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Considerations for Theatre Curtain Design

House Lighting

In the selection of a color or fabric for the main curtain, it is important to consider the house lighting carefully - the amount and color of the lights to be used in the chandeliers and wall brackets of the auditorium. The lighting of the average theatre is dim; and often amber incandescents are used in the fixtures. In selecting colors for the curtain fabrics go directly to the theatre, or if that is not possible at the time, go to another theatre that has about the same lighting. Hang a large piece of the curtain material against the footlights and observe the effect from different parts of the auditorium before making final selection. You will find that colors are deceptive under amber light. Materials of a flat texture such as rep or linen are most successful, as they do not change in color-value above the eye-level.

Rep Curtain with Linen Applique

Four stage curtains and theatre decorations are described, two in color. The first shown in color in Plate 63, is designed to show an applique effect on plain material, in a small auditorium.

The walls of this theatre may be either terra-cotta or plaster marked off in blocks, with brackets of multi-colored, glazed terracotta, and the stage opening outlined in a border of the same terracotta. A platform is shown on either side of the stage with a decorative opening and stairs leading down from the stage to the auditorium (see floor plan in Figure 1).



The curtain has linen applique over a green rep foundation. In theatre drapery work it must be kept in mind that the audience not only sits close to the footlights but far up in the balcony, consequently the drapery fabrics must contain an unusual strength of pattern and color. The 60-inch linen selected in Plate 63 has a 9-foot repeat and one and one-half repeats are used, with part of the half-repeat used as high points on each side. The rep background is a stock 50-inch material.

The background of the linen is the same color as the rep, thereby saving cutting out each individual pattern. In making this patterned linen applique it has been found that two widths of 50-inch material are most satisfactory. Plenty of material should be allowed at the bottom, enough to hang back of the fringe and about a foot extra to turn up.

If the work of applying this linen is to be done in the workroom, by hand, the pattern should be outlined in thread or wool sewn directly through the rep, to insure a smooth surface. This is important, for it must be remembered that this curtain gets a direct light from the bottom, from the footlights and if there is a sag in either material a deep shadow will be reflected above it for several feet up the curtain.

This type of figured curtain should not run over 30 per cent fullness. In a proscenium opening narrower than 22 feet, 20 per cent fullness will be sufficient. An allowance of 18 inches to 2 feet of plain rep beyond the edge of the opening, at each side, is usual, but this may be determined from the plan of the stage. The entire width and length of the curtain depends upon the position of the curtain from the opening and sightline.

The curtain is trimmed at the bottom with an 18-inch fringe, although this may be 24 inches deep, if necessary or desired. There is a green fringe background with lighter green tassels, a little henna color worked into the headings and a heavy henna cord at the top. The tassels are hung about 12 inches apart. They may be set further apart and still be effective.



Side Draperies

Curtains for the two side openings are of the same green rep. A motif cut from the linen is used as an applique on the rep, in the same manner as on the curtain. A green fringe, in a smaller size than on the main curtain and without the tassels, is sewn across the bottom.

Orchestra curtains are of cotton velvet hung from wrought iron rods and fixtures. These curtains are shown in green but may be selected as to color from any of the tones of the linen. Cotton velvet is here suggested for its weight and because it does not require lining.

Portieres or door coverings for the auditorium depend upon the amount of light and color used elsewhere in the auditorium. It is suggested that another color be used rather than the green of the curtain, so that the eye may not be drawn away from the stage, which is the main point of interest. Seat covers in deep brown for service and harmony, and a patterned rug or carpet in dark tones of brown or taupe, are suggested for the aisles.

Embroidered Velvet Curtain

Cotton velvet is one of the most successful pile fabrics used for the theatre. It gives a greater sense of luxury with a high sheen in the folds. High-pile fabrics, such as velvet and cut mohair, should be selected only after a thorough tryout at the upper part of the stage opening. A heavy pile fabric above the eye-level will appear many shades darker than it does at or below eye-level.

The second curtain shown is the delicately detailed curtain and valance in the Curran Theatre, San Francisco (Figure 2). The color scheme of the theatre consists of putty walls with plaster relief panels of dull antique gold. The stage curtain is a lovely sea-green velvet, hung with a 30 per cent fullness. Royal purple velvet hangings are used behind the grillework of the boxes. As the boxes do not depend in design upon the proscenium arch, they are draped in a complementary color. The royal purple of the boxes accentuates the green of the stage curtain. The continuity between it and the draperies over the boxes is emphasized in the fringe of the stage curtain which is purple, and the fringe for the hangings in the boxes, which is a combination of green and purple.

The main curtain is hand-embroidered, in a large scroll design of brown and gold with leaves in several shades of green. The flowers are in harmonious combinations of color, such as gold, orange and purple, red, blue and purple, but the various shades are so softly blended that the whole effect becomes one of a fine mosaic pattern against a sea-green background. It is important that the design on the sides of the main curtain be raised above the level of the rest of the curtain, to carry the eye up to the valance and unify the design.

The valance has a large urn as a central motif, with a background of gold cloth, outlined with green and purple scrolls. The same embroidery technique is used on the valance as is employed on the curtain. However, the valance pattern is larger in detail, for it must be remembered that when the main curtain is raised the valance is the only decoration in the proscenium opening and must, therefore, appear important. The valance has a soft undulating line at the bottom, just enough to relieve it from stiffness, and is outlined with a purple and green fringe and tassels, again carrying the colors of the box curtains across the top of the opening. A wide band of tied cords in purple finishes the top with a definite line around the curve of the proscenium arch. Two 5-foot tassels as pendants for the valance are made of solid fringe with headings of cloth-of-gold.

This curtain was detailed on paper 49 inches wide, which is the finished width of the velvet. The pattern was drawn in charcoal and notes made as to the placing of the colors. This enabled the embroidery manufacturer to know the exact point at which each strip of material matched and at what height from the bottom. When this curtain was hung each seam was matched perfectly and no additional work was needed.

To introduce the gold color of the auditorium and the decoration of the proscenium arch into the main curtain, gold cloth was used as a backing for the heading of the wide bottom fringe. This fringe, which is purple, has a wide heading of purple cords knotted at intersections with green rosettes. Large and important tassels of purple, with small tassels and interlacings of green, are placed at intervals across the top of the fringe and hang down over the gold cloth, breaking the straight line across the stage. The fringe itself is 37 inches high and when compared to the opening seems very small. This, again, gives the effect of size and scale which has always to be considered in a theatre and carefully studied. The high points of decoration on either side of the main curtain are 20 feet above the stage, yet they appear low from the balcony.


Other Hangings

The Curran Theatre orchestra curtains are of purple velvet to match the hangings in the boxes. The curtains used in the lobby and entrance are of two different materials, with purple velvet on the side towards the auditorium and a combination of purple and gold figured velvet on the lobby side. The walls of the lobby are painted a verde antique green with metallic finish. The walnut chairs in the boxes are covered with purple velvet, with green and gold gimps.

The stage dressing, the curtains hung either side of the opening behind the main curtain and the valance over them, are of mouse-colored cotton velvet. This color was employed because it is the most neutral tone for "dressing-in" stage scenery and one that absorbs the color of the footlights and harmonizes with the lighting effect. A second curtain, or act curtain, is of the same mouse-colored velvet. This curtain is made in the same way as the rep curtain in Plate 63 but is not trimmed at the bottom. A wide hem of about 15 inches finishes it at the bottom. The finishing of the lower portions of stage curtains is important. When both curtains are raised the audience, from the first few rows in the orchestra, can see for a considerable distance behind their bottom edges, so that the material must be turned up at the bottom at least a foot. When canvas lining or backing is used, a band of velvet should be sewn across it, so that when the curtain is raised exceptionally high the white edge of the canvas will not show from the auditorium.


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