Theater drapes and stage curtains
Theater drapes and stage curtains are large pieces of cloth that are designed to mask backstage areas of a theater from spectators. They are designed for a variety of specific purposes and come in several types; many are made from black or other dark colored, light-absorbing material, and heavyweight velour is the current industry standard for these. Theater drapes represent a portion of any production's soft goods, a category which includes any cloth-based element of the stage or scenery (though not including cloth theater costumes or wardrobe).
Proscenium stages use a greater variety of drapes than arena or thrust stages. In proscenium theaters, drapes are typically suspended from battens that are controlled by a fly system (i.e., they are "flown", in theater terminology). When a drape is flown, the task of adjusting its height for best masking effect is simplified and, in the case of a drape that must be moved during a performance, this enables the drape to be quickly raised above the proscenium arch—thus positioning it out of view of spectators—or lowered to any arbitrary height above the stage, as required.
Types of drapes and curtains
The front curtain, which is variously called a grand drape, act curtain, house curtain, house drape, main drape or, in the UK, tabs, hangs downstage, just behind the proscenium arch. It is typically opened and closed during performances to reveal or conceal the stage and scenery from the audience.
There are several types of front curtains, which may consist of a single section or two sections, of fabric that may be pleated or flat. Depending on the type, front curtains may travel horizontally or vertically. In the case of front curtains that travel vertically, some types gather near the top of the proscenium when opened, while others are raised into the fly space above the stage.
Hard teasers and tormentors are flat, horizontal and vertical (respectively) pieces that are located just upstage of the grand drape. Together, one hard teaser and a pair of tormentors (one on each side of the stage) are frequently used to form a reduced-size "false proscenium" within the frame of the actual theater proscenium. Hard teasers and tormentors are typically covered with thin plywood, which in turn is covered with dark colored, light-absorbing material. The teaser is usually flown from a dedicated batten so that its height can be independently adjusted so as to optimize its masking of the flies (the fly system and its loads).
In some productions, a show portal is used in place of a false proscenium. This is a decorative "frame" for the stage which also serves to mask backstage areas, just as a teaser and tormentors would.
Legs, borders and tabs
Legs are tall, narrow stage drapes that are used to mask the wings on either side of the stage. Borders, are wide, short draperies that span the width of the stage; these are used to mask lights and scenery that have been raised into the fly loft. Legs and borders are typically made from a heavy, light-absorbing material similar to that of other stage drapes. Typically, a set of two legs, one on each side of the stage, and one border, is used to form a complete masking "frame" around the stage. Several such sets of legs and borders are typically employed at varying distances upstage from the proscenium.
Tabs are drapes that hang at the sides of the stage perpendicular to the proscenium opening to mask the wings, as shown in the drawing at the top of this page.
A scrim, sometimes gauze, is a curtain made of an open-weave fabric that appears opaque when lit from the front, but transparent when a person or object behind the curtain is lit.
A backdrop (or cloth) is a painted curtain that hangs in the back of the stage to indicate scenery. Before the advent of motion pictures, theaters would have 6-8 stock painted backdrops on canvas for use in their live theatrical performances. Often these would include an urban scene, a nature or garden scene, and a domestic interior.
A cyclorama or cyc is a large white curtain, often concave, at the back of the stage that can be lit to represent the sky or other backgrounds.