How to build stage flats

Written by keith allen
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Stage flats are backdrops used in theatre productions. They can be painted to represent the open fields and blue sky of a outdoor scene or finished to represent the walls, sometimes complete with doors and windows, of a room in a business or home. Many theatre production companies build stage flats using standard designs and sizes so they can be reused in future productions. Stage flats are constructed with common materials using common tools and are well within the skills of do-it-yourselfers. They can be constructed in either a soft cover, made of muslin cloth, or hard covered with plywood.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • 1 by 2 inch lumber, 28 feet
  • Table saw with dado blade
  • 5/8-inch wood screws
  • Screwdriver
  • 3 yards of muslin
  • Staple gun with 1/2-inch staples
  • Paint
  • Paintbrush

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Cut the frame pieces. For a 4 foot wide by 8 foot high flat cut two pieces of 1 by 2 inch lumber to 8 feet and three pieces to four feet.

  2. 2

    Cut dado joints using a dado blade on a table saw. The dado joint removes half the wood from each piece of wood where the two members of the frame will interconnect. For a 4 by 8 flat, the frame will be around the perimeter with a 4-foot centre brace in the middle. Layout the frame and mark the dado joints.

  3. 3

    Connect the frame pieces. Interlock the dado joints and connect using a screwdriver and 5/8-inch wood screws. Brace the frame with triangular pieces of plywood attached at the corners of the frame on the back. Use 1/4-inch plywood and 5/8-inch screws.

  4. 4

    Cover the framework with muslin. Start on one side and staple, using a staple gun, the edge of the muslin to the back of the frame. Wrap the muslin around the frame, pull tight and wrap the cloth around the frame before stapling on the back of the frame.

  5. 5

    Paint the muslin. Paint causes the muslin to contract and produces a tighter cloth cover.

Tips and warnings

  • Use door hinges, mounted at a standard height, to connect the flats to create a full backdrop. The pins are removed from the hinge to move the flats and replaced to connect the flats together.
  • Quarter-inch plywood can be substituted for the muslin for a hard cover to the stage flat. If plywood is used, the plywood corner braces can be eliminated. The 1/4-inch plywood can be attached to the frame using 3/4-inch deck screws placed every 8 inches around the frame.

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