To me, the drama of the kabuki reveal is one of the most exciting bits of concert stage magic – and the addition of a sniffer ups the drama even more. Though we have posted before on kabukis, we have neglected sniffers a little. So today I thought I would do a refresher on kabukis – what they are and how they work – along with telling you about sniffer drapes.


A solenoid head attached to truss

The Kabuki Drop

What it is: A Kabuki Backdrop can be just about any type of backdrop – plain or digitally printed, small or large.  The primary factor that distinguishes a Kabuki Backdrop from a regular backdrop is the presence of D-rings on the top edge (either sewn on or attached via Velcro).

How it works: The kabuki effect works on a simple principle – the use of electrically-powered magnetic systems called solenoids.  A solenoid resembles a small box with a pin sticking out.  A series of small solenoid boxes are attached in a daisy-chain row on a truss.  At one end, this chain of solenoids is plugged into electricity and attached to a controller switch.  The Kabuki Backdrop is hung on the solenoid pins via the D-rings. When the time comes, the crew pushes a switch.  The switch causes the pins to retract and, as a result, the pins release the D-rings.  The Kabuki Backdrop then falls.

The two types of kabuki: A single kabuki utilizes one set of solenoids.  The backdrop starts out hanging in full view of the audience, blocking the view of whatever lies behind it on the stage.  When the solenoids are fired, the kabuki backdrop drops to the floor, revealing the scene behind. A double kabuki utilizes two sets of solenoids, as well as a fabric “diaper.”  The diaper suspends the kabuki drape high above the stage, using two sets of solenoids.  When the first set of solenoids is fired, the bottom of the backdrop drops to the stage floor, revealing the backdrop to the audience.  When the second set of solenoids is fired, the kabuki drape (and the diaper) drops to the stage floor.

The Sniffer

What is it: A Sniffer Drape starts out as a single kabuki drape made of a very lightweight fabric, such as Poly Silk. In addition to the top D-rings (which allow it to kabuki), the sniffer also has an additional sewn-in and reinforced D-ring, usually sewn in the center of the drape.

How it works: Attached to the truss is a special sniffer mechanism (which looks like a large box with a tube attached). A nearly invisible line, attached to the sniffer D-ring on the Sniffer Drape, is threaded up through the tube of a sniffer mechanism (which is usually attached to the truss).  Nearly simultaneously, the solenoids are fired, the kabuki drops toward the stage floor, and the sniffer mechanism pulls the drape up and into the tube.

Did you catch the section of the video above showing the sniffer drape in action?  Isn’t it amazing that such a large drape can fit into a small tube?  Well, now you understand why a sniffer drape has to be made of a very lightweight material!

So, the next time you are at a concert and a backdrop suddenly appears – or disappears – the chances are that you have just seen a kabuki drape or sniffer in action!