No FlySpace Theatrical Scrim Solutions
Moving a scrim can happen in several ways. The obvious is to ‘fly’ it (move it up out of sight). However many stages and non-stage settings don’t have a fly system (set of pulleys and pipes for the scrim to ‘fly’ with). So many folks have asked us to discuss how to handle this problem.
Clearly one solution is to not move it at all. Since scrims can be see-through, it’s always a possible solution to not move the scrim and allow the light to make the scrim opaque (non-see-through) or translucent (see-through). On this website we refer to that as the ‘reveal effect’ and it is discussed in many places. A variation of this is to use the scrim as a projection screen and to also reveal behind the scrim when needed.
Using an existing curtain track: Scrims can move like curtains. A scrim can be hung either in the place of a mid-stage curtain or within the opening of the curtain. So if a curtain track is available, this solution is usually the easiest non-fly solution. To hang the scrim either us the ties provided at the top of the curtain to tie the scrim or use hooks through the grommets. You weight the bottom of the scrim with a chain or cable instead of the usual pipe weight. It’s best to use a chain with some weight. It’s also best to use one without any sign of rust (Rust stains scrims, and if heavily rusted the chain can snag and tear scrims).
Not all scrim can be travelled. For instance you don’t normally travel a shark’s tooth scrim because as a stretchy material it hourglasses. A travelled scrim is best if it’s non-stretchy and hangs square. (Hourglassing means that when stretched, the scrim narrows in the middle. Hanging square means that the side of the stretched scrim remains a nice rectangle.) Chameleon™ scrims hang square without hourglassing.
A second problem with travelled scrims that prevents you from using just any scrim occurs if you travel the scrim in two sections to meet in the center like curtains. Scrims like sharkstooth scrim not only hourglass, but have to have a heavy seam up the vertical sides as finishing. If you travel the scrim to meet in the center of the stage you see two heavy seams that part in the center in two arcs (the arcing is hourglassing) leaving a big gap. The heavy seams are visible on the reveal as two heavy dark lines arcing across the center line of the stage where the scrim sections meet. Chameleon™ scrim hangs square and does not need a heavy seam on the vertical edge, and so scrim sections meet more seamlessly. Note: The area where scrim sections overlap is not completely invisible even with Chameleon™ scrim, just less visible.
Without a curtain track: With a lightweight scrim like Chameleon™ a very simple homemade solution can be used. Several sections of lightweight aluminum ‘round’s (to most folks these would be called aluminum pipe, but hardware stores call them Aluminum rounds and keep them in the aluminum stock area) can be joined. Join the Aluminum rounds with 12” sections of wood dowels sized to exactly fit inside the pipe sections and glued in place with Gorrilla Glue. You can take 3 ten foot sections and join them to form a 30’ pipe and hang the scrim on that pipe with shower curtain holders through the grommets and using a lightweight dog chain in the pocket. With Chameleon™ scrim used as specified above, you create something that you can hang with a total weight of 10-12 pounds. It’s important that this solution is lightweight, because that means no heavy architectural modifications to hang it….at the same time the light weight reduces hazards on stage. That light a solution if it fell would be less likely to cause bodily harm should there be a mistake in rigging.
This lightweight solution is not perfect and should be evaluated carefully before use. Never substitute PVC for aluminum at the top. The aluminum at the top is used to prevent sagging, PVC Would sag over even 15 feet, and significantly at 30 foot creating an ugly solution.
A variation on this solution can be used for traveling shows where hanging the scrim is not possible. Photographer backdrop stands can be sandbagged to be upright supports for a system this lightweight. This solution for a traveling show needs to be carefully evaluated. Its more appropriate for scrims up to 8 foot tall (12 foot is the outside limit for most stands) and more appropriate for smaller scrims—perhaps up to 16 foot wide. Typical use might be a band /quartet background.
Some stages don’t have a full fly space but do have either a partial fly space or top curtains that can mask or hide part of a scrim. Imagine that a scrim is tied to one pipe and has another through the pipe pocket at the bottom—if you now raise both pipe to the same height you have folded the scrim in half. If the scrim is 15 foot tall, it now is folded to fit in a 7.5 foot area. With a third pipe its possible to fold the scrim in fourths. So now a 4 foot space theoretically is need to hide the scrim above the stage. With a fourth pipe….eighths…and so forth. This method is a pure rigging method. Each of the pipes must be hung attached to pulleys that are rigged to pull smoothly in unison.
The scrim can be made to drop instead of rise. Most commonly used in auto trade shows the scrim can be rigged with several lines attached to the grommets at the top of the scrim. During the show the lines are simultaneously dropped to allow the scrim to drop to the floor, where the entire puddled scrim stays—unless the lines are simultaneously pulled up. The difficulties are obvious—rigging all lines to move smoothly; using invisible lines so that they aren’t visible if keep attached at the top.
A variation on this is to allow the scrim to drop as part of the action. I’ve had a customer do this as part of a farce where an actress ‘falls’ against the scrim ‘tearing’ it down.
A scrim can be rigged to be rolled on a roller like a window shade. This is called an Oleo or Olio drop. Oleos are not typically scrims, but Chameleon™ scrim can be used this way (because it doesn’t hourglass and doesn’t need a heavy side seam and is lightweight). Don’t try an Oleo setup with a sharkstooth scrim, bobinette scrim or any stretchy scrim material. There are reasonably complete directions on making an Oleo detailed in another article on this site. Please keep in mind that these instructions are provided as a courtesy to our customers in good faith. The details are not guaranteed, and support is not offered. Limitation to Oleo scrims are a practical matter for the width of the Oleo. Usually Oleo scrims are 20 feet or less wide, with an outside max of 25 feet. There is a less specific limitation on height of the scrim, but keep in mind that the scrim must have 2-3 feet of waste rolled around the roll. Oleos can be mechanized or be accomplished with a manual pulley system.
A tumbler is a variation on the Oleo where the roll is at the bottom. Imagine a window shade that still pulls down from above, but in which the roll moves down as it unrolls. Typically you need to allow some space at the top of the Oleo or the tumbler to mask the rolled scrim when you don’t want it to be visible.