Types of Theatre Curtains
When shopping for theatre curtains, you might feel just a bit confused. And it’s no wonder why! Because there are so many varied options, a myriad of different types of curtains, and countless fabric choices from which to choose, anyone who is looking to buy stage curtains (especially for the first time) might be totally overwhelmed. There is even terminology that may be completely unfamiliar to you. In many ways, buying stage curtains might seem like learning a new language! Nevertheless, choosing theatre curtains need not be intimidating. What follows is a brief overview of the types of theatre curtains available.
Theatre Curtains 101
In simplest terms, theatre curtains (or stage curtains) are large fabric pieces used to conceal, in a decorative fashion, the various parts of the stage from the audience. Stage curtains can also be used to create special effects. Theatre curtains may be designed for a wide range of uses on the stage. They also are available in many different fabric options and custom designs.
Although the possibilities for custom stage curtains are endless, there are three basic types of theatre curtains: proscenium curtains, masking curtains and backdrops.
Proscenium curtains include the main curtain and the main valance. These theatre curtains provide a decorative barrier between the audience and stage.
The “grand drape” is also known as the “main curtain,” “front curtain,” or the “house curtain.” This is the closed curtain seen by the audience before the show begins, again at intermission, and after the show ends.
The “grand valance” (or just “valance”) is situated in the front of the grand drape, and it is usually constructed from the same material. Note: “grand valance” may be also referred to as “grand teaser,” and “valance” may also be referred to as “border” or “teaser.”
“Travelers” are the most common moving curtains found on a stage. Traveler curtains are also known as “draw curtains” or “bi-parting curtains.” They are constructed in two halves that split at the center and open by each half traveling horizontally off stage. Travelers may operate manually, or they may feature motorized operation. Regardless of the operating system, travelers are relatively inexpensive.
More ornate Grand Drapes may open by lifting vertically. Depending on the style of the curtain and how it opens, it maybe called an “Austrian Curtain,” “Waterfall Curtain,”“Tableau Curtain,” “Guillotine Curtain,” or “Contour Curtain.” Nearly all of these curtains require an electric motor to operate.
Masking curtains are used to conceal rigging, lighting equipment, and hardware from the audience. Side curtains, borders, and legs are all types of masking curtains.
“Side curtains”, “back curtains”, or “rear setting curtains” describe any curtains that are behind the grand drape. Styles of these types of theater curtains can vary from layers of legs, borders, travelers, and backdrops, to simple U-surround theater curtains.
“Borders” are short and wide theatre curtains spanning a stage’s width. Borders block the scenery and lights in the fly loft. Like legs and other theatre curtains, borders are constructed from a heavy material that blocks the intense theatre lights. Borders frame the top of the theatre scene.
“Legs” are side theatre curtains that are narrow and tall. They are situated on either side of the stage and run parallel to the grand drape. They are designed to block the audience’s view of the backstage areas know as the wings. Legs are constructed from light-blocking velour material, and are almost always black. In most situations, three or more legs are placed stage right, and three or more are placed stage left. The legs frame the side of the theatre scene.
“Backdrops” are theatre curtains that primarily hang in the rear of the stage, but they can also be used mid and downstage to make the stage appear shallower or to allow stage crew to change props or scenery behind them. Backdrops can be made of muslin and painted to provide scenery. Unpainted muslin and scrim are also frequently used as backdrops to create lighting effects.
The “scrim” is a type of curtain constructed of thin, open netting, called “sharkstooth scrim,” and it can be used to create a variety of special effects. A scrim has a unique quality in the world of theatre curtains in that it can appear or disappear by shifting lighting. A scrim will appear opaque if it is illuminated from the front and if everything behind the scrim is not lit. The scrim will be transparent if the scrim itself is unlit, and if the scene, object, or person behind the scrim is illuminated. It will take on a translucent effect if both the scrim and the objects behind it are lit. Such a set-up can create a dreamy effect on the stage, which gives the audience an impression that events on the stage are occuring at some other point in time or in a stage character’s dreams or thoughts.
For an even more detailed explanation of theater curtains, watch our video below!
A Note about Flame Retardancy
As per building code, all theatre curtains must be flame retardant (FR). Another commonly used term is “fire resistant.” IFR, or Inherently Flame Retardant, curtains are FR curtains in which the flame retardanancy is inherent in the fabric. IFR curtains never need to be retreated. There are IFR knitted and IFR woven velours available. FR cotton (or Flame Retardant cotton) curtains must be retreated every few years to maintain fire retardancy. FR curtains that are not IFR must be carefully dry-cleaned as any water will damage them. Most IFR curtains are not adversely affected by water.
All types of theatre curtains must be flame retardant. Painted backdrops are often constructed from NFR (Non-Flame Retardant) muslin. An FR treatment is then added to the paint before applying to the backdrop. The entire drop must be painted so that it is completely covered with the FR treatment. This is done because FR muslin does not paint as well as NFR, and the paints can remove the FR treatment. Many paints are not compatible with IFR fabrics.
At BellaTEX, we can flame test, and if necessary, we can repair, clean, and retreat your theatre curtains, whether we manufactured the curtain or not.
For more information about flame retardancy, please visit our flame testing page and watch our video on that topic.
Watch this video to learn more about the different curtain types available: