Stage curtains are perhaps the least appreciated of all the various elements that make up a stage; whereas hours can be spent poring over the technical specifics of stage lighting and stage sound systems, drapes and curtains can often be reduced to the bottom of the priority pile, an afterthought rather than a key consideration.

One of the reasons for this is a misunderstanding of what function theatre drapes actually fulfil. While most people are aware that drapes are used to mask backstage areas, it’s sometimes forgotten that stage curtains are also key to the framing of a performance as well as the management of stage lighting and sound.

What is a Front Curtain?

The front curtain – also referred to as the main curtain or house curtain – is an essential part of any stage setup.  As you’ve probably already guessed, the front curtain is located at the front of the stage and is typically raised at the start of a performance and lowered during intervals and at the end of a performance.

There are quite a few different types of front curtain employed in theatres and other performance spaces, some more common than others.

Traveler Curtains

By far the most common type of front curtain, traveller curtains – also referred to as bi-parting or draw curtains – consist of pleated curtains that part in the middle; they are usually controlled on a horizontal track, which can be automatic or manual. These curtains are easy to use and possibly the cheapest type of front curtain, making them a popular choice among schools!

Austrian/Waterfall Drapes

Austrian drapes are characterised by their grand appearance; consisting of vertical lines and horizontal pleats, Austrian drapes usually feature aesthetically pleasing festoons and raise up rather than parting in the middle. Although this style of drape is possibly the one most commonly associated with ‘theatre’, it has gone out of fashion somewhat over the past few decades owing to their ‘classic’ appearance and their cost. Nevertheless, they make a very bold statement.

A more modern variant of the Austrian drape are Waterfall drapes. Sharing the same operational characteristics as an Austrian drape, Waterfall drapes look similar to standard theatre curtains and are a good option if you want your curtain to rise rather than part!

Tableau Drapes

The rarest of all drape styles, tableau drapes consist of two overlapping curtain panels that are lifted diagonally apart from the bottom, creating a ‘tent’-like appearance. These drapes, while visually stunning, can impair an audience’s view of a performance and aren’t the most practical but if you want something a bit different, you can’t go far wrong!

Wipe Curtain

A wipe curtain operates in a similar manner to a traveller curtain, except that rather than parting in the middle, the entire curtain is pulled from one side of the stage, creating a ‘screen wipe’ effect.

Choosing the right front curtain for your particular performance space is usually as simple as choosing based on aesthetic and practical purposes, although budget should also be at the forefront of your thinking. For more information on front curtains, and all other types of stage curtain, get in touch with PG Stage!

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