From Professor Will comes this fascinating information on toy theatre special effects, a result of a recent thread about the subject on the Toy Theatre Yahoo Group:
Lycopodium is a club moss spore; if you can identify the moss, you can collect it in the woods at the right time of year. It produces a flash because it's so fine that it "burns" when blown into in the air and ignited by a flame or spark (like a flour explosion). There are no oils involved. Finely powdered resin will do the same but is more dangerous (and smelly) Colored "fires" were frequently coarse resin combined with metal salts. They are technically a firework and appropriate regulations apply.I found information about something called a flambol which is "...an apparatus, which is used to make a fire from a flambol with on a stage of a theatre." I have no idea how practial it might be, but thought I'd pass it on here for those that might be interested. This also sounds like a LOT of fun for those scientifically-minded - think of the possibilities!
"Flash" paper, cotton, silk, etc. are forms of nitro cellulose, best acquired for a reputable magic supplier. Must be kept dry. They burn at a very low temperature (unlike magnesium!) Safest igniter is a model airplane glow plug hooked up to 12 volt battery. There's a slight delay which needs to be compensated for in performance. Small igniters that work with a 9 volt battery are available.