light comes from under the sea, and prep your stage to reflect that. Perhaps you can focus on more side lighting, or sharp beams coming from above. Don’t be afraid to experiment! 

Utilize projectors

If you have the budget for it, a projector is a simple, no-fuss way to make your underwater set design really pop. Find rippling effects, or utilize rising bubbles to set the tone. You can even consider having a fan project on your cyclorama so the set is constantly rippling as it would underwater. 

Practice your movements

Although your set is vital to set the tone, you must also focus on your actors. Remember that we don’t move the same way underwater – so consider hosting a workshop day where you have actors practice their movements. It may feel a bit silly at first, but getting your team used to moving a little differently will enhance the realism of your show.

Perfect sound effects

From a rippling wave to air bubbles, distant boat sounds, or other ocean-centric noises, this component of your underwater set will elevate performances and really immerse the audience in the ocean world you’re aspiring to replicate. Make sure your sound effects are well-timed and not distracting, however, as you don’t want them overshadowing the actors.

Invest in set pieces

You can do a lot of world-building by creating and utilizing great underwater set pieces. Consider big-budget items like a sunken boat with hidden treasure, or keep it simple by painting/scattering algae along the stage or bringing in a bit of sand. (The latter will be tough to clean up – don’t say we didn’t warn you!)

Create layers

If you want to be more experimental, consider creating layers between the audience and the action, making it seem like the viewer is watching from far away. Ways to make things feel murkier include layers of iridescent fabric, utilizing plastic, or even bringing in a fog machine to create that underwater ambiance.

Focus on fabric

Light fabrics, like silk, are excellent for creating ripple effects on stage. You can either have a techie whose job it is to move the fabric consistently, or get a fan to blow on the fabric so it’s constantly in motion!

On The Stage Can Help

Whether you’re looking to build an underwater world, sell more tickets, hone in on marketing strategies, create a top-of-the-line show website, or push your merchandise, On The Stage can help you make a big splash and turn your theatre dreams into reality. 

Take the plunge this Shark Week and book a personalized demo with On The Stage.

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