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Theater backdrops are a staple for playhouses across the country, as they enhance audience immersion by creating scenery. Though there are many ways to create a backdrop, fabric is the most popular material due to its many benefits. Production teams have several types of fabric backdrops to choose from when designing their sets, including cycloramas, scrims, and muslin, all of which lend themselves to different uses.
Americans crave the magic of live theater, as shown by the 35 million who attend shows every year. Production companies aim to please with innovative stage designs that bring a play to life, and cycloramas are an essential tool.
Also called cycs, cycloramas stand out from the typical background for their curved shape. Stretched to ensure an even surface or hung flat, cycs are typically one of the furthermost backdrops. They’re usually blue or white to simulate the sky and fashioned from any of the following fabrics:
- Translucent plastic
- Filled scrim
- Unbleached canvas
First used in the 1800s in Germany, these unique theater backdrops remain popular all over the world. They work well with special lighting effects, allowing stagehands to change the color of the “sky” to alter the atmosphere. They’re also efficient at blocking backstage, ensuring the cast and crew can go about their business without fear of the audience noticing.
The live nature of theater means CGI and other movie tricks aren’t feasible. Enter scrims, a key component of theater magic.
Scrims hang like any other draping, but the right lighting transforms them. When lit from the front, they look opaque, allowing the audience to see any printed images. However, backlighting makes them translucent so viewers can see what’s happening behind them. As a result, they’re excellent for dramatic reveals or indicating that a scene takes place in a different space or time.
How is this trick possible? Unlike other theater backdrops, scrims have an open weave. At one time, gauze and linen were the fabric of choice, but their delicate nature makes them prone to tearing. Sharkstooth weave is marginally more durable, though it still requires care when hanging, folding, and storing.
Like scrims, muslin backdrops work well nearly anywhere onstage. However, they’re quite opaque, making them excellent for straightforward backgrounds. The material takes well to ink, allowing production companies to print or paint whatever image they desire. This versatility makes muslin well-represented in the industry.
Muslin is also incredibly durable, a necessity with limited budgets. These backdrops don’t warp under their own weight when hanging and can endure a long stint in storage. They’re also lightweight, which is ideal for walk-along stage curtains.
Find the Right Backdrop For Your Production
Assess your project and determine which types of fabrics you’ll need for the best production possible. They all have different uses, so consider their pros and cons before purchasing.