In the last article about the Library Theatre, we toured the stage itself including some of the curtains. Today we'll soar above the stage checking out the other components of the theater's fly system. There's a lot more than meets the eye . . . the space above the stage, which climbs to 59 feet, is virtually the theater's largest storage space.
The fly system is a counter balance system in which curtains, lights, screens and decorative drops are raised and lowered to and from the stage. The word "fly" is used as both a noun and verb in theater parlance. For example, at this writing we are "flying" a parlor scene which we can "bring in" (or lower) when someone needs the stage to look like a formal living room. Theater lingo is like that of any industry or discipline it has its own language that I'm still learning.
The fly system has 28 line sets. These lines, or ropes, and their steel weights are what operate each flying item. The weights are different on each set and correspond to the weight of what is being flown by that line. For example four of the lines are flying light bars, the lights that shine down onto the stage. The bar with the most lights weighs 800 pounds, with lesser weights on the other three because they contain fewer lights. That heavy bar contains 24 electrical circuits, twice the amount of the other three.
The first line contains the Main Rag the front curtain that goes up and down. In the old days this was referred to as the Grand Drape but theater slang renamed it. Next behind the Main Rag is the Traveler, the curtain that goes back and forth. When we recently replaced the curtains we also had to replace the Traveler's rod. At some point the curtain was left open, the curtain stacked on each end of its rod . . . then someone raised it. The rod, or batten, was irreparably bent because all the weight was on its ends.
Next behind the Traveler is the movie screen. Then, In addition to two black velvet curtains and a red one, three sets of black velvet "legs" hang at equal intervals from front to back. The legs are the side curtains that frame the stage, hiding stage right and stage left from the audience's view. They're usually left in place for all performance s unless a bare stage is required.
Right now we are flying four decorative curtains commonly known as "drops." The parlor scene I mentioned earlier is called "Thomas Struthers Living Room." Roz Hupp had it painted for her annual talent show during our 125 th anniversary year. Like most of our drops, it's 40 feet wide and over 20 feet high. We are also flying another of Roz's drops entitled "Breeze Point Landing," a lovely riverscape with a gazebo. A bride recently chose to have this as the backdrop for her wedding ceremony on stage.
We are also flying two historical drops, one a European street scene and the other a charming Vaudeville drop displaying ads from Warren merchants in the early twentieth century.
The scenery drops are usually made of muslin that is glue-stiffened before being painted.
At the back of the stage is the cyclorama the last drop. It is a blank, natural cotton curtain, completely seamless. The "cyce," as it's called, is used for multiple patterned lighting effects and color changes, often deployed during concerts.
If you've been counting, you'll note that not all 28 lines are in use. We leave some empty because traveling shows often bring their own scenic drops and the theater often rents them. It's impractical to create new drops for every scene required for Warren Players' musical theater oductions or our Christmas ballet programs. It is both time and cost effective to rent them.
I've left the most important curtain for last, and actually it's the one that is the farthest front, the one I hope never to see in action: the fire curtain. It is the original asbestos fire curtain and it is deployed automatically when sensors detect a rapid temperature change. The curtain is painted with the original peacock design and has the large word "Asbestos" printed across the bottom. Back in 1903, hundreds of lives were lost in the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago due to a backstage fire. For many years after, theater fire curtains were down when the audience arrived, visibly reassuring them that the fire curtain was in place and was indeed, asbestos. Today, ours cannot be raised and lowered at will as it is controlled by the emergency system, although it can be armed manually from either side of the backstage.
It's easy to see how important safety is to us. We're grateful for the many volunteers who have trained to run our demanding fly system.
By the way, when Peter Pan was produced here, Peter, in his green tights, sang, "I'm Flying." He really was, in every sense of the word.
See you in the aisles.
Marcy O'Brien is Executive Director of the Struthers Library Theatre.