When most people think about theatre curtains, they probably only think about the ones that they see at the front of the house. That is because it is a very large curtain indeed and they are sitting facing it before the production begins. It is the focal point.
For this reason, the front of house curtain has to have a dramatic impact. It is usually made of a very heavy material and needs to be fire retardant, and the standards can vary from one country to another. In Europe and Australia, the front of house theatre drapes fire-retardant standards that are most accepted within the theatre industry are the British, French, and German standards. In the UK, the standard is BS 5867 part 2B. the test method consists of the material being held vertically and a small flame applied to the front of the material. For type B the ease of ignition is observed, and whether the flame reaches one of the edges of the specimen, and if any flaming debris falls down.
The test fabric has to be tested both before and after washing. For type B, it has to be washed with 12 cycles of BS EN ISO 10528 (Standard Washing Procedure) at 75°C, after which it must be line dried. There is also a type C procedure which requires 50 cycles of BS EN ISO 10528 (Standard Washing Procedure) @ 75°C and then low heat and tumble drying.
Front of house drapes are also known in the UK as front tabs and can be sewn flat or they can be pleated. The pleated effect gives more fullness and helps to increase absorption of light and sound and also gives more depth to the curtain. There are several different styles of pleat which can be used, such as a rippled pleat, butterfly pleat, shirred pleat, full box pleat, and pinched pleat, in addition to the flat curtain.
Obviously, the price of front of house theatre curtains can vary enormously, depending on how big they are, the type of material, and how much material is used. All of the pleats will take up more material than a flat curtain, but some will use more than others. The very thick velvets will obviously be most expensive, but you can get budget-priced velvets as well.
Front tabs can be made of mohair stage velvets, and these are the most luxurious and heavy materials. They have excellent colour clarity and good sound absorption. The material has a long upright satin pile and it is extremely hard-wearing. These curtains can be made to include your own patterns and logo embossed into the material.
Traditional cotton theatre velvets have a directional pile and a matte looking finish. They come in a choice of weights. Cotton velvets have to be chemically treated in order to make them flame retardant. However, IFR polyester velvets are made using materials that are permanently and inherently flame retardant. so they do not need treating. IFR polyester velvets are more resistant to creasing and moisture than other kinds of stage velvets, and they are extremely low maintenance.
Of course, there are several other types of theatre curtains in use such as cycloramas which are large flat curtains hung at the back of the stage. These can be used with lighting effects to create all sorts of different results. You can use them in conjunction with a gobo, which is a template placed in front of a light source to control the shape of the light emitted. You could also leave the cyc blank and use side lighting to enhance the performance on stage.
A backdrop, as the name suggests is a curtain that hangs at the back of the stage and can be painted so that it is part of the scenery. So, for example, you could have a field of cows or sheep at the back of the stage, or tall buildings if you wanted to give the impression of a city outside a window.
A scrim is another type of curtain that appears opaque when viewed from the front but when lit from behind becomes transparent. This means that you could have action going on behind the scrim that complements what is taking place on the stage.