How to Make Stage Backdrops & Projectors

By Crispin Trubiano

Things Needed

  • Muslin fabric
  • Video projector & PC
  • Paint or dye
  • PVC pipe
Painted backdrops can give the illusion of depth by creating a realistic background scene.

Stage backdrops are an excellent way to add visual appeal and an easily recognizable setting to a theatrical production. Backdrops can be abstractly colored fabrics suitable for a musical or dance performance, or they can be detailed scenes that provide a background setting for a play. Some productions even make use of the backdrop by combining it with a video projector to show captured images or videos. Making and setting up a backdrop can be done with manpower and the correct tools.

Obtain or cut a large sheet of muslin fabric to the desired dimensions of the backdrop — it should be wide enough to extend into the wings and as tall as the stage fly or backdrop suspension system. Most muslin suppliers will provide fabric with rivets or string ties at one end for suspending the backdrop. Place a length of PVC pipe across the "bottom" of the backdrop, loop the bottom foot of fabric over the pipe and secure it to itself (sewing, riveting or stapling all work), creating a long sleeve for the pipe to sit in.

Paint or dye the backdrop as desired. Dying muslin fabric creates an interesting effect as the fabric is sensitive to color saturation and gradient and can create interesting visual patterns or themes. The fabric can be painted on directly once spread out on top of a tarp, although the backdrop's total size may shrink slightly if the entire backdrop is painted. Several coats of paint should be used for items in the foreground of the backdrop to create emphatic color saturation. If the background will be a copy of a photo, use a grid on the photo and the backdrop to maintain accurate proportions. Allow the paint or dye to fully dry before moving or setting up the backdrop — this process can be expedited by using fans.

Lower the stage fly and carefully secure the muslin to the fly with the backdrop's string ties or through its rivet holes. When the top of the backdrop is secured, carefully raise the fly until the backdrop is fully spread with the PVC pipe resting on the stage floor. Avoid allowing any slack in the backdrop, as it can create wrinkles or a wavy look. Allow the backdrop to remain suspended for at least 24 hours before using it in a production, as this allows it to stretch to its full length and eliminate wrinkles or creases.

Set up a projector in the light/sound booth or at the back of the theater's seating area. Many plays, such as "The Laramie Project," depict actual events and incorporate the use of real images or footage from the events to create setting and authenticity. Use the projector's size and focus knobs to properly frame and focus the image on the backdrop. Connect the projector to the PC to control it. This allows the light and sound technicians to access and utilize the projector during productions.

Tip

It is usually a good idea to do a dress rehearsal with the backdrop up, as this allows corrections for unforeseen problems that may cause catastrophe during a production. Several rehearsals may be required if a projector is being used.

About the Author

Crispin Trubiano has been working as a freelance writer since 2010. His articles appear on various websites, where he specializes in areas such as technology, health, television, film, literature and music. Trubiano currently studies sociology at Roger Williams University.