Pulling back the curtain on an industry staple
Drape shows up at almost every event. Whether masking a screen, covering an ugly wall, backing a stage or marking an entrance, suspended fabric is generally an easy and economical way to decorate, disguise and define space.
Back to Basics
Pipe and drape is the most common hung fabric in special events. This staple of the tradeshow business features a base that holds upright poles and horizontal crossbars that support sections of draped fabric.
The fabric is usually a lightweight cloth called banjo cloth, which is semi transparent. Pieces of banjo cloth are strung via a pipe pocket that is sewn into the top of the panel. Multiple panels may be used on each crossbar to increase the fullness of the drape or reduce its transparency. When heavier drapes are needed, they are usually made of duvetyn–a flat napped fabric made of cotton, wool or velour. While each of these fabrics comes in several colors, black is used most often.
But that doesn’t mean you are limited to black drape. Multitudes of colors and patterned fabrics made of silk, satin, polyester, sheer organza or heavy velvet can create bold and colorful walls, partitions and backdrops. And by using bold stripes or damask patterned fabric, you can create the sensation of wallpaper.
Some Theatrical Terminology
Drapes are also used as curtains for the front, sides or back of a stage. These drapes can create entrances, be animated to reveal a set, or create a drop for lighting and special effects. To use stage drapes effectively, you need to understand the variety of options available as well as the proper terminology.
Theatrical drapes have a variety of names depending on their location and use, but the most common types of drape are:
Grand Curtain or Main Curtain: A curtain running along the front of the stage. Typically it is split down the middle and opens from the center to the sides of the stage. When this is the case, the curtain is referred to as a “traveler.”
Border: A narrow piece of drape used across the top of a stage to mask truss or lighting.
Leg: Narrow drape used at the sides of the stage to mask an entrance and define the left and right sides of the stage when a built-in proscenium is not present. Legs may exist just at the front or in sets running the length of the stage to create multiple entrances.
Tab: Similar to a leg but hung perpendicular to the stage to block an audience’s view of the backstage.
Scrim: A drape made from a type of fabric that is woven so that light can penetrate in one direction. When lit from the front only, for example, the scrim appears opaque. When light is added from behind the scrim, it becomes transparent, allowing the audience to see what is behind the curtain.
Cyclorama: A large drape, usually white and used at the back of the stage for bouncing colored light. May have a curved surface.
The traveler is the most popular choice of curtains for a reveal. In special events, this is accomplished through the use of a track, which allows a curtain to be opened either to one side (a wipe) or split down the middle. There are several ways to open a stage drape.
Guillotine Reveal: The curtain travels up out of sight into space above the stage.
Kabuki Drop: A lightweight piece of drape is released from the top of the stage by mechanical, technical or pyrotechnic means. The falling fabric is usually pulled to the side once it lands on stage.
Tableau Curtain: A drape with a diagonal cord sewn in allows the drape to be opened up and out at an angle to the stage.
Venetian Drape: Vertical lines sewn into the drape raise the curtain up from the bottom of the stage.
Austrian Curtain: Similar to the Venetian curtain in that it utilizes vertical lines to raise the drape from the floor. In the case of the Austrian, the fabric is gathered and sewn with swags in between the lines.
Contour Curtain: The mechanical ability to control the independent lines in an Austrian or Venetian curtain, allowing for a wide variety of opening and closing options.
More Drape Details
When designing with theatrical drapes, it’s important to know the technical terms for how the drape is attached to truss or poles. Theatrical drape typically utilizes ties, which are pieces of fabric or cord that tie the drape onto its support. Depending on the look desired, drapes can have grommets along the top through which the ties are strung, or hidden grommets which are sewn into webbing along the back of the drape panel for a more finished look.
Drapes can be flat, which means that they are straight without any gathers, or they can be full, with pleats in the top, creating a gathered or full appearance. Flat drape is the most cost effective, and can often be tied to appear to have fullness. But you will need to use more drape and the gather is usually not as precise as when it is sewn into the drape itself.
Cool Things and Crazy Tricks
Today, there is a wide variety of options for draping that can make designing vastly more interesting.
Do you have to hide a column in a room or do you want to create a curved wall? Pipe and base hardware uses curved pipe to create 3-foot, 4-foot or 10-foot curves and circles.
Fabrics are becoming more interesting, especially as companies figure out how to laser cut designs and patterns. The use of sheer fabrics or fabrics with cut-out designs creates great temporary walls or backdrops for lounge spaces while still allowing the private space to be part of the greater event. And never feel bad about hanging string curtain, crystals, or beaded curtains from your pipe and base hardware for an elegant or chic look.
The double hanger is a product that allows you to run two vertical crossbars from a single upright pipe. Try a sheer fabric in front of a printed image, with lighting in between. Create the sense of real curtains, with drapes pulled back on the front crossbar and an image or heavy drape on the back crossbar. Use the front crossbar for signage or a valance or strung flowers–anything which can accent the drape behind.
I have become very interested in using grommet-topped drapes instead of standard pipe and base in my events. First, it is available in great colors and interesting patterns. Second, it is a breeze to put up, and creates a luxurious look as it naturally gathers fabric on a pole. You just have to make certain that the grommets are large enough for the pipe and base hardware you are using or the metal rings will get stuck.
Spandex has a place in pipe and base installations. For instance, Pink Powered by Moss has created Spandex covers that zip together or around pipe and base units for a flat, clean look in place of drape. And, it is important to never forget to hide the pipe poles, crossbars or base plates–especially those rented ones that have seen better days. Pole covers and base plate covers in a variety of colors. It is an extra step but it creates a much better look. Consult your vendors for options.
Originally published in Event Solutions magazine