THE INS AND OUTS (AND UPS AND DOWNS) OF THE KABUKI
Picture this. You are at a concert. The opening act has just finished playing, and the crew has removed all of the band’s instruments and equipment, leaving only the drape that the band played in front of. The music starts, signaling that the main act is about to appear. Suddenly, the headlining band appears on stage, as if from nowhere. What just happened? Another piece of stage magic, called the Kabuki.
There are two types of Kabukis, the Single Kabuki and the Double Kabuki, but they both work on the same 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.
For a Single Kabuki, the drape is sewn with loop Velcro on the top, on both front and back. D-Ring Velcro attachments are then made by taking a single piece of hook Velcro, looping it through the flat edge of the D-Ring (with the hook side facing in), and then sewing the Velcro together tight to the edge. This leaves a D-Ring with an upside-down V-shaped piece of Velcro attached.
The D-Rings are then attached to the top of the Kabuki Drape by sandwiching the top of the drape, with its loop Velcro on both front and back, with the hook Velcro on the D-Ring. (Think of the Velcro on the D-rings as the bread and the top of the drape as the filling). The result is a drape with adjustable D-Rings across the top. Adjustability is key as solenoid placement on the truss can vary, and it is essential that the drapery D-Rings line up to the solenoid. This is why this Velcro system is generally used, rather than sewing the D-rings directly to the top of the Kabuki. The best thing about using a Velcro D-ring is that the drop can be manually pulled down if a solenoid fails to release.
The Single Kabuki is then hung on the solenoid pins, appearing to the audience just the same as any other drape. However, when the time comes to reveal to the audience what is behind the drape, the crew pushes a switch. The switch causes the pins to retract and, as a result, the pins release the D-rings and the Kabuki drops to the ground. And the band appears as if from nowhere.
A Single Kabuki allows a single release – the drape is hanging, the solenoids are released, and the kabuki drops to the ground. With a Double Kabuki, through the use of either two sets of solenoids or one set in which each solenoid has two pins, a double release occurs.
Initially, the kabuki is not seen by the audience. It is hanging high up near the truss, enclosed in what is called a diaper. For the first release, the first set of solenoids (or one set of pins) is released, dropping the bottom of the diaper, and the bottom of the Kabuki drops from the diaper toward the stage, allowing the audience to see the Kabuki, with the diaper hidden behind it. On the second release, the second set of solenoids (or pins) releases the top of the kabuki (and in some cases the diaper), which then drops to the ground.
A Double Kabuki is made in a very similar way to a Single Kabuki, with Velcro on the top front and back. The major difference is that a Double Kabuki also includes a diaper. A diaper is a soft good that is sewn at the same width as the Kabuki, but is only around 24″ high (this can vary depending on the fabric used on the Kabuki as well as the height of the Kabuki). The top of the diaper is attached to the top back of the Kabuki, between the fabric and the Velcro. The bottom of the diaper has Velcro on the front and back.
To set up the Double Release of the Kabuki, the Kabuki is laid flat, front side up. It is then rolled from the bottom to the top, until it is encased in the diaper like a sling. Velcro D-rings are then attached to the top of the Kabuki/Diaper and to the bottom of the diaper. The Velcro D-Rings on the top of the Kabuki are hung on one set of solenoid pins and the Velcro D-rings on the bottom of the diaper are hung on the second set of solenoid pins, leaving the Kabuki hanging unseen in a hammock high above the stage.
For the first release, the pins holding the D-Rings attached to the bottom of the diaper retract. This causes the bottom of the diaper to drop behind and the Kabuki to unroll toward the stage. For the second release, the pins holding the D-rings attached to the top of the Kabuki/diaper retract, and the Kabuki drops to the stage floor.
When might a Double Kabuki be used rather than a Single Kabuki? Well, let’s say that a band has a dramatic printed backdrop, but they don’t want it to hang for the entire show. Instead, they want it to be used only for part of the show (maybe even for just one song). The band can start the show without the backdrop.
When the desired time comes, the first release occurs and the printed backdrop suddenly appears as if from nowhere. When the song or show section ends, the Kabuki then drops to the floor.
Solenoid-based kabukis are a dramatic way to showcase a backdrop or drape. Sometimes budget can be an issue, though, and not all bands can afford to solenoid-based system. Does that mean that a kabuki is out the question for them? No. Every band can afford to have a kabuki drape – in this case a Manual Kabuki (also called a “Tear-Away” or a “Poor Man’s Kabuki.”
A Manual Kabuki has two parts – the kabuki-style drape and the header. The drape is sewn with loop Velcro at the top in back. Then, to make the header, a piece of webbing (usually 3″ wide) and a piece of hook Velcro (usually 2″ wide) are cut to the same size as the width of the drape (for example, if the drape is 50 feet wide, a 50 foot piece of webbing and a 50 foot piece of Velcro would be used).
The Velcro is then sewn onto the webbing, leaving room at the top of the webbing to add grommets and ties (which are usually spaced every 12″, aka 12″ on center).
The header is attached to the top of the kabuki-style drape via the Velcro and then the drape is hung on truss above the stage. When it is time to “drop” (remove) the drape, crew members stand on either side of the drape and pull the drape – because the drape is attached to the header by Velcro only, the drape releases from the header and falls to the ground. The crew quickly bundles up the drape and takes it offstage. At the end of the show, the webbing header is untied from the truss and stuck back onto the drape in preparation for the next show.
Other than for budget reasons, when might a Manual Kabuki be used rather than a traditional single or double kabuki? Generally when the purpose of the drape is to hide a second band’s equipment while the first band is onstage in front of the drape. Once the first band has left the stage and their equipment has been cleared, crew members quickly pull down the drape to reveal the second band behind it.
Yes, this could be done with a Single Kabuki – however, a traditional kabuki system is more expensive and more complicated to set up, since it uses a solenoid system – and so a solenoid-based kabuki system is generally overkill in a simple “hide the second band” situation. The Manual Kabuki isn’t meant to be used for dramatic reveals, but more as a masking piece.