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Topic: Outdoor Backdrop
Message: Posted by: Flying Magus (Sep 7, 2006 10:36PM)
First a little background info. Here in Western Australia, most elementary schools hold their assemblys in an "undercover area". This usually consists of a roof and one or two walls. As such, wind tends to blow through with impunity. This area is also used by the students fore various activites furing lunch and recess time.

Right, now to the question. I am attempting to build a backdrop to use in this sort of situation. Firstly to provide a more professional look to the show than can be supplied by a brick wall with various food stains on it. Secondly, the backdrop will have a small enclosed area in which to reset some props. Often there is a lunch break between shows, and I need a place away from prying eyes.

My problen is of course the wind. I had been plannig on a collapsable backdrop with curtains, but they begin to dance more energetically than Sean Bogunia's handkerchief whenever a slight breeze arises. Has anyone experience in a similar situation? How have you solved the problem? Just to make things difficult, the backdrop needs to collapse to fit into my Volvo sedan for travel.
Message: Posted by: Michael Baker (Sep 7, 2006 10:58PM)
It would obviously need to be something that allows the wind to blow through and not resist it. Otherwise it becomes a sail. How would mylar strips do? Perhaps if each had a small weight attached to the bottom? Maybe a beaded curtain? Just thinking...

Message: Posted by: Flying Magus (Sep 8, 2006 01:51AM)
I thought the problem was going to come from the backdrop blowing over. Instead it comes from the curtains flapping in the breeze like flags. I suspect mylar strips would do the same. Either that or they'll make humming noises. The beads may work. I'm not sure about the look though.
Message: Posted by: kaytracy (Sep 8, 2006 09:14AM)
The beads will likely become small clubbing devices upon your back, you might look into something like a white sun cloth- heavy duty, or a white cheesecloth- maybe two layers, or gauze. The weave is fairly open, though there will be a bit of blowing and billowing. It is nto that expensive to buy, though the dimensions might mean a little work on your part to put together. You could buy a bit of the cheesecloth and give it a test to see if it does what you want. I would suggest a bar at top and bottom.
Now the reason I say white, it that since it reflects well, one will not see the "stains on the back wall". You could always go with white behind and black in front if you feel you need a black curtain.
Best of luck to you
Message: Posted by: Michael Messing (Sep 8, 2006 09:38AM)
My suspicion is that you'll need to have the backdrop attached to the frame at the top and the bottom. The problem there is that it becomes a sail, as Michael Baker pointed out. To allow wind to pass through, you will have to have slits in the backdrop.

I've seen banners with semi-circular slits cut throughout so that they can be posted outdoors without being blown away.

This will take a lot of experimentation.

Message: Posted by: Leland Stone (Sep 8, 2006 10:19AM)
If you typically have a brick wall to work against, and the goal is to hide this unsightly feature while providing a "backstage" area, would it be possible to utilise this structure in your backdrop?

What I'm thinking is a large "U" shaped frame made of PVC - unglued, so it can knock down. The drop can wrap around the frame and secure with velcro, while "bungee" cords may serve to secure the frame to the wall.


This is a side view of the "U" shaped frame, which braces against the wall. The lower braces may be secured with sand bags. The dashed line on the left is the audience side of the frame; there are two of these, attached with stringers made of PVC, and it is here that the drop is mounted. All the fittings and pipe are readily available at home improvement centres (here in the US). Site conditions will require some tinkering, of course :)

Good luck, Michel!
Message: Posted by: silverking (Sep 8, 2006 12:03PM)
Try using an open weave scrim material, which depending on how its painted can look much like a solid drop.
Message: Posted by: socalmagic (Sep 8, 2006 10:43PM)

I live in Southern California, and most of my school shows are also outdoors. Many of my shows are in coastal communities with plenty of wind. I have tried everything, and here are my best solutions. First of all, I use industrial pipe and drape with heavy bases (35 pounds) and shot bags placed on top of the bases (similar to sand bags but filled with metal shot). This solves the problem of the whole unit crashing down on your audience. Since you need a backstage area, simply create a square, which will also help create a structure more resistant to wind.

In regards to the curtains flapping in the wind. There are two solutions that have worked for me. The best solution is to have tight netting behind your curtains. Clip the netting to the backdrop. This gives the drapes something to hit, and the wind will pass through the drapes. The netting has to be firmly attached at the top and bottom and it must be a tight fit. The reason you use the heavy bases and shot bags is to keep it from blowing over.

The other option is to clip them using industrial clips you would get at Home Depot or a hardware stores. Grips often use them in the film industry. The curtain panels are four feet wide x 8 feet tall. Let's say you have six sections across a 12 foot section (so it is 100% full, or twice the amount of drapery for the distance). Every other section is clipped approximately half-way up the curtain. So you have curtains 1,3, & 5 clipped together, and sections 2,4, & 6 clipped together. Then, clip the junctions to the curtain behind (so curtains 1 & 3 are clipped to the middle of curtain 2. This will create space for the wind to blow through, but will also keep the curtains looking presentable. They will blow, but they will blow together, and only a few feet, instead of thrashing in the wind.

The biggest problem with these solutions is you can not walk through the curtains (because they are attached). We typically leave one section of the middle back drape unattached to allow people and props to pass through it. It is difficult to describe what I'm talking about, but I hope this helps.

Brock Edwards
Message: Posted by: silverking (Sep 9, 2006 10:20AM)
Sailing technology can help when figuring out a problem like this.

Clipping the curtains off solidly, or otherwise making the backdrop into a "sail" creates a more dangerous problem than just flapping curtains.

The solution is to do what a sailer wants to do when they want to stop, and that's to dump the wind out of the sail.
An open weave scrim, or flaps which move freely in the middle of the drop to dump the wind are the most commonly used method.

I've seen entire stage structures blown over when a huge gust of wind caught a solidly anchored backdrop. Not just the scrim structure mind you, but the ENTIRE stage.
It was at a ski resort so the stage literally blew down the mountain!
Message: Posted by: socalmagic (Sep 9, 2006 07:58PM)
Wow! The stage going down the mountain is wild! I have had some issues with drapery getting blown in Santa Ana winds (40-80 MPH). Southern California is famous for these hot, strong winds. In that case, I don't clip the drapes tight, and I double-bag the bases.

The problem with scrims is that they are expensive and fragile. They can be especially problematic in outdoor shows where they tend to touch the ground and get dirty. Also, if the show is outdoors, then you can see through them during the daytime (which is when most assemblies are). I prefer to use a lighter polyester material that breathes, and is not high maitenance. The clipping pattern that I described allows wind through the backdrops yet they don't thrash in the wind.

I do a large, full-production illusion show over 100 times a year, and these solutions work. The configuration of the pipe and drape in a square also creates a support against wind. You can watch a somewhat outdated video of my outdoor set-up at

Brock Edwards
Message: Posted by: socalmagic (Sep 10, 2006 10:29AM)
One more strategy that I forgot to mention, but I use a a lot is to take yellow safety caution tape and tie it to the both backdrop poles about four feet high. Then clip the individual curtain panels together and to the safey tape with the hardware/grip clips. This again creates slits where the curtains meet up for wind to flow through. The bottoms of the curtains will still blow, but it looks much better than the whole curtain blowing. I normally use this on sections that I don't need to walk through.

Bock Edwards
Message: Posted by: Starrpower (Sep 18, 2006 11:09AM)
How (if any) is "industrial" different from standard pipe-and-drape? Any suggested sources for industrial pipe and drape?