Backdrops and Scenic Design Glossary of Terms

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A backdrop is a painted curtain that hangs in the back of the stage to indicate scenery.  Theatrical scenery is that which is used as a setting for a theatrical production. Scenery may be just about anything, from a single chair to an elaborately re-created street, no matter how large or how small, whether or not the item was custom-made or is, in fact, the genuine item, appropriated for theatrical use.

The history of theatrical scenery is as old as the theatre itself, and just as obtuse and tradition-bound. What we tend to think of as 'traditional scenery', i.e. two-dimensional canvas-covered 'flats' painted to resemble a three-dimensional surface or vista, is in fact a relatively recent innovation and a significant departure from the more ancient forms of theatrical expression, which tended to rely less on the actual representation of space and more on the conveyance of action and mood. By the Shakespearean era, the occasional painted backdrop or theatrical prop was in evidence, but the show itself was written so as not to rely on such items to convey itself to the audience.

Our more modern notion of scenery, which dates back to the nineteenth century, finds its origins in the dramatic spectacle of opera buffa, from which the modern opera is descended. Its elaborate settings were appropriated by the 'straight', or dramatic, theatre, through their use in comic operettas, burlesques, pantomimes, and the like. As time progressed, stage settings grew more and more realistic, reaching their peak in the Belasco realism of the 1910-20's, in which complete diners, with working soda-fountains and freshly-made food, were re-created onstage. Perhaps as a reaction to such excess, and in parallel with trends in the arts and architecture, scenery began a trend towards abstraction, although realistic settings remained in evidence, and are still used today. At the same time, the musical theatre was evolving its own set of scenic traditions, borrowing heavily from the burlesque and vaudeville style, with occasional nods to the trends of the 'straight' theatre. Everything came together in the 1980s and 1990s, and continuing to today, until there is no established style of scenic production and pretty much anything goes. Modern stagecraft has grown so complex as to require the highly specialized skills of hundreds of artists and craftspeople to mount a single production, and it is impossible to tell at this time where things may lead.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Theater drapes and stage curtains are large pieces of cloth that are designed to mask backstage areas from spectators. They come in various types, each designed for a different purpose, though most are made from black or other dark colored, light-absorbing material such as heavyweight velour.

Proscenium stages use a greater variety of drapes than arena or thrust stages. In proscenium theaters, drapes are typically suspended from battens (i.e., they are "flown", in theater terminology) that are controlled by a fly system. When a drape is flown, the task of adjusting its height for best masking effect is simplified and, in the case of a drape that must be moved during a performance, this enables the drape to be quickly raised above the proscenium arch—thus positioning it out of view of spectators—or lowered to any arbitrary height above the stage, as required.

The front curtain, which is variously called a grand drape, act curtain, house curtain, house drape, main drape or, in the UK, tabs, hangs upstage (i.e., toward the rear of the stage) of the proscenium arch. There are several common types of front curtains:

    * In smaller theaters, they often consist of two curtains which part horizontally (known as a traveler).
    * In larger theaters, they usually open vertically, disappearing out of sight into the fly tower. This style of opening is known as a guillotine reveal, after the famous execution tool.
    * A single curtain which covers the entire opening by moving horizontally is called a wipe.
    * A tab or tableau curtain gathers the two sections of fabric up and to the sides (in a "French Action") and usually forms a draped effect when it is opened.
    * An Austrian, braille or contour curtain is suspended from a batten and either raised or lowered in order to expose, or close, the stage. It has a characteristic set of folds and may also be known as a Roman Drape.
    * A Venetian or profile curtain is similar in appearance to the Austrian drape, but each individual pleat can be flown independently, allowing the curtain to be opened to various heights or configurations.

False proscenium: Hard teasers and tormentors are flat, horizontal and vertical (respectively) pieces that are located just upstage of the grand drape. Together, one hard teaser and a pair of tormentors (one on each side of the stage) are frequently used to form a reduced-size "false proscenium" within the frame of the actual theater proscenium. Hard teasers and tormentors are typically covered with thin plywood, which in turn is covered with dark colored, light-absorbing material. The tormentor is usually flown from a dedicated batten so that its height can be independently adjusted so as to optimize its masking of the flies.

In some productions, a show portal is used in place of a false proscenium formed by tormentors and hard teasers. This is a decorative "frame" for the stage which also serves to mask backstage areas, just as tormentors and hard teasers would.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Legs are tall, narrow stage drapes that are used to mask the wings on either side of the stage. Borders, which are also sometimes called teasers, are wide, short draperies that span the width of the stage; these are used to mask lights and scenery that have been raised into the fly loft. Legs and borders are typically made from a heavy, light-absorbing material similar to that of other stage drapes. Typically, a set of two legs, one on each side of the stage, and one border, is used to form a complete masking "frame" around the stage. Several such sets of legs and borders are typically employed at varying distances upstage from the proscenium.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A scrim, sometimes gauze, is curtain made of an open-weave fabric that appears opaque when lit from the front, but transparent when backlit.  The term scrim has two separate meanings in terms of fabric. In each case, it refers to woven material, one a finely woven lightweight fabric widely used in theatre, the other a heavy, coarse woven material used for reinforcement in both building and canvasmaking.

A scrim or gauze is a very light textile made from cotton, or sometimes flax. Its light weight and translucence means it is often used for making curtains. The fabric can also be used for bookbinding  and upholstery.

Scrims have also seen extensive use in theatre. The variety used for special effects is properly called sharktooth scrim. However, in theater a scrim can refer to any such thin screen, and are made out of a wide variety of materials. Scrim has a rectangular weave that is similar in size in its openings to a window screen.

Another type of scrim is called bobbinet / bobbinette, this material has a hexagonal hole shape and comes in a variety of hole sizes. It is used for a number of lighting effects in the film and theatre industries.

Scrim is also used in clothing, usually covering the face or head. This allows the wearer to see out, while preventing others from seeing in. This may also be combined with camouflage to completely hide a person, such as a sniper.

A scrim is also an integral part of the Beijing Olympic Stadium in Beijing. That was the screen running around the top of the stadium during the opening ceremonies on which all kinds of scenes were projected. Li Ning also ran around it just before the cauldron lighting.

A scrim (also called a screen) is used as an acoustically transparent covering for a loudspeaker to protect the diaphragm and dust cap, or as an air filter element to protect the voice coil and other components of the motor.

Scrims both reflect and transmit light. This means that if a light from a front-of-house position is shone at a scrim, then both the scrim and everything behind it will be lit. This can lead to a variety of interesting effects:

    * A scrim will appear entirely opaque if everything behind it is unlit and the scrim itself is grazed by light from the sides or from above.
    * A scrim will appear transparent if a scene behind it is lit, but there is no light on the scrim.
    * A dreamy or foggy look can be achieved by lighting a scene entirely behind a scrim.
    * If a gobo is aimed at a scrim, the image will appear on the scrim, but also any objects behind the scrim will be lit by the pattern as well.

In general, anything that is lit will be seen on both sides of a scrim: scrims do not absorb light. Scrim can also be used in theatre in combination with a cyclorama or backdrop. The idea is similar to the other uses. When the drop is lit (or images or video are rear-projected onto the back of the drop), the images or colours projected are visible. However when the drop is not lit, the images or colours will disappear. A scrim can also help dull the image, creating a greater sense of depth.

Another effect is caused by layering two scrims, or even by placing a mirror behind a scrim and lighting it: the familiar moire effect. This can often cause audience disorientation.

The technique of scrim as a reinforcement is commonly applied in the manufacture of glass fiber or carbon fiber composites, scrim layers may be used on the exterior surface of the carbon fiber laminate for an improved protective surface.

A similar usage of the term is found in sailcloth manufacture, where scrim is a strong loose weave of fibres laminated into the cloth to provide extra strength and stability to sails.

In carpentry, scrim is the name given to a very heavy, coarsely-woven fabric similar to hessian or coarse canvas, which is stretched over interior boards to provide support for wallpaper and add an extra rigidity. This method of construction, widely used in older houses, is often referred to as "scrim and sarking", the sarking being the board.

Scrim is also an item that utilizes plies of tissue reinforced with a layer of nylon (much like fishing line or heavy duty monofilament) or cotton thread. 2-ply tissue 1-ply scrim the layer of scrim is not counted in the ply count. 2/1 would be a 2-ply scrim.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A cyclorama or cyc is a large white curtain that encircles the stage and provides a background.  A large curtain or wall, often concave, positioned at the back of the stage area. It was popularized in the German theater of the 19th century and continues in common usage today in theaters throughout the world. A "cyc" (U.S. theatrical abbreviation) can be made of unbleached canvas (larger versions) or muslin (smaller versions), filled scrim (popularized on Broadway in the 20th century), or seamless translucent plastic (often referred to as "Opera Plastic"). Traditionally it is hung at 0% fullness (flat). When possible, it is stretched on the sides and weighted on the bottom to create as flat and even a surface as possible. As seams tend to interrupt the desirable smooth surface of the cyclorama it is usually constructed from extra-wide material.

As the name implies, it often encircles or partially encloses the stage to form a background.

An infinity cyc (found particularly in television and in film stills studios) is a cyc which curves smoothly at the bottom to meet the studio floor, so that with careful lighting and the corner-less joint, the illusion that the studio floor stretches on to infinity can be achieved. Cycloramas or "cycs" also refer to photography curving backdrops which are white to create no background, or green-screen to create a masking backdrop.

Cycloramas are often used to create the illusion of a sky onstage. By varying the equipment, intensity, color and patterns used, a lighting designer can achieve many varied looks. A cyclorama can be front lit or, if it is constructed of translucent and seamless material, backlit directly or indirectly with the addition of a white "bounce" drop. To achieve the illusion of extra depth, often desirable if one is re-creating a sky, the cyclorama can be paired with a "sharkstooth scrim" backdrop. A dark or black scrim, by absorbing the extraneous light which is commonly reflected off the floor of the stage from the acting areas, can help the lighting designer achieve deeper colors on the cyclorama. Cycloramas are also often illuminated during dance concerts to match the mood of the song.

Occasionally the cyc may be painted with a decorative or pictorial scene to fit a specific show, however these are generally referred to as backdrops.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Flats, short for Scenery Flats, are flat pieces of theatrical  scenery which are painted and positioned on stage so as to give the appearance of buildings or other background. They are also called backdrops or backcloths.

Flats can be soft or hard covered. Soft-covered flats (covered with canvas or muslin) have changed little from their origin in the Italian Renaissance. Hard-covered flats with a frame that is perpendicular to the paint surface are referred to as studio, TV, or Hollywood flats. Flats with a frame that places the width of the lumber parallel to the face are called New York or Broadway flats.

Usually flats are built in standard sizes of 8, 10, or 12 feet tall (2.4 m, 3.0 m or 3.7 m) so that walls or other scenery may easily be constructed, and so that flats may be stored and reused for subsequent productions.

Often affixed to battens flown in from the fly tower or loft for the scenes in which they are used, they may also be stored at the sides of the stage, called wings, and braced to the floor when in use for an entire performance.

Some casts have a tradition of signing the back of flats used on their production.

Rails are the top and bottom framing members of a flat. Rails run the full width of the flat [4 feet (1.2 m) for a 4'x8' flat (1.2 x 2.4 m)].

Stiles are the sides of the flat frame. The length of the stiles is the full height of the flat, minus the combined width of the rails [7 feet 7 inches (2.31 m) for a 4'x8' soft-cover flat (1.2 x 2.4 m) constructed of 2+1⁄2-inch (64 mm) rails].

Toggles are cross pieces that run between the stiles. The number and placement of toggles depends on the type of flat. The length of the toggles is the total width of the flat minus the combined width of the stiles [3 feet 7 inches (1.09 m) for a 4'x8' (1.2 x 2.4 m) soft-cover flat constructed of 2+1⁄2 inches (64 mm) stiles].

Corner blocks are used to join the corners of a soft-cover flat. They are normally made of 1⁄4-inch (6.4 mm) AC plywood, and are triangles with corners of 45, 45, and 90 degrees. They are most often made by ripping the plywood at 6+1⁄2 inches (170 mm) and then mitering it at 45 degree angles to create triangles with 9-inch (230 mm) legs.

Keystones join the toggles to the rails of soft-cover flats. They are 8 inches (200 mm) long, and normally ripped to the same width as the toggles (usually 2+3⁄4 inches (70 mm)) on one end, and 3+1⁄2 inches (89 mm) on the other, forming a shape similar to the keystone of an archway.

Straps can be used in place of keystones. They are 8 inches (200 mm) long and 2+3⁄4 inches (70 mm) wide (same as toggle) rectangles. They are easier to construct than keystones, but not as strong.  A Coffin Lock may be used to join securely adjacent flats.

Broadway or stage flats are generally constructed of 1-inch (25 mm) x 3-inch (76 mm) nominal [3⁄4 inches (19 mm) x 2+1⁄2 inches (64 mm) actual] pine boards. The boards are laid out flat on the shop floor, squared, and joined with the keystones and corner blocks. The keystones and corner blocks are inset 1 inch (25 mm) from the outside edge, which allows for flats to be hinged or butted together. They are then glued in place, and stapled or screwed down. The flat can then be flipped over and covered with muslin or lauan. Toggles in a Broadway flat are placed on 4' centers. Broadway flats can also be constructed using half lap joints, also known as dados. Dados forgo the use of keystones and corner blocks, and joins stiles, rails and toggles, by removing 3/8" inch of material, from pieces to be joined together, to create a simple half-lap joint, that is then glued and stapled. Dados can be made using a radial arm saw and a dado stack (dado stacks have two outer circular saw blades and several "chippers" sandwiched between them to allow more material to be removed per pass of the blade), or a table saw and a dado stack. The set up of a dado stack is about equal to the amount of time prepping keystones and cornerblocks. The amount of math involved in figuring out a cut list is lessened, because the length of your stiles, rails and toggles are equal to the face of your flat.

Hollywood or tv flats can be made in various thicknesses to suit a particular design, but are most often made of 1-inch (25 mm) x 3-inch (76 mm) nominal [3⁄4 inches (19 mm) x 2+1⁄2 inches (64 mm) actual] or 1"x3" actual pine boards. The boards are laid out on edge on the shop floor, the ends are glued together and staples or screwed. Keystones and corner blocks are not normally used. Once assembled, the flat can be covered with 1⁄4-inch (6.4 mm) or 1⁄8-inch (3.2 mm) lauan, which is glued on and stapled. The toggles in a Hollywood flat are placed on 2-foot (0.61 m) centers. Hollywood flats may receive a muslin skin over the lauan face. The face is covered in a mixture of water and white glue, the muslin is applied and the entire flat is covered with the water/glue mixture again, to shrink and attach the muslin.

Each type of flat has advantages and disadvantages. Broadway flats generally require less lumber, and their structural integrity does not depend on the their skin (thus they can be covered with cloth). Hollywood flats require additional stiffening if they are to be soft-covered. Broadway flats are easier and safer to fly, and take up less space in the air. They are also easier to store, as they are only about 1 inch (25 mm) thick. Hollywood flats are useful for their inherent rigidity (since the pine boards are on edge, they are resistant to bending). They are also easy to join together; their frames can simply be screwed together. Broadway flats require some sort of stiffener, hinge, or batten to join them. Hollywood flats can also be made in a variety of thicknesses, while Broadway flats are limited to more or less 1 inch (25 mm) in thickness. Either type of flat can be made double sided, but it is easier to do with Hollywood flats: one simply flips the flat over and faces the other side. A Broadway flat must first be assembled with keystones and corner blocks (but without glue) and skinned on one side, then the keystones and corner blocks may be removed and the other side skinned.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A scenery wagon is a mobile platform that is used to support and transport movable, three-dimensional theatrical scenery on a theater stage. In most cases, the scenery is constructed on top of the wagon such that the wagon, and the scenery it supports, forms a single, integrated structure. Heavy duty casters are mounted to the underside of the platform so that the entire assembly can be quickly moved onstage or offstage, so as to facilitate rapid scenery changes during live productions. Scenery wagons are built in a wide range of sizes, ranging from less than one square foot up to the size of the playing area of the stage.

Scenery wagons comprise one of the four methods used to move scenery during the course of a theatre performance, the other three being "flying" (suspending) scenery from a fly system, elevating or lowering scenery on a stage lift, or "running" (manually carrying) the scenery.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A fly system is a system of ropes, counterweights, pulleys, and other related devices within a theatre that enables a technical crew to quickly move components such as curtains, lights, and set pieces on and off stage by moving them vertically between the stage and the large opening above the stage. This is in contrast to the other two types of theatrical component transport systems, scenery wagons and stage lifts, which are only used to move set pieces and which do so without utilizing the space above the stage.

The opening above the stage is known by various names including flyspace, flyloft, fly tower, and fly gallery. A component is said to be "flying in" when it is being lowered onto the stage, and "flying out" when it is being raised into the flyspace.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


In theatre, a platform (also referred to as a riser) is a stationary, standard flat walking surface for actors to perform on. Typically, they are built to be assembled modularly. They are often used to provide varying levels, to make a show more visually interesting. They are also used to separate areas on stage, and as seating bleachers. This is in contrast to scenery wagons, which are mobile platforms that are supported by casters instead of feet.  Platforms are composed of a frame, a lid, and legs.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Scenic design (also known as scenography, stage design, set design or production design) is the creation of theatrical, as well as film  or television  scenery. Scenic designers have traditionally come from a variety of artistic backgrounds, but nowadays, generally speaking, they are trained professionals, often with M.F.A. degrees in theatre arts.

The 'stage picture' is the 'look' or physical appearance of the stage for a play, whether in rehearsal or performance. It reflects the way that the stage is composed artistically in regard to props, actors, shapes and colours. The stage picture should express good principles of design and use of space. It should be visually appealing for the audience or should express the show's concept.

The scenic designer is responsible for collaborating with the theatre director and other members of the production design team to create an environment for the production and then communicating the details of this environment to the technical director, production manager, charge scenic artist and propmaster. Scenic designers are responsible for creating scale models of the scenery, renderings, paint elevations and scale construction drawings as part of their communication with other production staff.

In Europe and Australia scenic designers take a more holistic approach to theatrical design and will often be responsible not only for scenic design but costume, lighting and sound and are referred to as theatre designers or scenographers or production designers.

Like their American cousins, European theatre designers and scenographers are generally trained with Bachelor of Arts degrees in theatre design, scenography or performance design.
A set designer discusses the set with carpenters

Notable scenic designers, past and present, include: David Gallo, Robert Brill, Tony Walton, Adolphe Appia, Boris Aronson, Howard Bay, Edward Gordon Craig, Luciano Damiani, Ezio Frigerio, Barry Kay, Sean Kenny, Ralph Koltai, Ming Cho Lee, Santo Loquasto, Jo Mielziner, Oliver Smith, Franco Colavecchia, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, Josef Svoboda, George Tsypin, Robert Wilson, Franco Zeffirelli, Natalia Goncharova, Vadim Meller, Aleksandra Ekster, Nathan Altman, Maria Bjornson, David Borovsky, Todd Rosenthal, Daniil Lider, Inigo Jones, Nicholas Georgiadis, Alexandre Benois, Francoise Cherry-Cohen, Leon Bakst, and Russell Patterson.

Scenography is the art of creating theatrical  performance environments, using space, set, costume, sound, lighting, etc. More recently, the word is also used for museography, the art of designing museum and exhibition sets.

The word "scenography" is of Greek origin (skene, meaning "stage;" grapho, meaning "to describe") meaning "stage description."

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Set construction is the process by which a set designer works in collaboration with the director of a production to create the set for a theatrical, film or television production. The set designer produces a scale model, scale drawings, paint elevations (a scale painting supplied to the scenic painter of each element that requires painting), and research about props, textures, and so on. Scale drawings typically include a groundplan, elevation, and section of the complete set, as well as more detailed drawings of individual scenic elements which, in theatrical productions, may be static, flown, or built onto scenery wagons. Models and paint elevations are frequently hand-produced, though in recent years, many designers and most commercial theatres have begun producing scale drawings with the aid of computer drafting programs such as AutoCAD or Vectorworks.

The technical director or production manager is the person responsible for evaluating the finished designs and considering budget and time limitations. He or she engineers the scenery, has it redrafted for building, budgets time, crew and materials, and liaisons between the designer and the shop. Technical directors often have assistant technical directors whose duties can range from drafting to actually building scenery.

A scene shop is often overseen by a shop foreman or master carpenter. This person assigns tasks, does direct supervision of carpenters, and deals with day-to-day matters such as absences, breaks, tool repair, etc. The staff of a scene shop is usually referred to as scenic carpenters, but within that there are many specialities such as plasterers, welders, and scenic stitchers. Scenic painting is a separate aspect of scenic construction, although the scenic painter usually answers to the technical director.

There is also usually another person often referred to as a jack of all trades, or as a Fred-John. He or she doesn't specialize in a particular aspect of construction, but is skilled to some degree in most.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Theatrical scenic painting is a wide-ranging craft, encompassing virtually the entire scope of painting techniques and often reaching far beyond. To be a well-rounded scenic artist, one must have experience in landscape painting, trompe l'oeil, portraiture, and faux finishing, to be versatile in many different media (such as acrylic-, oil-, and tempera- based paint), and be an accomplished gilder, plasterer, and sculptor. However, the techniques of the scene painter are different than traditional studio artists in many respects. The scene painter replicates an image on a very large scale. This is achieved with specialized knowledge that isn't taught in artist studios. In addition one is often expected to make the finished product fire-proof, and to work quickly and within a tight budget.

Traditionally, scenic painters are drawn from the ranks of scenic designers, and in many cases designers paint their own works. But increasingly scenic painting is looked upon as a separate craft, and scenic painters are expected to subordinate their artistic ideals to those of the designer. Usually, the designer submits a set of 'color elevations', or paintings, to the painter, who is then expected to paint the scenery to match. Alternatively, the designer may submit a scale model or photograph to the painter, sometimes accompanied by a full scale paint sample. In some cases the designer only presents their research and expects the scenic artist to adapt it. This is far from ideal from the painter's perspective.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A theatrical property, commonly referred to as a prop, is any object held or used on stage by an actor for use in furthering the plot or story line of a theatrical production. Smaller props are referred to as "hand props". Larger props may also be set decoration, such as a chair or table. The difference between a set decoration and a prop is use. If the item is not touched by a performer for any reason it is simply a set decoration. If it is touched by the actor in accordance to script requirements or as deemed by the director, it is a prop.

Small acting troupes formed during the renaissance, travelled throughout Europe. These "companies," functioning as cooperatives, pooled resources and divided any income. Many performers provided their own costumes, but special items: stage weapons, furniture or other hand-held devices were considered "company property," thus the term "property," which eventually was shortened to "prop."  The first known props were stylized hand held masks, called Onkoi, used by performers in "Greek Theatre" and have become symbols of theatre today, known as the "comedy and tragedy masks".

The term "theatrical property" originated to describe an object used in a stage play and similar entertainments to further the action. Technically, a prop is any object that gives the scenery, actors, or performance space specific period, place, or character. The term comes from live-performance practice, especially theatrical methods, but its modern use extends beyond the traditional plays and musical, circus, novelty, comedy, and even public-speaking performances, to film, television, and electronic media.

Props in a production originate from off stage unless they have been preset on the stage before the production begins. Props are stored on a prop table backstage near the actor's entrance during production then generally locked in a storage area between performances. The person in charge of handling and buying/finding the props is called the props master/mistress.

Under normal circumstances the theatrical prop used must be built, bought, borrowed or pulled from existing stock. This generally falls under the responsibility of the property designer, coordinator or director. Usually the head of the theatre property department, this position requires artistic as well as organizational skills. Working in coordination with the set designer, costume designer, lighting and sometimes, sound designer, this overlapping position has only in recent years become of greater importance. Props have become more and more specialized due in large part to realism as well as the rise of theatre in the round, where few sets are used and the simple prop becomes as important a design element as costumes and lighting.

Besides the obvious artistic creations made in the prop workshop, much of the work done by the property designer is research, phone searches, and general footwork in finding needed items.

Of all the positions within theatre, the property designer receives the least accolades. There are no awards for the props position besides the satisfaction of the item working well for the performance.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


A gobo (or GOBO) derived from "Go Between" or GOes Before Optics -originally used on film sets between a light source and the set is a physical template slotted inside, or placed in front of, a lighting source, used to control the shape of emitted light.

In the design of an artificial environment in which lighting instruments are used, it is sometimes desirable to manipulate the shape of the light which is cast over a space or object. To do so, a piece of material with patterned holes through which light passes is placed in the beam of light to allow only the desired "shape" or pattern through, while blocking the rest of the light, casting a specific shadow/light into the space.

Though the term "gobo" has come to generally refer to any device which produces patterns of light and shadow, the specific term itself also defines the device used in theatrical lighting applications because of the mandated placement of the device in 'the gate' or 'point of focus' between the light source and the lenses (or optics). This placement is important because it allows the focusing of the pattern or shape into a crisp, sharp edge (for logos, fine detail, architecture, etc.) and also the softening the edges (breakup patterns, etc.). On film sets Gobos, also known as Flags and "cookies" which are placed in the beam of light post-optics do not have the option of such fine focus

Gobos may be used, in connection with projectors and simpler light sources, to create lighting scenes in a theatrical application. Simple gobos, incorporated into automated lighting systems, are popular at nightclubs and other musical venues to create moving shapes.  Gobos may also be used for architectural lighting, as well as in interior design, as in projecting a company logo on a wall or other feature.

A theatrical gobo may be made from either sheet metal or borosilicate glass, depending upon the complexity of the design.

Glass gobos can include colored areas (much like stained glass windows), made of multiple layers of dichroic glass, one for each color glued on an aluminium or chrome coated black and white gobo. New technologies make it possible to turn a color photo into a glass gobo.

In low budget theatre, discarded soda cans or pie plates can be used and patterns cut out with any cutting tool. The latest commercial technology enables finely dithered patterns which give the illusion of shading. In the UK, printer's Lithoplate was widely used as an inexpensive gobo substitute. However, these gobos tend to wear quickly due to the heat produced by a stage lighting instrument and are not viable for most venues.

Plastic gobos—which are generally custom made—are available when a pattern is needed in color and glass does not suffice. However, these thin plastic films generally need to be used with special cooling elements to prevent melting them. A lapse in the cooling apparatus, even for just a few seconds, can cause an expensive gobo to be ruined.

A number of simple and complex stock patterns are manufactured and sold by various theatrical and photographic supply companies, or custom gobos from customer-created images can be manufactured for an additional fee. Generally the lighting designer chooses a pattern from a catalogue or small swatch book provided by the manufacturer. Because of the large number of gobos available, they are generally referred to by number, not name. For example, most manufacturers offer a gobo of a window, but they are all slightly different.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Theatrical smoke and fog, also known as special effect smoke, fog or haze, is a category of atmospheric effects used in the entertainment industry. The use of fog can be found throughout motion picture and television productions, live theatre, concerts, at nightclubs and raves, amusement and theme parks and even in video arcades and similar venues. These atmospheric effects are used for creating special effects, to make lighting and lighting effects visible, and to create a specific sense of mood or atmosphere. If an individual is at an entertainment venue and beams of light are visible cutting across the room, that most likely means smoke or fog is being used. Theatrical smoke and fog are indispensable in creating visible mid-air laser effects to entertain audiences. Recently smaller, cheaper fog machines have become available to the general public, and fog effects are becoming more common in residential applications, from small house parties to Halloween  and Christmas.

Theatrical fog and theatrical fog machines are also becoming more prevalent in industrial applications outside of the entertainment industry, due to their ease of use, inherent portability and ruggedness. Common popular applications for theatrical fog in include environmental testing, such as HVAC inspections, as well as emergency personnel and disaster response training exercises.

Militaries have historically used smoke and fog to mask troop movements in training and combat, and the techniques and technology used for generating smoke and fog in theatre and film are similar.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Theatre (or theater, see spelling differences) is a branch of the performing arts. While any performance may be considered theatre, as a performing art, it focuses almost exclusively on live performers creating a self contained drama.  A performance qualifies as dramatic by creating a representational illusion.  By this broad definition, theatre had existed since the dawn of man, as a result of the human tendency for storytelling. Since its inception, theatre has come to take on many forms, utilizing speech, gesture, music, dance, and spectacle, combining the other performing arts, often as well as the visual arts, into a single artistic form.

The word derives from the Ancient Greek theatron (θέατρον) meaning "the seeing place."

The word theatre means "place for seeing".  The first recorded theatrical event was a performance of the sacred plays of the myth of Osiris and Isis in 2500 BC in Egypt.  This story of the god Osiris was performed annually at festivals throughout the civilization, marking the beginning of a long relationship between theatre and religion.

The ancient Greeks began formalising theatre as an art, developing strict definitions of tragedy and comedy as well as other forms, including satyr plays. Like the religious plays of ancient Egypt, Greek plays made use of mythological characters. The Greeks also developed the concepts of dramatic criticism, acting as a career, and theatre architecture. In the modern world these works have been adapted and interpreted in thousands of different ways in order to serve the needs of the time. Examples are offered by Antigone, used in 1944 by Anouilh to make a statement about the Nazi occupation of France, and by Brecht in 1948, likening Creon to Hitler and Thebes to defeated Germany. The theatre masks of Greek performance became widely adopted in first- and second-century Rome as a decorative theme, both within the home and in public spaces, and representations of two of the forms, of comedy and tragedy, came to stand for the theatre itself: a symbol that survives today.

Western theatre continued to develop under the Roman Empire, in medieval England, and continued to thrive, taking on many alternate forms in Spain, Italy, France, and Russia in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The general trend over the centuries was away from the poetic drama of the Greeks and the Renaissance and toward a more realistic style, especially following the Industrial Revolution. A uniquely North American theatre developed with the colonization of the new world.

The history of Eastern theatre is traced back to 1000 BC with the Sanskrit drama of ancient Indian theatre. Chinese theatre also dates back to around the same time. Japanese forms of Kabuki, Noh, and Kyogen date back to the 17th century AD. Other Eastern forms were developed throughout China, Korea, and Southeast Asia.

The most popular forms of theatre in the medieval Islamic world were puppet theatre (which included hand puppets, shadow plays and marionette productions) and live passion plays known as ta'ziya, where actors re-enact episodes from Muslim history. In particular, Shia Islamic plays revolved around the shaheed (martyrdom) of Ali's sons Hasan ibn Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. Live secular plays were known as akhraja, recorded in medieval adab literature, though they were less common than puppetry and ta'ziya theatre.

Theatre is a highly collaborative endeavour. Although the most recognisable figures in theatre are the directors, playwrights, and actors, plays are usually produced by a production team that commonly includes a scenic or set designer, lighting designer, costume designer, sound designer, stage manager, props mistress or master and production manager. Depending on the production, this team may also include a dramaturge, video designer or fight director. The artistic staff is assisted by technical theatre personnel who handle creation and execution of the production.

Drama (literally translated as action, from a verbal root meaning "To do") is the branch of theatre in which speech, either from written text (plays), or improvised is paramount. A companion word dran, also Greek, means to do. Classical forms of drama, including Greek and Roman drama, classic English drama, notably works of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe, and French drama, for instance works of Moliere, are still performed today.

Music and theatre have always had a close relationship. Musical theatre is a form of theatre combining music, songs, dance routines, and spoken dialogue. Modern musical theatre emerged from the variety, vaudeville, and music hall genres of the late 19th and early 20th century. Musical theatre includes spectacle as well. For instance, contemporary Broadway musicals often include lavish costumes and sets supported by million dollar budgets.

Theatre productions that use humour as a vehicle to tell a story qualify as comedies. This may include a modern farce such as Boeing Boeing or a classical play such as As You Like It. Theatre expressing bleak, controversial or taboo subject matter in a deliberately humorous way is referred to as black comedy.

There is a variety of philosophies, artistic processes, and theatrical approaches to creating plays and drama. Some are connected to political or spiritual ideologies, and some are based on purely "artistic" concerns. Some processes focus on a story, some on theatre as event, and some on theatre as catalyst for social change. According to Aristotle's seminal theatrical critique Poetics, there are six elements necessary for theatre: Plot, Character, Idea, Language, Music, and Spectacle.  The 17th century Spanish writer Lope de Vega wrote that for theatre one needs "three boards, two actors, and one passion".  Others notable for their contribution to theatrical philosophy are Konstantin Stanislavski, Antonin Artaud, Bertolt Brecht, Orson Welles, Peter Brook, and Jerzy Grotowski.

Konstantin Stanislavski is considered to be the father of theater technique, as he was the first person to ever write about it, and the majority of modern western theatre theory is derived from Stanislavski's "system" in one form or another. Many of Stanislavski's students rejected his system and began to create their own, these first new methods helped to blaze the way for future theorists and ultimately lead to the wide range of techniques that are studied and used today: such as the Meisner, Stanislavsky, Strasberg, and Hagen acting methods.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart:


Performance art refers largely to a performance which is presented to an audience but which does not seek to present a conventional theatrical play or a formal linear narrative, or which alternately does not seek to depict a set of fictitious characters in formal scripted interactions. It therefore will often include some form of action or spoken word which is a form of direct communication between the artist and audience, rather than a script written beforehand.

It often entails a dramatic performer who is directly aware of and in communication with the audience, much the same as a singer or juggler in a concert or variety show might be said to perform directly for an audience, rather than creating a fictitious character who inhabits a fictitious dramatic setting on the stage. Performance art often breaks the fourth wall, meaning that the performance artist does not seek to behave as if unaware of the audience.

Some performance art may utilize a script or create a fictitious dramatic setting, but still constitutes performance art in that it does not seek to follow the usual dramatic norm of creating a fictitious setting with a linear script which follows conventional real-world dynamics; rather, it would intentionally seek to satirize or to transcend the usual real-world dynamics which are used in conventional theatrical plays. In this way, the performance work itself partakes of a form of direct communication with the audience, by relying on the audience's familiarity with nominal dramatic premises and norms, in order to go beyond them or circumvent them, even if the characters within the work themselves do not evince such awareness.

Although performance art could be said to include relatively mainstream forms of performance such as dance, music, and circus-related things like fire breathing, juggling, and gymnastics, these are normally instead known as the performing arts. Performance art is a term usually reserved to refer to a more conceptual art which conveys a content-based meaning in a more drama-related sense, rather than being simple performance for its own sake for entertainment purposes. Furthermore, performance art can include any type of physical stage performance which is not an exhibition of direct artistry such as theater, music or dance, but rather incorporates satirical or conceptual elements; an example of this is Blue Man Group.

In performance art, the actions of an individual or a group at a particular place and in a particular time constitute the work. Performance art can happen anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time. Performance art can be any situation that involves four basic elements: time, space, the performer's body and a relationship between performer and audience. Performance art traditionally involves the artist and other actors, but works like Survival Research Laboratories' pieces, utilizing robots and machines without people, may also be seen as an offshoot of performance art. In some cases,the audience unwittingly becomes part of that performance.

The first forms of performance art began in the Middle Ages, in the forms of itinerant poets such as minstrels, troubadours, bards, and in some cases jesters. These were artists who often composed and performed their own works. In the case of minstrels, their poems were often composed spontaneously, and bore direct relevance to the audience and their society. thus, they constituted an early form of performance art. This evolved into various forms in various cultures, such as Commedia dell'arte in Italy, pantomime  in Great Britain, mime artists (which are quite distinct from pantomime), harlequinade  in various European societies, skomorokh  in Russia, and folk plays in various countries.

In modern era, there continue to be some paradigmatic roles which fit this function, such as buskers.

In the modern era, there have been a variety of new works, concepts and artists which have led to new kinds of performance art. Andy Warhol was noted for staging new types of mass events and performance art in New York, notably with the Velvet Underground and also with the Warhol Superstars. Laurie Anderson's performance art has been staged at a number of major venues, such as Lincoln Center. Modern artistic concepts such as surrealism and dadaism were used by several artists to produce new kinds of performance art.

In the 1960s, an increasing number of artists produced new forms of performance art, including Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow—who coined the term Happenings—Carolee Schneemann, Hermann Nitsch, Yoko Ono, Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Barbara T. Smith, Vito Acconci, the women associated with the Feminist Studio Workshop and the Woman's Building in Los Angeles, and Chris Burden. But performance art was certainly anticipated, if not explicitly formulated, by Japan's Gutai group of the 1950s, especially in such works as Atsuko Tanaka's "Electric Dress" (1956). In 1970 the British-based pair Gilbert and George created the first of their "living sculpture" performances when they painted themselves gold and sang "Underneath The Arches" for extended periods. Jud Yalkut, a pioneering video artist, and others, such as Carolee Schneemann and Sandra Binion, began combining video with other media to create experimental works. Guerrilla theater, or street theater, including performances by students and others, have regularly appeared within the ranks of antiwar movements.

The anarchist antiwar group the Yippies, partly organized by Abbie Hoffmann, performed street theater when they dropped hundreds of dollar bills from the balcony of the Stock Exchange in New York. Latino, Latin-American, and other street theater groups, including those like the San Francisco Mime Troupe, that stem from circus and traveling theater traditions, should also be mentioned. Although they may not be not direct antecedents of art-world performance, their influence, particularly in the United States should be noted— as should that of the U.S. conceptual artist Sol Lewitt, who in the early 1960s converted mural-style drawing into an act of performance by others. Performance art, because of its relative transience, had a fairly robust presence in the avant-garde of East Bloc countries, especially Yugoslavia and Poland, by the 1970s.

Western cultural theorists often trace performance art activity back to the beginning of the 20th century. Dada, for example, provided a significant progenitor with the unconventional performances of poetry, often at the Cabaret Voltaire, by the likes of Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara. There were also Russian Futurist artists who could be identified as performance artists, such as David Burliuk, who painted his face for his actions (1910-20). However, there are accounts of Renaissance artists putting on public performances that could be said to be early ancestors of modern performance art. Some performance artists and theorists point to other traditions and histories, ranging from tribal to sporting and ritual or religious events. Performance art activity is not confined to European or American art traditions; many notable practitioners can be found in Asia and Latin America.

In performance art, usually one or more people perform in front of an audience. Performance artists often challenge the audience to think in new and unconventional ways about theater and performing, break conventions of traditional performing arts, and break down conventional ideas about "what art is," a preoccupation of modernist experimental theater and of postmodernism. Thus, even though in most cases the performance is in front of an audience, in some cases, notably in the later works of Allan Kaprow, the audience members become the performers. The performance may be scripted, unscripted, or improvisational. It may incorporate music, dance, song, or complete silence. Art-world performance has often been an intimate set of gestures or actions, lasting from a few minutes to many hours, and may rely on props or avoid them completely. Performance may occur in transient spaces or in galleries, room, theaters or, auditoriums.

Despite the fact that many performances are held within the circle of a small art-world group, RoseLee Goldberg notes, in Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present that "performance has been a way of appealing directly to a large public, as well as shocking audiences into reassessing their own notions of art and its relation to culture. Conversely, public interest in the medium, especially in the 1980s, stems from an apparent desire of that public to gain access to the art world, to be a spectator of its ritual and its distinct community, and to be surprised by the unexpected, always unorthodox presentations that the artists devise.”

Allan Kaprow's performance art attempted to integrate art and life. Through Happenings, the separation between life, art, artist, and audience becomes blurred. The Happening allows the artist to experiment with body motion, recorded sounds, written and spoken texts, and even smells. One of Kaprow's earliest Happenings was the "Happenings in the New York Scene," written in 1961 as the form was developing.

Backdrops By Charles H. Stewart: