An Introduction to Stage Curtains & Drapes

curtains-illustration

What do I need?

Theatrical curtains, drapes and accessories come in a variety of types, sizes and colours, generally made to order.

Different names mean different things to different people, so here, for the purposes of clarification is a general (although not exhaustive) list of the main types we supply and install on a regular basis.

Front of House (FOH) Curtains

Front of House (FOH) Curtains

The main curtain that separates the performers from the audience, typically opened at the start of the performance and closed during intervals and at the end. Front of House curtains generally have a central overlap, so there is no gap where they meet in the middle. They can be hand-drawn (also referred to as “walkalong”), manually winched or electrically winched. The benefit of a winched system (manual or electric) over hand-drawn is that both the left and right hand curtains open and close at the same speed, so they always reach their final fully open/fully closed position simultaneously.

Front of House curtains are frequently specified in a heavier gauge material than other curtains, typically wool serge or velvet.

Valance

Valance

A valance is typically used to hide the track mechanism immediately above the Front of House curtains. Valances generally run the full length of the curtains and are fitted immediately in front of the track system.

Valances are generally specified in the same colour and material as the Front of House Curtains.

Legs

Legs

Legs are narrow sections of curtain, positioned to the left and right of the performance area. They have several functions, including hiding performers and props from the audience.

Legs are frequently fitted at an angle, pointing towards the rear of the stage.

In some cases it may be advantageous to mount the legs on a central pivot, so they can be rotated 360 degrees, to suit the type of production.

Border

Border

Similar in style and purpose to a Valance, but borders, where specified, are installed above the stage, generally running the full width of the stage.

They can be used to reduce the apparent height of the performance area and are useful in hiding over-stage lights, bars, pulley mechanisms, ropes, cables, etc.

Rear Curtains

Rear Curtains

Rear curtains are frequently referred to as a “Backdrop”, but technically speaking a backdrop is something different – please see the explanation below. The key benefits of rear curtains are to allow performers to move from one side of the stage to the other without being observed and to hide any unsightly rear walls, props, etc. They can also be used to reduce the depth of the stage area. Like Front of House curtains, they can have a central overlap, although this isn’t always necessary. They can also be hand-drawn, manually winched or electrically winched.

Scrim

Scrim

A scrim, sometimes referred to a ‘scrim gauze’ or a ‘sharkstooth scrim’ can be placed virtually anywhere on the stage. Using lighting or projection it can be ‘painted’ in an almost infinite range of colours, or by the same method, made to look transparent, translucent or opaque. Scrims are generally suspended from a fixed overhead bar, or lowered into position using a winched bar.

Backdrops

Backdrops

A backdrop is a generic term used to refer to anything which forms the visible rear of the stage area. A backdrop can be a plain curtain, a projection screen or even painted scenery. Sometimes several backdrops are employed and moved in and out of position between scenes. A “Cyclorama” can also be used as a backdrop – please see below.

Cyclorama

Cyclorama

A cyclorama is a plain, usually unseamed cloth placed at the rear of the stage. Cycloramas can be coloured, but are typically specified in plain white and the stage lighting/projection is then used to ‘paint’ them with a colour, a pattern or an image. The benefit of this approach is that the colour/pattern/image can be subtlety or dramatically changed during the production.

Star Cloth

A star cloth is a fabric curtain, typically black or white, studded with white or coloured LEDs to create sharp pinpoints of light. The lights can be static or made to pulse, shimmer, or ‘twinkle’.

A star cloth is generally suspended from a fixed overhead bar, or lowered into position using a winched bar

Blackout Curtains/Blinds

As the name suggests, blackout curtains and blinds are made from a light-proof fabric, allowing doors and windows to be obscured during a performance.

Blackout blinds don’t necessarily have to be black – they can be specified in a range of colours and materials.

Portable Curtain Systems

Portable Curtain Systems

Also known as Pipe & Drape, portable curtain systems are ideal for use in multi-purpose areas, where a fully installed curtain system is unsuitable or impractical.  They are also perfect for temporary or touring productions, allowing just about any space to be ‘dressed’ to look like a stage.

Portable or Pipe and Drape systems comprise a metal framework and separate made-to-measure curtains.  Like all of our curtains, they can be specified in virtually any configuration, colour or material.

Fire Safety

All of our curtains drapes and blinds are certified for fire safety. Some materials are inherently safe, while others are treated with special fire-resistant chemicals during manufacture. It is important to note that older curtain materials or curtains that have been washed or dry-cleaned may constitute a fire hazard. Please contact us if you have any concerns regarding your existing stage curtains – our advice is always FREE OF CHARGE.

A word about curtain tracks…

Stage curtains and drapes weigh considerably more than domestic curtains and so need a heavy-duty suspension system. Tracks come in a variety of shapes and sizes – straight sections, overlaps, curves and even crossovers.

Rear curtains are frequently specified with a hand-drawn (walkalong) track system, but most Front of House track systems are installed with either a manual or electric winch. Electric winches also have the benefit that they can be operated remotely, from a control booth for example.


It is generally possible to upgrade a hand-drawn system to a winched system, or a manually winched system to an electrically winched one. Most track mechanisms are modular in design, ie the additional components are simply added to the existing installation – there is generally no need to remove the existing track – please ask for details if this is of interest.

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