Not all stage curtains are made the same.
A stage will have several different curtains. Each curtain has a purpose and often, a different fabric.
The basic curtains are:
Valance - This is a short curtain, usually mounted immediately behind the proscenium either tacked onto a board mounted to the wall just above the proscenium opening or tied onto a batten. The width of the valance is usually the width of the proscenium opening plus 12” for overlap to make sure there are not light leaks around the ends.
Main Drape/Act Curtain - This is a full length curtain, usually bi-parting, used to open and close at the beginnings and ends of acts. They should overlap a minimum of 12” in the center. Keep in mind that, when opened, they stack on the sides. This stack is usually partially or completely off stage and will add to the width of the curtain and the track. The Valance and the Main Drape are usually made of the same fabric.
Borders - These are short curtains, usually tied to battens in front of each set of lights or used to mask the track of the rear curtains. These curtains are usually made of a lighter weight fabric and seldom match the Valance and Main Drape. All back stage curtains usually use the same fabric and are usually black.
Sides - Some stages have side curtains running from the front to the back, often on an angle making the back of the acting area narrower than the front.
Legs - Some stages, instead of sides, will have legs. A dead hung leg is a full length, narrow curtain tied to a stationary pipe or batten. Some legs will be hung on a pipe on a rotodraper which rolls along a track. This allows the legs to travel on and off stage and rotate to “shrink” the stage for small scenes. Some legs are hung with S-hooks on track with carriers.
Mid-stage travelers - Some stages will have a bi-parting curtain in the mid-stage area used to assist in scene changes or to “shrink” the stage. This curtain is usually on a rope-drawn track. Some are made of the same fabric as the Main Drape, some are made of the same as the back curtains.
Backs or Rears - Some stages will have a single or bi-parting curtain all the way upstage, a couple of feet off the back wall. This curtain can either be rope drawn or walk drawn.
Scrims - Some stages have either a white or black scrim. This is a stationary specialty curtain used in special effects like dreams. Scrims are usually seamless and often have a pipe pocket in the bottom to hold a pipe/weight to keep the curtain taut and flat.
Muslins/Cyclorama (Cyc) - Some stages will have a muslin curtain. This curtain can be white or natural and used for scenery or, in some cases, sky blue for a sky background. These muslins are usually seamless and often have a pipe pocket in the bottom to hold a pipe/weight to keep the curtain taut and flat.
The valance should be about 12" wider than the proscenium opening and long enough to cover the first set of lights.
The main drape, if there is backstage stacking space, should be wide enough to stack almost the entire curtain offstage. The stack is generally about 1/4th the width of the curtain panel. If there is no backstage space, the track should go wall to wall. The top of the curtain does not need to be at the top of the valance. The floor clearance at the bottom of the curtain varies greatly from "puddling" to 2" off the floor.
The borders will run from side curtain to side curtain or leg to leg and hang down far enough to cover the lights or top of the track.
Sides and rears will run from front to back and around the back of the acting area. Some sides are angled narrowing the upstage space. Some rears are a continuation of the sides on a curved track.
Legs and tormentors will range from 3-10' wide. The height is usually the same as the sides and rears.
Mid-stage Traveler will be about as wide as the main drape. This varies if the stage is using legs or sides. The height will be the same as the rears. The track should be covered by the border.
If you are replacing existing curtains and you are happy with the size, measure the height and width of the existing curtains. To get the height, measure at a leading or trailing edge where the curtain is stiff. Measure from the top of the curtain to the floor and deduct the desired clearance off the floor. If there is no curtain to measure but you have a track in place, measure from the eyelet of the carrier to the floor and deduct the desired clearance. Keep in mind that you will need to deduct 1" for the S-hook. If there is trim chain on the carrier, measure from the bottom link of the trim chain to the floor and use that length. When installing, you can adjust the clearance by moving up or down on the trim chain.
The width should be measured at the top of the curtain or the track if possible. If not, measure the width of the curtain or track from the floor. Do not pull the curtain. Let it hang straight. When hanging flat curtains or using box pleats, you must be very accurate with your measuring. It would also help to know the number of carriers. If you are hanging dead hung curtains from a batten or pipe, measure from the bottom of the batten to the floor and deduct the desired clearance. The width is the length of the batten.
The most popular stage curtain fabrics are made of either cotton that has been immersed in a flame retardant solution at the mill (FR cotton) or an Inherently Flame Retardant fabric (IFR). Both fabrics are widely accepted. Each has different qualities.
FR cotton velour comes in weights from 16-32 oz. Main Drapes are usually made of the 25-32 oz fabrics. FR cottons have a flat, non-reflective finish, come in a wide range of colors and are generally less expensive than their IFR counterparts. If FR cotton fabrics get wet, a white crystalline ring or spot will appear on the curtain where it was wet. This white ring is the FR solution leaching out of the fabric. The white ring can be reduced with professional dry cleaning but, depending on the severity of the ring, it might not be totally removed. The cleaning solutions used by professional dry cleaning providers have little effect of the remaining FR treatment. Always have your curtains checked for Flame Retardancy each time you have them cleaned.
FR cotton backstage fabrics come in weights from 12-17 oz. Most backstage curtains are black but are available in a variety of other colors. Some have a chevron pattern, some have a houndstooth pattern. Neither of the patterns is noticeable from a few feet away. Some people prefer to use a lighter weight of the front curtain fabric for the backstage curtains.
IFR fabrics come in weights from 13-26 oz. They have a very slight reflective or a flat finish and come in a wide range of colors. They are inherently flame retardant and do not need to be retreated. If they get wet, they do not get a white spot like FR cottons because there is no chemical solution to leach out of the fabric. Maintenance, in general, is less with an IFR fabric.
Lining is sometimes specified for main drapes. Lining is used mainly to make sure the fabric is opaque so the audience will not see any light coming through the curtain before the curtain is opened. While lining is a good idea for light weight fabrics, most 25 oz. or heavier fabrics are designed to be opaque thus eliminating the need for lining. If you are hanging curtains in the windows in the theatre, you should always use a lining to protect the curtains from damaging UV rays. These linings often offer a blackout option.
Most stage curtains have 50% fullness. This means that 15' of fabric is used to cover 10' of track. This can be done by taking two side by side grommets spaced 6" apart and hooking them together on a single S-hook to form a LuXout Pleat. Some manufacturers sew this extra fabric down flat in a box pleat adding fullness to the curtain but flattening the fullness of the pleat. Some backstage curtains are hung with 0% fullness or Flat. Scrims or muslins are always made flat.
There are 3 main types of pleats used in stage curtains:
Flat - This is no pleat at all. The curtain is tied to a batten, usually with grommets spaced at 12" centers.
Box Pleat - This is done by taking extra fabric (fullness), forming a box and sewing that box flat against the face of the curtain. This results in the pleat staying tight at the top and flaring to a flat appearance at the bottom of the curtain.
LuXout Pleat - Sometimes called a round pleat or LuXout pleat, this pleat is formed by taking two grommets spaced 6" apart and connecting them with an S-hook or tie line to make a fuller pleat that will stay defined the full length of the curtain. The LuXout Pleat looks fuller without requiring more fabric.
Main drape side hems vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. I have seen some Main drape side hems as small as 2". The LuXout side hem is 12" on both the leading and trailing edges. This gives you the option of switching your left and right curtains if the center stage edge gets soiled.
Most backstage curtains will have a 2" side hem.
The best way to keep your curtains clean is to protect them from getting dirty. There is a simple solution to this. A curtain cover is an IFR waterproof protective wrap that surrounds your curtains and keeps them from getting splashed, painted, torn, snagged or other unexpected mishaps. Aside from that, there are certain steps you should take to keep your curtains clean and safe.
Annual maintenance includes brushing and vacuuming. Starting at the top, first brush against the nap, then with the nap. This will remove dust and loose dirt. Dust is enemy #1. It attracts and holds moisture which will affect your FR treatment and promote dry rot. Vacuuming will remove more dust from the curtains and the theatre area itself.
You should have your curtains professionally cleaned, never laundered, every five years. Professional cleaning, using the proper cleaning solutions, will have little effect on your FR treatments but always have your curtains FR tested after each cleaning.
Always brush and vacuum your curtains before they are FR treated. Otherwise, you are just treating the dust on the curtains and not the curtains themselves.
According to New York City recommendations, you should have your curtains re-treated every 3 years for FR treated cotton curtains. Recommendations and requirements vary from state to state and even city to city so check with your local fire departments.
Make sure that the company testing and treating your curtains will be able to provide you with a certificate of flame retardancy for your records.
There are several FR treatment products available. Some are more effective than others. The treatments will vary based on the fabric being treated. If the wrong treatment is applied to the fabric, it can ruin it so have a professional that has been trained in the different solutions treat your curtains.
Most theatres keep their curtains hanging all the time. If you are one of those theatres, it is best to keep the curtains in the closed position so they can breathe. It is best to keep the air conditioning running throughout the year to control the humidity. Some schools turn off the air conditioning during the summer when school is closed. This allows the humidity to build up in the theatre. The curtains absorb this extra humidity which increases the chance of dry rot.
Never tie up your curtains with cloth strips or elastic cords.
If you need to take your curtains down between performances, you should brush them as described above, repair any tears, fold them loosely to reduce creasing and crushing the fabric and store them in a woven hamper in an air conditioned, low humidity location. Never store your curtains in plastic.
The LuXout Pleat makes this easier because you can remove the S-hooks to allow it to fold flat without having to worry about how to fold a box pleat.