STAGE CURTAINS -types Part III

Post 327 – by Gautam Shah

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A performance stage consists of many different types of curtains, screens, banners, barriers, dividers and partitions. These are used for covering-hiding sections of the stage, modulating shape and size of the performance areas, create real or make-believe effects, divide the performance space into physical or metaphoric segments, create gaps for entry-exit, allow preparations for the show, attune the stage acoustics, and modulate the illumination in terms of brightness, colour, etc.

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One of the main curtains on the stage is the Proscenium Curtain. These curtains are hung just a little away from the edge of the stage, and just inside the parabolic sound reflector over front section of the stage. This is also called main act curtain, or a grand drape. Its fabric is heavier and well articulated and decorated. Its heavy fabric-weave acts as a sound barrier between the stage and audience section. The fore, space is used by the announcer, programme director-producer or Sutradhar (Sanskrit for programme conductor) to make announcements, and to take final call at the end of the play. Many of the proscenium curtains are hung from the top and either fall down or closed by sliding action.

Radio City Music Hall Stage curtain

On an informal stage of South India a small cloth screen is held by two people across the performing artist (covering just part of the stage). The Sutradhar introduces the theme of the dance or story of the act (Katha =story telling) or drama. The screen, called Pat, is a plain cloth or one decorated with an image of a deity. Similar Pats are also used in Indian Hindu marriage ceremony to cover the bride on arrival of the groom.

Marriage Pat or Screen

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Other varieties of main curtain includes one leaf entity that is drawn to one side. The two leaf curtains are drawn up from the closing corners by a string to allow earlier or slightly delayed closer of the triangular pieces. Bi-leaf curtains are pulled across the stage like a ‘wipe-screen to signify time change in the act.

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The frilled, Venetian or a Contour Curtain has back side pull strings that can individually or collectively pulled to various contoured patterns in the curtain before or while it is being pulled up.

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Effect Curtains can be the second line curtain behind the main curtain, but with very little space in between. The effect-curtain is made of very sheer material nearly transparent synthetics or lustrous metallic yarns. These partially occlude the vision of a back stage when illuminated from front only. The illumination from a front side is often through a projector that cast moving image on the curtain. These are often called Rain curtains. The curtains can move to sides or top. The curtains are light in weight, and to make faster and neat fall down, the bottom is loaded with glass or ceramic balls or wood or bamboo member.

Back side Effects curtain and hangers

The back space of the stage is covered by a masking curtain. The masking curtains, like the side wings, are dull-matt-opaque black colour. The stage set or hard dividers of partial height are placed against the backdrop of this curtain, often with narrow space for movement.

View from side wings of stage and curtains

The stage can have many mid-stage curtains, depending on the nature of the performance and spread of stage property. Many such curtains are part curtains to cover a width section of the stage. The curtains are often angled to the main face of the stage to support special lighting spatial effects. The mid stage curtains are also in the form of stiff panels or lattices. Transparent curtains are used to dissolve the back-face of the stage as in-fathomable depth. Nowadays instead of drawn curtains or back lit illumination woven LED form required images and sense of vibrancy.

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Seattle Nippon Kan Stage curtain

Large width curtains are difficult to move sideways in spite of automated traction. Two-leaf curtains, of a large width stage, ultimately forms a very large gather when collected at the side. Similarly very tall curtains have large hung, loading the fabric. Very tall curtains of heavy fabric require back side reinforcement through integrated wires or cables. These reinforcing elements woven or appended interfere in upward drawing. The curtain drawn upward gets folded up or remain straight. When folded up the fabric creases, and when hung straight remain loaded through self-weight causing uneven stretching.

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STAGE CURTAINS – Part 2

STAGE CURTAINS – Part 2 -forming the performance spaces

Post 308 – by Gautam Shah

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Michelangelo_Cerquozzi_-_The_Rehearsal,_or_A_Scene_from_the_Commedia_dell'Arte

Stage curtains are barriers, used for spatial definitions. Settings are more permanent barriers lasting an act or entire play or performance, whereas curtains as barriers mark temporal divisions that distinguish the physical depth, width, heights, and also pretentious presence of spaces ‘beyond’ the stage. Here a performer projecting different environments on a stage or arena has limited time, space and means. As a result the performance space or the stage is extended beyond its physical limits by exploiting both, the real barriers and indicative barriers. The curtains are also used as gestural break or end of an act. Curtains are soft partitions that occlude the backstage, side-stage and top section of the stage from eye sight. Curtains are also used for projecting an image of slides, movies and in shadow-plays.

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Commedia dell’Arte has been depicted as actors in masks performing on temporary stages in market squares in woodcuts, paintings, engravings, and drawings by artists such as Callot, Scarron, and Dujardin. The stages in these depictions often appear to be elevated by six foot tall scaffolding with audience members standing on three sides of the stage. Simple curtains often are depicted hanging behind the actors sometimes painted with an urban background, similar to a backdrop. Sometimes actors were depicted peeking through behind them, and sometimes there would be slits in the curtain indicating doors and windows – Wikipedia (Hildy, Franklin J.; Wilson, Matthew R. (2015). The Rutledge Companion to Commedia dell’Arte)

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A performance area could be a boundless space. Its extent needs to be defined for several purposes. Audiences need to focus on an act, and so want a performance area within their visual perspective and audio perceptibility. Even with means of electronic sound amplification, the need to synchronize the sound and action, need for focus remains valid.

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A stage as a raised platform, even though not a pointed entity, needs focus, and that focus shifts with the action or the performer. The performer moves around the stage designating transient zones, and orienting own self to various sides except the back. In a Roman Amphi theatre the actors on the front section are active, and by retreating to the backside become inactive. Going back is like going off the stage and act. These enacted clues were often supported by acting and sounds, but not substantiated with physical barriers or stage settings. The Greek theatre was open on three sides but had an architectural backdrop. Street plays, rudimentary story telling performances and public religious and political ceremonies worked with the presence of a backdrop. The backdrop was a strong architectural entity like wall, building facade, or a non-interfering (static) natural entity like mountain, valley, sea shore, river or lake.

3 Ramlila_DasrathaThe strong backdrop was non-disturbing reference but focussing element. Audiences from side edges distracted the actors, or the actors were in a puzzle which section to concentrate. Gradually informal stages (like street plays) began to be covered on sides. The stage became a box. The boxed stage, however did not allow designated entries or exits, such as hell, heaven, another room, street, etc. Side wings are fixed curtains to obscure side sections of a stage. Curtain-covers or head-wings are used to hide the upper section of stage properties such as the hanging gears, ropes and rolled or folded section of the curtains. A second layer was required to arrange a concealed passage on three sides. The second layer over the wings was of both hard settings and soft curtain materials. The second layer was fashioned temporary for the act or scene, whereas the wings were permanent arrangements of the stage

5 Theater_Bielefeld_InspizientenpultThe sets, stage property, curtains, side wings, lighting, audio-video effects, etc. are used for creating a variety of spaces and signify connections. A cleavage in side wings or a gap between two stage properties could signify a door, window, opening, corridor or a passage. The stage thus becomes a place where a multiplicity of spaces ‘Here’ and a series of connected spaces supposed to exist ‘Beyond’ occur. Whatever is lacking in such definitions is further reinforced by the actors. The acting makes the audience feel as if the actor is actually dealing with or reacting to a real barrier. Mime acts are such explorations with unreal barriers. Since it is not possible to accommodate the entire set of physical barriers, only the acute or important sections are highlighted through frames, outlines, edges, cleavages, thresholds

street performance

A fly is a rig system in the upper section of a stage with ropes, pulley, counterweights, battens (for hard and soft flats or barriers). These are automatically or manually operated by crew walking on the hanging cat-walks. These enable crews to hoist (drop and raise) stage components like curtains, lights, scenery, people, equipments, effects, without noise, quickly, and safely. The upper section of the stage, fly-loft is tall enough to stock these properties or there are folding arrangements.

In informal performances, like street drama, where stage and related provisions are not available, the performers have to devise specific means and strategies to convey the effects.

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Stage curtains, side wings, scenery flys, all form the soft furnishings of the performance. These are further exploited through colour, texture (of material surfaces, and folds or creases), degree of transparency, horizontal angle of position, vertical inclination and nature of illumination (frontal, backside, top-down or upward, spot or diffused), dynamics of movements and projections.

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adble scenery

A stage sets and curtain barriers are perceived by the audience from a limited and fixed angle view. Curtains as result are made from black, dark, opaque and translucent materials, and with folds, pleats and gathers, but it is the lighting that casts its sensorial effect.

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10 Theatre_Stage_Albert_Hall_looking_stage_left_showing_theatre_curtains_(2016)Curtains are either dropped downward or moved sideways. In smaller theatres curtains have two leaves which part away horizontally. In larger theatres the curtains are suspended from a batten or staff and dropped down. The dropping is quickest way of adjusting a curtain. The curtains are dropped or raised flown in theatre terminology, up to a required height to mask the upper section of the stage. The masking also substantially hides the back stage settings. The main or the first curtain on the audience side is called a grand drape, act curtain, house curtain, house drape or main drape. These are made of heavier fabric. A curtain call is a curtsy or thanks call offered beyond the closed position of the main curtain, in front part of the stage.

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Main curtains were first drop curtains but these required a heavy bottom staff. As this was hazardous, roll curtains was soon adopted. ‘The curtain was raised after the prologue and remained up throughout the performance, all scene shifting was in view of the audience. It was not until 1750 that an ‘act drop’ was used; previously, even intermezzi were performed in front of a full stage setting’.

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A single curtain which moves horizontally is called a wipe. A tab or tableau curtain has two overlapping leaves which are lifted from the corners in a diagonal direction, by the stage assistant or conductor (Sutradhar) of the performance. A scrim is a curtain made of a gauze like fabric that seems to be opaque when lit from the front and transparent when backlit. A backdrop curtain is a painted or scenery curtain forming the back surface of the performance area. A cyclorama is a large white curtain that encircles the stage and provides a background.

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STAGE CURTAINS Part 1 (Blog published earlier here)

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STAGE CURTAINS Part 1 ● Performance Spaces

Post 237 – by Gautam Shah 

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Stage curtains have been of many types, but always shaped by the form of the stage and theatre. A theatre is a space for variety of performing arts before an audience. A performance includes postures, gestures, speech, recitation, music, dance, sound, and an illumination spectacle. It also employs visual and audio effects, settings and stage properties, to create lifelike conditions and illusions. Modern day performances occur for audiences set in different time and space. The audiences perceive an edited version of a performance, which may have been edited to curtail or enhance sections of it.

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A stage curtain serves many purposes, and primary one is to create a controlled barrier between the performance space and the audience. Other purposes include forming barriers that form stage shape and endow utilities. The stage shape formation by curtains is in terms its physical dimensioning (width, depth, height, etc.), partitioning, and perspective formation. The stage curtains were first used for declaration of a break in the story or a section of the enactment. The curtain-break was used for changing the setting and property, dresses, story period, and for rest by audience as well as performers.

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A performance space accommodates many types of performances such as singing, story telling, narration, declarations, discourses, discussions, voting, musicals, puppetry, mime, magic or illusion, opera, ballet, public trials, punishment and hanging. The enactments occur at all times of day and night hours, with packed or very thin presences, participating or scared audiences. The shows occur in normal consistent illumination or with varied lighting effects, stage only lit-up or stage and audiences both lighted.

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Dionysius Theater

Performance space forms in early history have been casual, focussed and open on all sides. These were central open spaces like cross road junctions that allowed maximum attendance. Spaces with a backdrop of strong architectural elements, such as walls, gates, façades, galleries, etc. have a subduing presence, focus attention and importantly enhance the sound delivery.

Amphi Theatre with low stage + backdrop and no curtains

Indian temples have a Rang Mandap, as large sequential space in front of the deity. Rang (Sanskrit) literally translates as colour, or variegation. The open columnar space with circular domed was highly centric, except for the piercing axis formed by the entrance and deity. The performance facing the deity would mean showing back to the overflowing spectators at the entrance. Main direction of enactment, as a result was perpendicular to the entry-deity axis. The orientation of performance has always been to the mass of audiences. Such a orientation was possible with 3 sides of exposures. If a performer turns back to the audience, the actor is dead or quitting the show, according to Bharat Muni (sage who composed Natya-Shastra -Cannons of performance, during 2-3rd C BC.).

Rang Mandap Delwada temple Mt Abu Rajasthan India

The word Mandap is often used as a synonym for stage. A stage could be an open or unbounded platform, whereas a Mandap has four of its corners demarcated by posts, plants long leaves of a palm tree. A Mandap could be roofless structure. A Garbh Griha, the inner most sanctum of a temple has a tall pyramidal structure, the Shikhar roof rising out of a square, the basic form of a Mandala, and its geometric variations. The Mandap rises, on an octagonal arrangement of columns. The basic octagon is enlarged with galleries and spaces, increasing the audience capacity of the hall. A Rang Mandap is nominally entered from three sides, the fourth being the place for the deity. It is the most open and airy section of the temple. The light and ventilation are provided by screened or open galleries (Gavaksh or Zarokha), in the corners of the octagon. Temples like Ranakpur, Rajasthan, has an extra storey under the dome, creating a lighter effect (called Vimaan -aeroplane, architecture).  Natya Shastra (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natya_Shastra)

Wayang Wong Bharata Pandawa

Small towns with small temples had no space for built Rang Mandap, instead, any open space is used. A small low level platform and a structural backdrop were the essential requirements for it. Even today rural performances are enacted with such frugal facilities. The performance theme and the actor persona, are well known to the audience, yet the rapport is due to the proximity of the stage space. The actor looks at the audience, rather then the opposite character. There are no stage settings, properties or curtains. In South Indian dances, often have a small screen or Aantar-Pat held, as a character’s introduction ceremony. The value of Sutradhar (person who conducts the show, introduces the characters and provides the time-space references) is very important in delineating the stage-space. The presence of Sutradhar served many of the functions of curtain-break.

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Yaksha Gana Performance on simple stage / backside two persons holding an Aantar-pat

Small Mandap stage for performance

Amphi theatres were preceded by street corners or junctions as places of performance. Ancient Greek theatres were audience participating structures. They were built in a semicircle, with tiered seating surrounding a performance area. The word Amphi now describes a semicircular bowl like stepped seating arrangement, with a platform or stage for performance and wall like structure forming a backdrop to it.

Amphi Theatre Odeon of Herodes Atticus

An arena is an enclosed area, often circular or oval-shaped, designed to showcase musical performances, or sporting events. The word derives from Latin harena, particularly fine/smooth sand used to absorb blood in ancient arenas like the Colosseum in Rome. It is composed of a large open space surrounded on most or all sides by tiered seating for spectators. The key feature of an arena is that the event space is the lowest point, allowing for maximum visibility. Arenas are usually designed to accommodate a large number of spectators. Arena spaces were not used for Theatrical performances.

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Reconstructed image > Arena

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