A Short Guide to Theatre Curtains and Drapes


  • Author John Hoffman
  • Published July 31, 2019
  • Word count 680

Theatre curtains are large pieces of material that are designed to carry out specific jobs in a theatre and are used for a variety of different purposes. Many of them are used to hide the backstage area from the audience, although they can also be used as part of the scenery. Many stage curtains are made of very dark light-absorbing material, and the industry standard for these is heavy cotton velour.

The front curtain, which hangs downstage just behind the proscenium arch is known by a number of different names such as grand drape, house curtain, main drape, and tabs, and may be a single piece of material or it can be split into two. The fabric may be flat or pleated. The tabs can open and close either horizontally or vertically and if split into two curtains will open horizontally. A vertical drape may gather near the top of the proscenium arch when opened, or may travel into the fly space behind and above the proscenium arch when it will not be visible to the audience. There are several other types of openings such as French opening, German opening, Venetian opening, Greek opening, and many others, when the top and sides of the tabs can be gathered and hung in different ways.

If the tabs is made from cotton velour it can be in one of several different weights and will be chemically treated to make it flame retardant. However, it is also possible to use polyester velvets which are inherently flame retardant and are more resistant to moisture and to creasing which makes them very suitable for travelling.

The main auditorium curtains can also be made of mohair velvets which are the most luxurious material and have a long upright satin pile and are very hard-wearing.

Theatre curtains can be sewn flat or they can be pleated in one of several types of pleat such as rippled pleat, butterfly pleat, full box pleat, shirred pleat, tied-in fullness, and pinch pleat.

Hard teasers and tormentors are flat pieces just upstage of the main drape. They are typically of thin plywood covered in dark coloured light-absorbing material. One hard teaser and two tormentors can be used on each side of the stage in order to create a "false proscenium" which is within the frame of the proscenium but reduced in size.

Legs are tall and narrow drapes that are used to hide the wings on each side of the stage. Borders span the whole width of the stage and are very short curtains that hide the lights and scenery that have been raised into the fly loft. These are also usually made of a heavy light-absorbing material, and often a leg on each side of the stage in conjunction with a border is used to form a masking frame around the stage. They will often be used in tandem with several other sets of legs and borders at varying distances upstage from the proscenium.

A backdrop is a painted curtain that hangs at the rear of the stage representing scenery. Theatres will often have a set of half a dozen or more backdrops representing outdoor scenes, a domestic interior, countryside, a town scene, and so on, that can be used according to the setting of the act.

A scrim is an open-woven curtain that appears opaque when it is lit from the front, but when an object or person is lit from behind it becomes transparent. Another type of curtain is called the cyclorama, and this is a large curtain at the back of the stage which can be lit so that it represents the sky or some other background. The cyclorama is usually of a white, light blue, or light grey colour and may often be concave. The cyclorama, or cyc for short, can be left blank and different lighting can be focused on it using colour changes to showcase what is happening on the stage. This is great for an act such as a dance troupe where there is a lot of movement taking place on the stage.

Cameo Curtains is a leading UK manufacturer of theatre curtains of all types and is happy to provide free site visits to customers in order to understand their requirements and ensure the best possible outcome.

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