The Nightmare of the Black Curtain

Jennifer Butler

  • Massachusetts Columnist

During tech week, when putting the set together, there are times when we all get stumped. No matter how well you have planned it, something just doesn’t fit right or you don’t have enough information and don’t know what height the sign actually needs to be at. There is also that moment, at the end of day one when you wonder if it will ever come together but you know that somehow it will. 

With our theater, the setup is a little unconventional. When we can get into the space, we not only have to build the set but we have to make the stage larger and create wings and a backstage. The further we get into tech, the sooner we realize how many of the black curtains need to be put up to allow us to have a backstage and fill in the space to hide sound and lighting equipment. That’s a big challenge we face when creating the alternate reality we want our patrons to find when they get to the theater. We have to think about how many black curtains we will need, where they should go, and what angle on each side works best to give us backstage space, but doesn’t take away from the set or extend too far into the audience. And then you have those tricky spots. Where you need a little bit of curtain to block some equipment yet the space isn’t wide enough for a ladder or a person to fit in properly to hang the curtain.

How do we make this happen and what is the best way to make it stay? We joke and say that this is one of the things we don’t expect to go right but most of the time it works out. It is just one of those tasks that are dreaded during every tech week and what we refer to as our “nightmare.” It works out in the end though, someone squeezes in, attaches a piece of wood to the flat and gets the curtain hung. 

I know there are things that are way worse and more challenging than when it comes to set building, including the set that we built for out currant production of “The Glass Menagerie”. Every show faces its challenges and each one is different than the show before it. It is just with our theater, the black curtain is a challenge that happens for every show.  Once we think we have it figured out, some other road block appears and we have to find a way to get the curtain hung. In the end, there is always someone who knows how to make it work and completes the transformation of the set.