How to Make a Silhouette Screen for Drama

By Daniel R. Robichaud
Silhouette screens add mystery and drama to any stage production.

Plays have a history of using visual trickery to obscure specific identities while presenting action. Ancient Greek actors wore masks and voluminous robes, and Jacobian theater's often elaborate costuming and stage design elevated the drama's spectacle by occluding the performers. Technology has changed over the centuries, but the techniques remain similar. The best illusions spring from the simplest ideas. On the modern stage, silhouette screens add both mystery and visual appeal. In essence, this technique uses a screen lit from behind. Whatever appears between the light and screen is rendered visible to the audience as pure shadow.

Lay the white spandex sheet flat on the floor or table. Use the grommet pliers to add grommets to the outer perimeter at four-inch intervals.

Thread one rope through the grommets along each side of the spandex sheet. Tie knots in the rope around each of the sheet's corners. Test the knots by pulling the ropes taut. The spandex corners should stretch as desired, and the knots should hold it taut.

Assemble a frame from wood or PVC piping. Stretch the material to fit the screen. Secure the ropes to the frame. Stand the frame on the stage.

Position a light projecting device behind the screen. Point the lens at the screen's center. Activate the projector. Test the setup by positioning an actor or prop between the light and the screen. From the audience's position, the actor or prop should be pure shadow. Adjust the light source to sharpen or blur the silhouette.

Tip

Use colored lights or gels on the projector to add different lighting effects. A white screen won't distort these colors.

Warning

Be wary of the heat put out by the light source. Positioning a heat source too near the screen or other flammable materials can produce a fire hazard.

About the Author

Daniel R. Robichaud lives and writes in southern Texas. His articles, criticism and reviews have found regular publication since 2003, appearing in such diverse markets as "The Journal of Neurophysiology," "Dark Scribe Magazine" and "Shroud Magazine." Robichaud holds a Master of Arts in English, as well as a Bachelor of Science in physics.