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TOPIC: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods

Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 18 May 2006 13:01 #29051

  • jukingeo
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Hello all,

I am looking to purchase a theater and it has a standard rope pull system to open and close the curtain. I find this way outdated and is a pain, especially for live shows. I would like to automate (motorize) the curtain. Instead of your typical up & down or side pull curtain, I would like to go for a more elegant corner pull, meaning the curtain opens from the bottom center corner and pulls out and up to the top corner on each side, much like your window drapes. I would like to know if this is a difficult system to implent and is it fairly economical to install.

Thank You,

Geo
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 18 May 2006 14:25 #29052

  • BECKWITH1
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From your description of its condition, I would expect your new theater to have original curtains. Is this a Eberson designed theater? Why wouldn't you want to keep the originals if possible? Perhaps you just need to motorize the current curtains.
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 18 May 2006 15:24 #29053

  • jukingeo
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HELLO BECKWITH1

It is funny that you mention the originality of the curtains. No, unfortunately they are not original. The owner told that at one time they leased the theatre and the leasee damaged the original curtains. Not realizing what they were worth, he threw them away and had new curtains installed. HE THREW THEM AWAY!!! Obviously someone that knows nothing of classic theatres. This didn't happen too long ago either. OK, so I would get new curtains with the theatre, but actually the curtains are one of the few things I DON'T like about this building. They are taupe colored and look cheap. Very high school auditorium. But I wanted to get a motor system in place. Eventually I want to put a blue velvet curtain in with gold trim (the building auditorium is mostly blue and the seats are blue). I would rather have a top down pull if I cannot have the system I mentioned. The kind that has the horizontal drapings and pulls up vertically that way. That would look nice too. It is a side/side system now. Again, very high school auditorium and boring. I want the motor so I can remotely open and close the curtains from several key points in the theatre. I like the corner pull system because in an emergency it is the fastest way to open and close the curtains and like I said it looks very elegant. If I am not mistaken...the Royal Opera House uses this very same system.

JG

JG
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 19 May 2006 00:19 #29054

  • Ken Layton
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Suggest you check out this excellent manufacturer:
www.automaticdevices.com
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 19 May 2006 07:42 #29055

  • jukingeo
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Hello KEN

Thank you for the tip, I will check that site out in detail. Hopefully they have the corner pull system I like.

JG
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 19 May 2006 10:36 #29056

  • jimor
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The Automatic Devices Co. says that it only sells through authorized dealers, so you will have to go through a theatres supply or a draperies house. I.Weiss and Co. in NYC comes to mind as perhaps the oldest and largest in the country: http://www.iweiss.com/.

The drapery draw pattern that you want is called either "Tab" (short for Tableau), or "Butterfly" and is accomplished by means of plated steel rings sewn into the backside of the curtain at its panel seams, and a cable or rope is strung through them to a pully at the top and then down to the floor or a floating weight or motor reel there if the entire affair is rigged to be 'flown' as the stagehands say. "Flown" means raised into the stagehouse by means of the rigging. The standard 'Draw' curtain is called a 'Traveler' in traditional theatre speak. This is accomplished by means of a continous loop of cable or rope attached to the top center parting edge of the fabric's heavy header which hangs the curtain from sliders which travel inside the hollow track. More about Rigging can be learned from books on Stagecraft at larger libraries, especially any college having a drama department.

The thing you are after, JG, is not just a reel-motor, but a curtain and rigging equal to what you want to do. Simply sewing on new rings to accept new cable may work with the right hardware, but will the fabric be up to the task? If it just hangs there, it may be too light in weight to take the stress of being sewn for Tab usage; it could rip from its own weight, and this is especially so as fabric ages. Don't experiment on a curtain unless you are prepared to lose it! They cost thousands to replace, and the blue pile fabric you desire that is pre-rigged and lined as well as having a decently sized fringe (18-inch deep rayon fringe starts at about $100 the yard from Conso; such in silk from Scalamandre goes for $1000 the yard!) will cost a LOT more than you might imagine. This is one reason that so few theatres have anywhere near the quality they had in the old days. Your best bet is to ask a nearby theatre supply place to look at the site and give estimates on what you want to have done, while you also require references from them as to what they have done in the past -- and then go and talk to the honchos at those locations.

Theatre draperies require much more resources than some 'Susie's Sewing and Drapes' nearby. Successful draperies and stage curtains require a place with at least 50 feet of work tables; heavy duty machines to sew jute and buckram headers; large punch machines to insert 2-inch grommets; a loft to hang the fabric so that it stretches out as the rigging brails are attached, and so forth. A finished curtain 40-feet high can weigh two tons, so requires experienced riggers who will not damage it during installation. And do they know the local Flameproofing requirements? Many beautiful pile fabrics cannot be flameproofed by methods the government will accept without ruining the look of the fabric, so you must be sure the samples you are shown have ALREADY been certified by your local authority as legally "Flameproof."

More information is in the chapter "Theatre Draperies" in the 1929 book DECORATIVE DRAPERIES AND UPHOLSTERY by Frohne at some libraries. Also, if you would like to see examples of the elaborate stage draperies of the past, buy the 1981 ANNUAL titled "Grand Drapes, Tormentors, and Teasers" (types of theatre curtains) from: www.historictheatres.org

[This message has been edited by jimor (edited May 19, 2006).]
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 19 May 2006 13:12 #29057

  • jukingeo
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Hello JIMOR

Thank you for the contact information in regards to curtains. Yes, it is the "Butterfly" system I was referring too. The name escaped me at the moment I wrote my intitial post. I am familiar with how it operates, but thank you for the wonderful description and lesson on how curtains are made.

I am very well aware of the weight of the curtains as I did hear someplace that someone did get in the path of one and it threw him across the stage and he fractured a couple ribs. Also I heard another story that a curtain came loose and crushed a person to death. So I do know the dangers when working with these large drapes. Of course I would have the work done professionally and would never attempt a modification. As you pointed out, I may not be able to convert the existing curtains...not that I would want to as I think they don't fit the auditorium well. I know curtains are not cheap, but I don't think I would go as far as the way you explained how a 'high end' curtain is made. I would like something, not too expensive, but not cheap looking either. But the economic side is just half the issue. I know I would have to look into it to see if the building could handle a change like this. Also because of weight issues, I may end up with something else or be forced to use a lighter material. But I would like a blue curtain with gold trimmings. I just have to see what will and will not work.

I do not think the height of this theatre reaches the 40 foot mark, but it is three floors (from lobby to projection booth) and could very well be around 25 to 30 feet tall.

The stage is about 40 feet wide and has a 30 foot wide proscenium. So unfortunately I don't have a clue what the weight situation is in this case and really that would depend on the material the curtain is made from. What is there now seems to be of decent feel and weight. It just looks cheap...and that is what bothers me.

Thank You for your input.

JG

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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 19 May 2006 17:38 #29058

  • jimor
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I hope that you get your blue curtain someday, but it occured to me that you might reduce the cost if you are somewhat handy and have the space and time.

Very few standard retail fabric store trims are anywhere near big enough for theatre scale draperies, but you might buy an appealing fabric and cut and attach it yourself once the curtain is hung in place for a while. A 'galloon' (a pattern-woven band) may be made to be applied just two feet up from the bottom edge and with an industrial glue that you have tested on samples of the fabrics beforehand. This could take the place of expensive --amd much heavier-- fringe. A thinner band of contrasting color could be applied upon a wider band something like a ribbon upon a ribbon, for a more interesting look.

White nylon ropes could be dyed (gold?) in large tubs using a cold water acid dye, and when dry, such a TRANSPARENT dye will allow the silk-like lustre of the twisted nylon to show through. Such could also be glued on in rows -- perhaps arranged in such as Figure-of-Eight knots at points. Or they could even be hung over the face of the existing curtain to make it look less "cheap." Such a pattern is called Rope Drapes and can make any drapery more rich looking.

You would lower the curtains' mounting batten to a comfortable height to attach the ropes so that the batten (not the track or fabric) would bear their weight. You could also affix tassels to the lower ends of the ropes by cutting styrofoam balls in half, hollow them out and wrap strands of the dyed rope around the suspending rope which you have brought through a hole in the top of the hemisphere. Such strands would then be the fringe skirt of the tassel. You could cover the styrofoam hemisphere shells in several ways, but the richest way would be to unravel a few feet of dyed rope and glue strands of its fibers vertically to the surface of the foam, as you curl the ends to be glued inside the shell. In this way, the only real limit is your imagination. Best Wishes, Jim
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 19 May 2006 19:01 #29059

  • jukingeo
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Hello JIMOR

Yeah, I hope I get the blue curtain too...but that is putting the cart before the horse. I am in the midst of purchasing the theatre. The financing still has to go through. So I am a long way off from replacing the curtains. The curtain is one of few things that 'bother' me. I could only imagine what the original must have looked like.

I must say I am impressed with your knowledge of curtains. Work with them alot? You had some nice ideas for 'fudging' cheaper curtains to make them look better and I will keep them in mind. I probably would get help with them though. As you did point out they are very large and even though they are cheaper, they probably still are very heavy. In the very least, when the time comes I would like to get some kind of blue curtain even. But I would explore the option of butterflying the existing curtains (if it is possible), but I was thinking about what you said. Curtains are probably designed for a purpose and I am not sure if these can be butterflied. I just like the system, it is elegant, fast and simple. But again it is putting the cart before the horse, there is much to do before I worry about the curtains. But I just figured I would gather some knowledge on them
.

Thanx,
JG
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Re: Theatre Curtain Motor Pull Methods 20 May 2006 12:04 #29060

  • jimor
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We don't want to put the cart before the horse, and I do hope that you get the theatre, after all your work at appraising it.

One last thought: It is easy to overlook sightlines, or more accurately: shadowing of the screen in using such as a Tab or Butterfly curtain in front of a screen. One of the main reasons that they are little used outside of Opera houses (the reason that they are also called 'Opera Curtains') is the fact that they can be difficult to hang such that they completely clear the projection area of the screen, what with today's proscenium edge to edge screens.

You will have to sit down and draw a scaled drawing of the proscenium and figure out how much space remains for the pulled-up drapery during projection. Seeing a movie there now will let you know the accepted width of the image and just how much of it spills outside the white area, if any.

Usually, such drapery does not look good if the drapery panels are pulled too high, even though this gives the best view of the screen image. Since the most beautiful Tabs have between 80 and 100% 'fulness', the grab or pull-back point should be low on the panel edge. You can get the idea by hanging a towel from a dresser drawer clamped upon it, after you first pass a strong thread or length of fishline through it at intervals. Pass this through a pulley you've arranged at the top, and pull it down to get the effect. Remove the line by pulling it through and try another attachment point and do as before and after three such experiments you will see how the different pull points will affect how much of the screen would be covered.

You will also note the different looks of beauty obtained, especially if you use a couple yards of the heaviest blue velvet or velour you can buy rather than a towel! This way you can hang it with folds (called "pleats" by I.Weiss Co., even though that is not what they really are) and experiment with different degrees of fullness (if you create clamped fold-overs at the top such that a 3-foot-wide fabric is reduced to a hung width of 1-1/2-feet, you have created 100% fullness.) You will quickly see how different degrees of fullness create different looks, weight, and, of course, expense.

Remember that any curtain can be made for you to use as a traveler, a butterfly, and to raise when completely closed (a "Guillotine" or "Drop" curtain). Such a curtain is called a "Combination" and could be used as a Traveler with movies, and as a Butterfly during stage acts, and as a Drop on other occasions. All movements can be motorized as you wish with both remote and local control. Be sure that any motorized curtain has ample clearance from anything in its operating zone! I was at a movie palace concert and watched the result of the amateurs' inexperience as somone started to load out ('fly' or lift a curtain into the loft), but something behind it 'fouled' (snagged) upon it and the sickening sound of ripping fabric continued until the combined shouts of "Stop!!" were heard by the flyman up on the rope line on the catwalk back stage (where he could not see the curtain). Many stagehands these days are very inexperienced due to the great lack of full stagehouses to train in, so it is the owner's responsibility to make sure the riggers are putting a foot of space between flown items --as wwll as any nearby items on the stage. Yes, professional stagehands (certified by [url=http://www.USITT.org )]www.USITT.org )[/url] should automatically know this, but if you ever lease the place out, you may end up like the previous owner.

Also try casting little 'spotlights' (lamps from around the house) at different angles to see how they bring about the lustre of the velvet and cast desireable or undesireable shadows. If the theatre has footlights (which almost all older theatres do) consider trying to simulate them on your model to note different affects upon position of the curtain. Blue velvet or any other pile will appear much differently depending upon the color of light cast upon it, as well depending upon how high the light strikes the fabric at any one intensity as well as the height of the curtain. A few hours of experimentation sometime down the road but before you call the pros in for estimates may make a much more sure customer who won't feel cheated or deceived if the results are not exactly what he had in mind because he didn't do some tests early on. Best Wishes however you go! Jim



[This message has been edited by jimor (edited May 20, 2006).]
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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