One of the most asked questions when a customer calls me is “How do you hang the backdrops?” It’s a simple question. And like most simple questions, there isn’t always a simple answer. But in this case, it is rather simple 90% of the time. However, there are a few different ways to hang our backdrops. It’s the other 10% that can be complicated.
Across the top of all of our backdrops, there are tie lines for hanging. The easiest way to hang a backdrop is to simply tie the backdrop on to one of the stage battens. The center of each backdrop is marked near the tie lines on the back. My suggestion is to start from the center of the stage and work your way out. That way, if there is any extra backdrop leftover (ie if the backdrop is wider than the stage), you can fold the ends behind and tie it off in the back keeping the backdrop centered on stage.
About 80% of our backdrops have the tie lines looped through grommets. So, you can also hook these backdrops onto hardware through the grommets. Not too many people do this, but it is an option. The other 20% have cloth ties that are sewn into the top of the backdrop. These backdrops do not have grommets. Again, every backdrop has ties, but not every backdrop has the grommets.
About 33% of our backdrops have a sleeve across the top as well. It is located below the ties (see photo below). So, you can slide a pipe through the sleeve without having to tie the backdrop. Usually, this method is used with pipe and drape systems. The pipe and drape systems are typically used at trade shows or ballroom events and not with traditional theater stage rigging.
Another aspect of hanging a backdrop occurs before you even rent a backdrop. You really should know what size backdrop would be effective on your stage. You do not want to get one that is too small or too big, obviously. But sometimes, you are not going to get the perfect size. Sometimes when a backdrop is just a little too big, you can fold the extra backdrop under the scene letting it rest on the stage. For instance, if you have a 15 foot tall stage but really want the 18 foot tall backdrop, you have to look at the picture to see if you can “fold out” the bottom part of the backdrop without losing the effectiveness of the scene. If the backdrop is simply a blue sky with clouds, folding out any portion of the backdrop is easy, and you will not “lose” any of the scene. But if you have a city street scene, you might be folding out half of a doorway or half of a window, and that will not look clean. You can theoretically fold out the top of the backdrop using heavy clamps. You would tie the backdrop as usual, but instead of folding the backdrop under, you would “lift” the backdrop up and clamp it to the batten. This is more time consuming, but it has been done. However, if you do this, it is very important to protect the backdrop from the clamps since the clamps can leave creases in the backdrop.
There are some instances where the stage is bigger than the backdrop and where the battens are dead hung meaning they don’t move. When this happens you will have to look into adding rope extensions so that the backdrop will hang lower. So, the size of your stage is part of how you are going to hang a backdrop.
The last part of hanging a backdrop is weighting it down so that the wrinkles are lessened and so that it does not sway in the wind. Across the bottom of the backdrops is a pipe pocket. Some of the pipe pockets already have a light chain sewn into the bottom. But most have the empty pocket. You can slide in pvc pipe, wood, metal rods, or a chain into the pocket. If you have to fold out any part of the backdrop, you’ll have to deal with the weight in the pocket. You do not HAVE to use a weight in the pocket. But if you do not have to fold out any part of the backdrop, I highly recommend using one to help with the wrinkles and stability.