When you are at the Theater there is a sense of intrigue and mystery. Long hanging curtains seem to conceal the stage. When the lights dim, the curtains move slowly revealing the anticipated hopes and excitement of the audience. Observing the stage, you will see a scene form before your eyes. This view becomes the focus as the rest of the stage is surrounded by multiple Theater Curtains. While it has been a custom handed down through history, it makes one wonder what exactly their purpose is.
It would appear as if they are there to isolate the stage. After all, the show is the center of attention. Interestingly, not only does each draping swag and panel have a name… they also have a role in the evening.
The main drapes are the front and center curtains that open and close. They provide a barrier between the audience and the stage. This includes the valance that hangs over top which is often referred to as the main valance. The Proscenium Curtains are seen before the show, during intermissions and after the finale. Traditional drapes are a deep velvety red color and come in several materials.
These curtains are designed in many sizes and lengths. They are called travelers for their ability to be moved mechanically or manually during the show. They can generously block certain parts of the stage and be opened for varied scenes. If a prop change is needed, the Traveler is drawn while the set is prepared. They keep the illusion for the audience through the production. You may also hear them called draw or bi-parting curtains.
During a play, lights and music seem to abound from thin air. This effect is possible with Masking Curtains. In effort to remove visibility of the behind the scenes equipment, side or Masking Curtains are put in place. Rigging, Lighting and essential tools are hidden from sight. Thicker material is used when making these drapes for optimal efficiency. Stage lights can be especially bright and cause a visual obstruction to the audience and cast. The curtains help to filter the levels of light that make it to the stage and seats.
Backdrops and Scrim
Backdrops are adaptable with color, paint and special effects. They hang in the back of the stage providing the scenery of the set. One backdrop or multiple are hung to change the dynamics and dimensions of each scene. Scrims are an accessory to the Backdrop. A very thin veil like material has translucent properties that can be altered with light. Scrim is easy to move and offers differing effects that make the scene appear as if it is moving. Clouds, thoughts or time of day can be maneuvered with this savvy trick of the stage trade.
Knowing the sequence of Theater Curtains can be used on your own set design. If you are a theater enthusiast, a little inside information will make you feel even more connected to the Arts.