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Stage Curtains and their Classification

Submitted by : By TE Online on November 19, 2008 12:01 PM


stage-curtains2.jpgShakespeare had once said, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. In this god created stage of world, we do not need to make arrangements for special effects but when its the matter of theatrical stage, we do need certain effects that may convey the message sent from the stage to the audience in an effective manner. Stage curtains are an effective medium for this purpose. By using different types of stage curtains made of various curtain fabrics, maximum dramatic effects can be given to any act.

Types of Stage Curtains

There are various types of theater curtains that are in contemporary use.

Proscenium Curtains

The Proscenium Curtains, also known as, Grand Drapes, Front or Main Curtains, are primarily used as sight and sound barrier between the audience and the acting area. As it is the focus point of the audience before the act starts, it also has a great design value. It is often made luxurious with trimmings like fringe, braid, tassels, or other decorative details. Mostly, these curtains are accompanied with decorative valance which often matches the curtain. The fabrics that are commonly used for making the grand drapes include Velour (cotton or synthetic), Damask, or Doral (vinyl supported flame retardant fabric). There are various sub-types of the grand drapes which include Pleated Curtain, Contour Curtain, Austrian Curtain, Tableau Curtain.

Pleated Curtain: Pleated-curtain.jpgIt is the most common design used in schools, churches and professional theaters. There are two types of Pleated Curtains– Traveler Curtain and Fly Curtain. The Traveler Curtain is built of two panels with a central overlap and it hangs from a heavy duty traveler track. This type is used when either there is insufficient fly space to allow the lifting of curtain or some special visual effect has to be given to the act. The Fly Curtain can only be used in larger theaters where there is a proper fly system. A Fly system is a cavity above the stage along with a mechanical system to raise and lower objects. For a Fly curtain, decorative fabrics are used with a lining to block transparency, if any.


Contour Curtain: stage_curtain.jpgThis type of curtain gathers up vertically, thereby giving a scalloped look or curved projections. It more or less gives the impression of being a fly curtain but it does not require a fly space. Instead, a series of cables run through rings sewn in vertical lines at the back of the curtain. The number of lifted lines, the distance between them and the fullness determine the shapes, sizes and the number of the curves. Contour Curtain, often called Venetian Curtains, are used in grand opera houses or theaters. Due to the additional labor required, these types of curtains are more expensive than the Pleated Curtains.

Austrian Curtain: austrian-curtain.jpgAn Austrian Curtain is made of one piece and consists of multiple rows of scallops or curves. The scallops are crated either by shirring or hand-pleating the fabric vertically along the edges of each row. Also known as Brail Curtain, it is meant to achieve a faster lifting of the curtain. The Austrian Curtain either fly out in one piece or gather up with the help of cables running through the rings sewn in vertical lines at the back of the curtain.

Tableau Curtain: tab-curtains2.jpgAlso known as Tab Curtain, it consists of two panels that hang in folds along the sides of the stage when it is opened. Cables run through rings sewn diagonally across the back of the curtain. This type is used for more dramatic revelation. In its opened form, it remains a decorative element through out the stage performance.

Masking Curtains

Masking Curtains are meant to hide the off stage area, divide the stage, and provide access to the main stage area. They are usually black in color as they have to become invisible when the lights are dimmed. During a band or choral performance, curtains made of other colors may also be used. These curtains may either be made into pleated or flat curtains. Fabrics that are commonly used for making Mask Curtains include cotton or synthetic Velour, Serge Commando Cloth, or Nevada which is a flame resistant fabric. They can be classified into Masking Curtain Borders, Masking Curtain Legs, and Intermediate Tabs .

Masking Curtain Borders:

maskingcurtains.jpg The Borders are meant to conceal lights and other equipment above the stage. Their size is generally determined by sight lines.

Masking Curtain Legs: These side curtains are used to mask the side of the stage so that the audience cannot see that area. They also act as hidden wings for actors to enter and exit the stage. They may even be rotated to face forward or sideways when used with rotodrapers.

Intermediate Tabs: These Midstage or Rear Travelers are used for dividing the stage into smaller sections. They may also be used to hide equipment and backdrops at the back of the stage. Usually pleated, they consist of two panels, with a central overlap, which open to the sides.


Backdrops give scenic elements on the stage. They can be used for lighting effects or for the purpose of projection. They may either be painted or printed to add to the scenic representation. Most of the Drops are made of Muslin or Sharkstooth Scrim. Other fabrics such as Filled Scrim (Leno), Bobbinet, and Canvas are also used for making Backdrops.

Handpainted Scenic Backdrops:

printed_backdrop_theater.jpgTraditionally used in theatrical performances, it is an oversized painting which is made on fabric such as Canvas or Muslin.

Digitally Printed Backdrops: It is a recent replacement for the Handpainted Scenic Backdrops. They give an impression of photo realistic scenes, are durable inspite of repeated usage and easier to store. These qualities have given them wide acceptance among the theatrical world.

Scrim Drops: They are used for multiple effects. They become opaque when lit from the front and translucent when lit from behind. This brings more dramatic effects by revealing or concealing the scenes. It can also be used for projection or painting.

Cyclorama: cyclorama.jpgAlso called 'Cyc', it is a single piece of scenery that encircles or partially encloses the scene to form a background. It is also used for lighting or projection purposes. It is commonly used as a sky drop supporting a scenery placed in the foreground. Cyclorama can be made as a rigid cyc i.e. Hard scenery or flexible cyc i.e. Made with fabric. Flexible cyc is mostly favored as it can be moved easily. Muslin is the common fabric used for cyclorama.

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