The Drape-Dropping Art of Kabuki

Kabuki. To the non-roadie, it brings up images of exaggerated dance steps, white face paint and notes sung so shrill they can shatter glass – if not the audience’s nerves.

But if you are on the road or work behind the curtains, you know just what I am talking about: making a drape magically (at the flip of a switch or pull of a cord) drop from the top and land gracefully (we hope) on the stage floor, if at all possible without any injury to the band or the band gear.

So let’s talk about the art of kabuki, what works and what doesn’t – and why sometimes a little Velcro and a piece of string may be all that’s needed to dramatically drop the drape.

Solenoid System – Just Push the Button

It takes but one finger to pull off this magic act. This system comes pre-wired with the solenoids attached to cheeseboroughs (pipe clamps) ready for installation right onto the truss. When the cue comes, you just fire the solenoid at will and viola! Several soft good suppliers now offer solenoid system rentals that are ready to go. The best bet is to get it from the same vendor as the draperies so you will know that the solenoid system is compatible with the fabric that you plan to use with it. If you are touring, be sure to have this system maintained regularly and checked before each show. Of course most kabuki drapes should be made with a built in “manual break-away” in the event of a misfire. Make sure that your sewing shop has experience and is able to help manufacture for a successful drape drop no matter what.

“Po-band” Manual Kabuki – Tug Here

Every band can afford to have a kabuki drape. With a pre-made webbing header that ties to the truss, you can use a variety of interchangeable drapes that will tear away when manually pulled via tie-lines or ropes. Of course there’s a trade-off: this requires more than one person, as you will want to pull from both ends, if not also from the center. Some coordination is required too if you don’t want it to look like a primary school production of a Christmas Carol.

Double Kabuki – Double the Fun

It’s twice the drama. Use a double-fire solenoid system or a combination of solenoid and manual to achieve a “double drop” from the truss. The drape will rest in a “diaper” that runs the full width of the drape (or stage). At first fire/release, one side of the diaper will drop, allowing the drape to fall into its hanging position. Upon second fire/release the drape will drop to the floor. Perfect for mid show set or band changes. Drop it in after the first act so your set change is in privacy, and then drop the drape to the floor to reveal the second act.

Fabric Choices

The perfect kabuki fabric will be lightweight, durable and inherently flame retardant. Our recommended fabrics are IFR (inherently flame retardant) polyesters that can be sewn with minimal seams and are durable and ready for some rough and tumble treatment. Aside from the obvious color choice of “black,” a wide range of color choices are available and these fabrics take airbrushed designs well, so go ahead and personalize it!

Better yet, why not consider a digitally printed kabuki? Get all the benefits of a flame retardant fabric with your giant graphic (artistic or photographic) digitally printed right onto it. With the ability to present picture perfect images on a grand scale you can’t help but want to consider this option. Choose a supplier who does quality work and understands the needs of a tour. Stay away from outdoor signage manufacturers and keep clear of vinyl unless you are having an outdoor gig.

Flame Certification for Certain

Last but not least… Let’s all repeat together: a flame cert is a must, or leave it in the truck.

No matter how you try to argue it, the liability does, at least in part, rest with you when it comes to providing the fire marshal with a valid and current flame certificate for your touring draperies. So know your soft goods, know your soft goods provider, and carry valid flame certificates with you at all times. Without valid certification the local fire marshal could demand that all the fabrics on set be removed – and I am not referring to after the show. The best bet is to choose a soft goods supplier who offers digital storage of your flame certificates and can deliver them to you day, night or weekend if you get caught on the road without them.

So come to think of it, drop-drape kabuki, like Japanese Kabuki, is kind of a dance too, between choosing the right technology, the right fabric, the right certification and the right provider. But done right, it’s a lot easier to orchestrate!