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Ultraviolet (uv) Performance

Performances using ultraviolet (uv) light are mesmerizing to watch. Under ultraviolet light (black light), a performer moving brightly coloured equipment can create optical traces in the paths of objects. The trails left by fluorescent props in motion are both stunning and fairly easy to produce. All that is really required to get an effect is that performers are close enough to the uv light source(s) for fluorescent objects to appear brighter than the background. If near, or ideally complete, darkness is available the effects are greatly enhanced. By blacking out all of yourself, the objects you are controlling can appear to move through the air of their own accord - creating the greatest potential for optical illusion.

UV Performance Summary

Fluorescent Equipment

Juggling manufacturers are producing an ever expanding range of uv equipment. There are basically two sorts of professional props: those that are fluorescent, or 'day glow' and these will be brightly coloured, as compared to luminous or 'glow-in-the-dark' equipment which is always a pale shade of yellow or green.

Luminous juggling kit is manufactured so that it can be charged under a normal light, such as a desk lamp. When all the lights are switched off, the specialist material releases stored energy and the props will emit a green coloured 'glow'. Fully luminous balls and clubs can shine for some time once charged with a normal bulb but are brightest (and last longer) if charged under an ultraviolet light. The fact that they visibly glow from all directions is an advantage for routines involving toss juggling as no back lighting (i.e. lights behind the performer) will be required.

There is more choice of colours in fluorescent as opposed to luminous props. Choose clubs in the 'day glow' range of colours (e.g. shocking pink or orange). Fluorescent pigments are usually very visible in sunlight and they will also be bright in uv. However, the coloured fluorescent clubs will not actually 'glow-in-the-dark' and so fluorescent props can only be seen well when lit from the front or above. Because fluorescent colours do not emit light, if you want to throw and catch these props then some back lighting is essential.

An alternative to using the standard manufactured fluorescent equipment is to design and make your own props to suit your show. Use fluorescent paints, paper, bright tapes and, perhaps even trains of ribbons to add a unique style to your equipment. I have found that clear sticky plastic is good at protecting home decorations.

Ultraviolet Light Fittings and a Protective Cage

Professional sound and lighting hire shops will be able to supply ultraviolet lights of the sort used in discotheques. These purple tinted bulbs are completely harmless to human eyes and will not tan the skin. UV performance is safer and much cleaner than fire. Ultraviolet lighting tubes are most commonly available in 4 foot lengths. The bulbs are usually 40 Watt and can be fitted into standard ceiling lighting fittings. You will probably need illumination from more than one side to fully bathe a stage and some back lighting is essential for performers themselves to see fluorescent props, although luminous or 'glow-in-the-dark' props are visible from all sides, once charged.

Black light tubes are much more expensive than normal white fluorescent tubes and are very easily broken. Both are good reasons to protect your lights from fallen equipment and during transportation. Cages are not usually available commercially, so you (or a friend who has tools and spare time) will need to construct one. An example is to individually house your lights in a guttering or plastic pipe sawn in half long ways. Attach a large piece of centimeter square wire mesh over the bulb by fixing it inside the cage with nuts and bolts. Standard lighting tube fittings are used and these often come supplied with a white bulb, which you could safely be rid of by giving it back to the shop. Ask someone who is good at wiring to help check the electrical safety of the fitting and plug.

Figure U.V.1 Ultraviolet Light and Cage


A dark backdrop is highly recommended for any show involving black light. If you want the audience to focus on the patterns of your uv props, then performers should wear all black clothing. If you aim to create optical illusions, such as puppetry effects or levitation, it is important that performers can not be seen at all. However, it is worth remembering that complete black out is difficult to achieve in non-theatre venues and this will restrict the number of performance occasions in which the people will be fully invisible.

If your show includes dance, pirouettes or 'body tricks' such as carries then a partly fluorescent costume will pick out the relevant features of your body. Washing clothes in a soap powder containing optical brighteners is one method of making light colours show up under uv. Spending time designing and making a proper uv costume is worthwhile if you have a particular style in mind. Many arts and crafts shops sell fluorescent fabric paints and combining with these with fluorescent materials sewn onto a basic dark costume can highlight your body's outline. The costume should not be more visible than your equipment or it may detract from your skills. Fluorescent face paints can indicate your facial features such as eyes, mouth, nose and, even ears.


Ultraviolet light tends to mask the performer while heightening the effects of moving equipment. These are some of the reasons why many uv shows are often choreographed to music rather than to spoken comedy. Music should be recorded to a high quality and be accessible to the intended audience - see the chapter on putting together a routine on page 78.

UV Routines

With fully luminous props (such as glowing clubs) it is possible to turn the lights off for parts of a show. This will only work if the equipment is previously well charged. Often more successful is to work in a dark room, with pure ultraviolet lighting through out. The uv will make 'day glow' colours bright and will continuously charge luminous props whilst also keeping any performers wearing full black out hidden.

To make striking images, I believe that the motion of props under ultraviolet light needs to be both graceful and well defined. Stand side on to perform moves in the side vertical plane, so that the audience can see a fully circular pattern. If your equipment goes behind any part of your body (e.g. between the legs or behind the waist) then it may cause a brief silhouette. This will affect the visual flow of the movement because the prop will be momentarily hidden. I have seen this used for comic effect as though the clubs are 'hiding' from view.

Remember that when club swinging, the club retraces its path and often catches up with its own trail. To reinforce continuous patterns the clubs must exactly follow their previous path. If the props collide or there is a hesitant stop, the audience will certainly notice.

My personal approach is that ultraviolet routines are most entertaining when they are dynamic, fast moving and high energy. Just as with any show (be it with fire, normal clubs or whatever) it is the accelerating or unexpected tricks that will have most effect. Contrast these with some slower and more graceful movements, remembering that the visual appeal of the patterns is more important than the individual tricks. Gain speed towards the end of the routine to finish with your most astounding move and give your audience the colourful optical trails that they most want to see.

© Anna Jillings 1994